Why Won’t You Check Design Criteria for Me?

If you had a chance to think over the weekend of why we don’t check Design Criteria for you (see Friday’s Blog), the obvious reason would be “we just don’t know where your building site is”.  This is the “down and dirty” answer.

Ultimately the more specific question clients ask me is, “will you pull my building permit for me?” The easy answer is: No.  Not today and not ever.  Why not?  When I was a building contractor, I didn’t pull permits for folks.  So let me tell you why.  When I say we “don’t know where your site is”, I mean, we don’t know anything about it.

Let’s pretend for a moment I am going to go ahead and get your design criteria along with whatever else is needed to pull a building permit for you. I’ll need to ask a few questions.  Choosing all the “right” questions to ask, of you and your Building Department, could mean the one important question I should have asked, didn’t get asked.  Don’t just assume your Building Department will hand over brochures and a list of helpful information outlining every possibility. Some jurisdictions have great websites, and some I wonder why they even bothered to put one up. And when was it last updated?  I can’t assume anything on a website is 100% up to snuff.  The person behind the county doesn’t memorize all the information specific to your building site.  And while most Planning/Building Departments are great at helping clients, there are a few who leave too much to the imagination.  They expect you (or me) to ask questions before supplying important information.  Some of them just plain don’t understand the building code.  Most Building Departments do not have a registered professional engineer behind the desk.

A few questions for you and eventually your jurisdiction’s planning department.  What are the “set-backs” from streets, alleys, other structures or anything else?  Are there restrictions as to what can be built due to zoning? How about underground septic and sewage systems or other underground utilities? Do you have watershed or wetlands issues?

If a separate department, the Building Department will have more information. Will an engineered soils test be required?  What is your wind exposure?  If you don’t know wind exposure, stand in the center of your property and extend your arms and then turn to all directions.  Is there any direction the wind can blow from where it is not stopped by hills, trees, other buildings? (This is an overly simple explanation of wind exposure by the way). Have you ever had a fire on your property, or near to your property?  Are you in a hurricane zone?  What is your elevation above sea level?

One of the most important considerations to you may be where on the property you are placing your building.  You may be able to deal with your Planning Department on exactly where your building “sits”. You intimately know your own property and the tree your great grandfather planted is just not going to be moved.  I am constantly amazed at pictures of buildings which are emailed to me, and they have a huge tree (or several) very close to the building they just put up.  I am thinking, “It must have been a bear to construct a building with a big ol’ tree right next to the site. Why didn’t they just take the tree down?”  But if the “big ol’ tree” Great Grampa planted is “not going anywhere”, you need to be the one to take this issue up with your local planning department to come up with an agreeable solution.

Why won’t I verify your design criteria or pull your permit?  Because I want to meet you on the street someday and have you smile at me, shake my hand, and we will still be friends.  Your building ended up being what you needed, and better yet, it ended up exactly where you wanted it.  Life comes in a rainbow of colors, not just shades of black and white.

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