Zoning and Insurance Requirements

An Excerpt from Paul D. Rugarber’s Forthcoming Book,
Architecture to Construction and Everything in Between

Dig the well before you are thirsty.
– Proverb

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the planning part of your project can be the most fun – I find the dreaming and hoping and wishing brings you back to the happy anticipation of your childhood.  Remember dreaming of the castle you would have? Or your beautiful boat? Or the dashing prince or radiant princess you’d marry?  These are the types of images that should come to mind when you begin a project. After all, you’re making changes that will impact your life in a very substantial way and you should be excited!

Having said that, there are aspects of the process that you might not find particularly appealing, or might even find anxiety-inducing! We’re going to tackle two of those issues head-on in this newsletter, in the hopes of showing you that they’re not as intimidating as they might sound.

Site Zoning
If you are looking to add another floor to your house, are there height restrictions in your town?  If you want to expand your house footprint, are there mandatory setbacks from property lines that will limit your project?  If you’re looking to build a new home, are there limits (such as environmental issues) to where on the property you can build or how high? All of these questions should be answered in the planning portion of your project.  The best resource for answers is a local architect; due to their experience, they will be aware of the specific site requirements that the various towns in your area impose.   If you are the adventurous type, you can call the town zoning department yourself to find out what you can and cannot do.  A word of caution, though: Keep in mind that, as a layperson and not a professional architect or contractor, there may be questions you don’t know to ask the town or even the wording you use that could affect the answers you receive.  It’s not uncommon for clients to come to me with a misunderstanding about what they can or cannot do due to misinformation from the building or zoning departments.  How you ask the question is critical!
Insurance Requirements
Speak to your homeowners’ insurance company to understand what you will need to provide during the project.  Typically a Builders’ Risk policy is needed to protect the home during construction, but it will depend on the project scope.  Addressing this issue early on is well worth your time, as many people don’t go to the trouble to understand the insurance ramifications until there is a problem – at which point it is usually too late.  Spend the time necessary to understand what contractors’ insurance covers (typically construction defects and injury to personnel on the property), and then know where your insurance will need to fill in the gaps.  Also keep in mind that your contractors’ insurance will not cover sloppy work or issues dealing with poor workmanship, so be sure to spend the money to get a good contractor that will do high-quality work!  As always, you get what you pay for. Remember: If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is!
These are commonly considered the “boring” or “intimidating” parts of the process, but as you see, with the right tools and the guidance of professionals you can easily handle these issues and make sure you are fully covered. After all, it’s far better to handle them now than when it’s too late!
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