frequently asked questions


frequently asked questions

We hope these frequently asked questions and answers will help you.

If there is something you would like to know more about, if there is a concept or a step that is not clear, feel free to send any questions.


When doing an addition, the first step would be to reach out to an architect to discuss what is allowed in your neighborhood, and if your lot is big enough for the addition. Most locations have multiple sets of rules to determine what can be built, and where on the lot.

Yes, in most jurisdictions, a permit is valid for up to two years, and a permit extension can be paid to keep the permit valid for a longer time. This fee is usually small compared to the permit fee itself.

Starting from scratch is exciting, but will require more time for design, and the help of multiple engineers. Depending on your location, you would at least need a land surveyor, an architect, a structural engineer and sometimes also a civil engineer and a landscape architect. Your architect would of course determine which consultant will be needed and what type of permitting process the Building Department will require. In some locations, a lengthy design review process can add up to six months to the permitting process.

Depending on the extent of the remodel you have in mind, there is a point where buying a new home might be a better option. Not only would you not have to go through the permitting and remodeling process, but you might find a new house that better serves your needs. Just keep in mind that buying a house can also be very stressful and you might be bid out of the neighborhood you want to be in. So, planning for a remodel or a small addition, or a new second story could still be the way to go.


You won’t have to hire a builder until your permit is ready to be pulled. At an early stage it is better to interview professionals such as license builders and architects. They are usually full of resources and good advice on how to get started, what to avoid, and what to expect.


Preparing a complete set of plans for permits usually takes between a couple of weeks for the simplest scope of work to a few months for more complex projects. Once the set has been submitted, most building departments will take about four to six weeks to complete their review.


It is always best to start early with the help of an architect when dealing with elderly relatives moving in. Depending on their physical needs and their level of mobility, some extra work might be necessary. Properly planning for these needs is essential to accommodate them.


Building in the flood zone is permitted, and there are very different types of flood zone. In most cases, the finish floor of the new addition will have to be designed to be above the benchmark level in your area. Because most houses previously built in these zones did not have to consider the same building rules we now have to use, it is not uncommon to have to design the addition’s finish floor to be slightly higher than the existing house finish floor. Although it usually works and having a well-designed split-level house can be a great asset, in some cases, when the desired addition is small, it can become a real burden. The first step is usually to have an engineer prepare what we call a flood elevation certificate to determine this exact level.



Preparing plans for an addition will require at least the help of an architect and a structural engineer. Depending on the extent of the addition and its location on the lot, a land surveyor might be needed. Overall, it should take about a month to prepare the plans for a simple addition, and a couple of months for a more complex one such as a second story addition for example. Once the architecture is done, you would need to count about two to three weeks for the engineer to be done with the framing and foundation design. Of course, there are countless local rules and regulations that could make this process take longer. We would of course discuss what timeline to expect during our initial meeting.

Yes. Owner can change designer or architect at any time during the design process. The new architect would sign an indemnification letter to the designer and the designer would release their work to the new architect, who would now become responsible for all aspects of the design. You should expect to pay the new architect not only for the remaining work to be done, but also for becoming the architect of record and taking on the liability and responsibility that comes with it. Even if most of the work has been done, the architect would have to check and redo most of the work. In a few words, the new architect can’t simply take the previous work and finish it. They would first have to review the work, do a code check, verify the measurement on the plans.

In most cases no. The design phase is the time of the project where different options should be explored, and there is no expectation that the architect would design it right the first time. But there is the expectation that the architect will keep on working with you until you are satisfied with the proposed design. Your architect would always work with you and go back and forth as needed in order to develop the design that fits your home.


Unfortunately, this happened more often than it should. But it is never too late to hire a license professional to help on your project. But the latter the more “double cost” you might be facing. In most cases, the new professional cannot take the work previously done and just make it theirs. They would have to take over the project, become the new professional of record, and redo multiple aspects of the project.


how to get started with the design?

Although having an engineer look at it before you call an architect is not required. The engineer will be needed to design reinforcement, or a beam if the wall is load bearing. Meaning that some load from the ceiling joist above, the roof, or a second story are transferred through that wall to the foundation. The wall could also be a braced wall (wall with diagonals in it – we usually see these in the garage). In that case, an engineer will also be needed.


