- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 23, 2004

Recent record-low mortgage interest rates have resulted in record numbers of remodeling jobs as well, as homeowners have dipped into their equity to remodel or expand.

Before you start designing that media-room addition and breaking up concrete, do the homework on what it really takes to build a home addition.

Most local jurisdictions want to know your plans for several reasons.

First, they want to know what to charge you in taxes in the next year. Most additions and remodel jobs will increase the value of a property, and your county or city wants to get its fair share of tax dollars with that appreciation.

Second, they want to ensure that you put together an addition that is safe for your household and for those who will live in the dwelling later on.

Meanwhile, the local jurisdiction isn’t the only entity that’s going to have a say in what you do with your property.

Most states have codes that must be followed.

Researching the Fairfax County government Web site reveals that even a project as simple as placing a shedon my lot carries several code requirements.

Homeowners desiring a larger dwelling have several steps to follow before turning the first shovel of dirt.

• Check covenants and deed restrictions. Your actual first restriction may not even be the county, but rather the covenants in your community or on the deed to your property. If you have a one-car garage, for instance, covenants might not allow increasing its size to accommodate two cars.

• Make sure your building plans meet building codes. You can’t even budget your addition until you know what the building codes require. Did you know, for instance, that you may have to use a certain thickness of drywall for a garage addition? Price out the incorrect thickness and you could be hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars over budget.

• Review your plat. Do you have enough room for the addition? You can’t build too close to someone else’s property, and your local codes might have defined the setback at 5 feet or 15 feet, or some other distance. Build it too close and you could face demolition of the whole project.

• Soil review. Will your lot percolate for a bedroom addition? Does your community have unique soil concerns that would limit your project? In addition to the soils, how will your plan affect storm drainage?

• Get a plan. Once you take care of the preliminary steps, plan your addition. How big will it be? What materials will you use? What about work on electrical, plumbing, heating, air-conditioning systems? What kind of foundation does it require?

• Finally, apply for the permits. A building permit isn’t the only permit you’ll need to check into. Every aspect of the building may require a permit. In Fairfax County, for example, additions and remodel jobs may require permits for architectural and structural elements, electrical work, mechanical work for installations of heating and air conditioning systems or plumbing. You need a Virginia Department of Transportation permit when a grading plan is required and your property is located on a state road, and a well or septic permit for altering or relocating private water or sewage systems.

All of these permits have to win approval by the appropriate agencies — zoning, health department, building plan review, sanitation, maybe even your homeowners association.

M. Anthony Carr has written about real estate for more than 15 years. Contact him by e-mail ([email protected]).

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