Behind the Scenes: Researching Your Property
People often ask me: What is the design process? How do we get from an idea to a permit-approved set of plans? The answer varies depending the project’s location, size, and type. But there are few common denominators. Enter… drum roll please!…
Behind the Scenes! A series of posts to help you understand what I’m doing back here. You know, behind the scenes.
Phase 2: Research Your Property
At the beginning, I like to get a handle on your property. It involves lots of online research, maybe a site visit, and LOTS of reading tiny text in giant tomes called code books.
1. Parcel Info.
Your property carries with it all kinds of information. I’ll be looking for a Parcel Map, Property Description, Parcel Number or ID, and Zone.
If you, the property owner, have any info such as old plans, surveys, deeds, title research, etc, please let me know. All that stuff could save me time and you money.
If I don’t find what we need in your documents, I’ll check with the town. Sometimes I find it with the Assessor, or Town Hall, or the County Recorder; it’s a treasure hunt!
2. Check the Codes
Most towns have zoning and building codes. These are the giant tomes I was talking about earlier. Footnotes on footnotes on footnotes. I am so thankful for the “find” function on pdf readers, they’re very helpful as I’m figuring out which codes apply to your project.
ZONING codes are specific to your region or town and will tell us:
- Setbacks (the minimum gap between our building and the property line)
- Maximum Height (how high we can build)
- Coverage (how much of the site we can cover)
- FAR (floor area ratio- how much square footage we’re allowed)
- Maximum Density (how many units we can build)
BUILDING codes can be specific to your town (usually only if you live in a big city) or your town may adopt the IBC (International Building Code) and IRC (International Residential Code). In any case, building codes are very similar throughout the United States. They will tell us minimum standards for designing a quality building.
For example, the IBC talks about:
- Occupancy Type
- Construction Type
- Fire Protection and Means of Egress
- Energy Efficiency
- And on and on and on
And the IRC talks about:
- Wall and Roof Assemblies
- Chimneys and Fireplaces
- Exhaust Systems
- Plumbing & Electrical
- And on and on and on
3. Lay of the Land
Google Maps and land surveys are really helpful here. It’s important to plan your project with the site in mind.
Which way does your property face? Can we catch the right sun angles and wind directions? Are there any significant changes in topography? Can we play with that or will it be an expensive nuisance?
Often, if we’re designing an addition or a new house, I recommend getting a land survey. Assessor’s maps aren’t necessarily accurate and if there are codes to follow, we need to know exactly what your property looks like.
Sometimes I recommend a full topographical survey, sometimes just property lines and building corners.
It’s good to gather this info before we get into schematic design.
4. Rural is a Bit Different
If you live rural like I do, the codes near you may be very lenient. Sometimes it’s not worth spending time on extensive research, especially if you have lots of documents and information to give me.
Generally, in these areas, I can base my site plan on the assessor’s map (which is, again, not always accurate) because your parcel of land is large or we’re staying away from the property lines. These areas also usually adopt the IBC & IRC so as long as I design to those, we’re good to go.
That’s it, piece of cake! Haha. Yeah right.
*I reference “towns” a few times here. By that I mean your governing jurisdiction whether its a county, city, town, or region…