It might sound nice, but it would most likely not be a good idea. Although we can assume she would be very qualified for her work, this would not necessarily be the case for designing your home. She might not be familiar with cost saving options in the design, she might not be comfortable with light wood framing structures, she might struggle to deal with the Building Department or Inspector during construction. In most cases we see hiring friends and family for design and engineering adds up costing time during the design phase and money during construction.


Homeowners’ associations need to approve plans before they are submitted to the City. In that regard, their role is to make sure that the alteration done complies with the guidelines set in the covenant rules and regulation that are used to manage the HOA. It’s always better to talk to the HOA representatives early on and present in a few words what you have in mind for your home. They will most likely let you know what was approved or not in the past and why. Although it might not be what you wanted to hear, it is always best to take this advice into account when designing the project.

Both the builder and the architect are good sources of information to determine what is possible or not, and at what cost. And it’s a good idea to have both onboard at some point. If you do not have a builder, we can recommend one. Once you have selected your builder, their input can be shared with the design team. This can improve the design and save costs.


ADU and guest house

In most places, you can build an ADU up to 800 sf without many restrictions. They can also be as big as 1,200 sf given that the main home is at least 2,400 sf, or twice the size of the ADU for ADUs between 800 sf and 1,200 sf. Rules to develop ADU have been greatly simplified these past few years making it much easier to add space for a family member or to be used as a rental.

Yes, any structures like garage, storage, sheds can be converted into an ADU given that they were legally built in the first place. When converting an existing garage (detached or not) into an ADU, the lost parking space does not have to be replaced. Keep in mind that the rules only apply to ADU. If you want to convert your garage into a living room or a new bedroom, in most cases, you will have to replace the lost parking. Because rules about required parking are local, we check each time and would let you know what would be required.


Additions and remodel

Design Review processes exist to make sure that new constructions will fit properly in the neighborhood where they are built. During this process, the public’s opinion can be asked. The City will listen to everybody’s concerns about the impact this new addition could have on their property. One important point is that the City will review your application only if the second story can be permitted. And if it can be permitted, nobody can prevent you from getting a permit for it. Through the design review process, the City will suggest solutions, and changes to the design to accommodate everybody’s privacy concerns. At the end of the day, your addition should not become a burden for your neighbor, and the City is only making sure of that.


Development rules are locally decided by the City, or the County and different rules apply to different areas of your town. The most common rule to regulate what can be built can be summaries in three types of rules. The setbacks which give you a distance from the property line where you cannot build, the FAR (Floor Area Ratio) that determines how many square feet of building can be built on the property and the Lot Coverage that tells you how big of a footprint is allowed to be built. There are of course numerous other rules that govern the look, size, shape, height, number of structures allowed on any given property.

Building under the canopy of a tree is not permitted as the footing of the structure and the root of the tree would conflict with each other. In most cases, the tree can be simply removed. Before removing a tree always check with your local building department. Some trees are protected and cannot be removed, others might require a permit before being removed. Keep in mind that heritage trees are usually protected, and you might not be able to remove it. A regular professional pruning of the trees will keep their canopy healthy and out of the way of your project.

Wood burning fireplace are being phased out and replaced with gas fireplace. You can keep a wood burning fireplace as long as it is not touched (besides normal servicing) or relocated. In your case, the fireplace could be relocated, but a gas insert would have to be installed and wood burning would no longer be allowed.


Yes, additions and remodeling of historical houses are permitted. But do expect the design process and permit review to take longer than usual as the project will have to retain certain characteristics of the house and will be scrutinized by the building department.

New homes

Building under the canopy of a tree is not permitted. Most heritage trees are protected one way or another, so just removing them might not be permitted. In fact, hiring an arborist to prepare a report regarding the tree’s condition before construction might be required along with protection measures during construction, such as chain-link fence around the tree or other less intrusive options. If you want to remove a major tree always consult with the City to see if a permit is required.

Some areas are not connected to the sewer system. In these areas, a septic tank with a leach field system is designed to replace the connection to the sewer. The design will start with a percolation test to understand the absorption rate of your soil on your lot. The size of the leach field will depend on it. Note that a leach field can be wider than a thousand square feet and restrict where your house can be built.


Yes. Fire suppression sprinklers are required on all new construction and are required to be added to the home for most major remodel. When doing so, we often have to increase the water service for the home and need to upgrade the water meter.


Engineering and Safety

Some Cities and Counties have over the counter permits where they provide standard details to reinforce the cripple wall between the first floor and the foundation. This can be done without the help of an architect or an engineer in some Cities. If you want or feel you need to retrofit your home, the help of an engineer will be required. They can do what is called a lateral calculation resulting in the addition of shear wall in part of the house. These shear walls are simply made from plywood with strengthened connections to the foundation which are called hold downs. When doing a substantial remodel, removing walls, and adding a very large opening in a home, in most cases the engineer will be required to do a partial reinforcement of the house.


Either your neighbor did not remove any braced or shear walls or did not open any load bearing walls as in both cases, an engineer would not be needed. For your remodel, your architect will first check, and, if needed, will send an engineer to verify the structure. If the walls you plan on removing are load bearing or braced, then the engineer will need to design some reinforcement like new shear walls, or posts and beams to support the load.


Yes, removing walls without checking can undermine the structure and should only be done after verification has been done by a professional, and a permit obtained from the City or the County.


When a contractor thinks the engineering is overdesigned, they should always let the design team know and ask for a meeting to discuss the choices made. Sometimes, the engineer is trying to respond to a code requirement or trying to simplify the construction by designing a bigger beam. In most cases there are multiple ways to address framing and we welcome feedback from the field. Sometimes the choices made by the engineer are just too difficult to implement in the house and the builder might come up with a more practical way to build it. In any case, the solution should be safe, per code, easy to build and cost conscious.


Budget and Energy Savings

Remodeling verses doing an addition has always been a tricky question. We always recommended that you go for the scope of work your family needs unless you plan on selling soon in which case doing the project that adds the most value to your home seems like the best idea.


Yes. The County Assessor always updates the value of your home based on the value of the improvement you did. So, your taxes should go up. Unless you are doing a substantial remodel or big addition, you should not see a major difference. You can reach out to your County Assessor’s Office for information on how and when the new assessment will be made.


In such a case, it is best to keep the remodel to a minimum amount or rooms. Maybe just the kitchen and the bathrooms, and to refrain from moving walls around. Note that permits can stay valid for a couple of years on average. So, you still have the option to add to the scope of work to your permit now and to delay part of the work to the following year. Also, make sure to plan for less than you think you can afford. Discoveries during construction, unforeseen conditions needing repair are common and can use a significant portion of a limited budget.


The Building Code as a whole section dealing with energy efficiency design and requirements. By simply following the code and increasing a few of its requirements, your home should perform significantly better. Exceeding insulation requirements is by far one of the easiest and most cost-effective way to reduce your energy consumption. If your budget to “green” your house is substantial, there are programs developed by the USGBC (US Green Building Council) that can help achieve high efficiency homes. These types of programs would be managed by your architect and the USGBC and implemented during the design and construction of your home.

Do I need a permit, how does it work?

In short, if you need a contractor, you most likely need a permit. Anything having to do with systems, electricity, plumbing, heating, and cooling, or window replacement, reroofing and walls requires a permit.

Kitchen and bathroom remodel always need to be permitted and will require some form of documentation. It could be as easy and fast as an over-the-counter permit application supported with a small hand drawing up to a full permit set with engineering if walls are being moved around or opened.

To fix this, you will need the help of an architect. The architect will document the illegal work and will prepare plans to either legalize it if it can be done, or to revert it to its original condition. Note that to be legalized, the work done will have to comply with the current Building Code. In any case, a license architect would be the professional you need to talk to before making any decisions.


Buildings in the Historical District are usually seen as being of a significant historical value and when being remodeled or added to go through a more thorough review by the Planning Department. Although choice of material that can be used, and the type of alteration that would be allowed are limited, they are usually not forbidden. You should reach out to your local Building Department if you think this is the case for you. They might also require reports to be prepared by a qualified historical architecture consultant prior to considering your application.


Some work that was done without a permit can be permitted after a permit has been pulled and an inspection done by the City. If the work is acceptable and complies with the current code, it can be legalized. In most cases, you will need the help of an architect who will prepare plans showing what needs to be done for the work to be legalized. If the illegal work was an addition, the architect would first have to determine if an addition in that location could have been permitted in the first place. If not, you should prepare yourself to have to remove that portion of the home once you have secured the proper permits.


Unfortunately, no. Work can start once the permit has been pulled. The City or County will in most cases verify that the builder is licensed and properly insured before issuing them the permit.


Even ‘like for like” repairs need a permit. Unfortunately, there is no path to get a permit fast. You will have to hire a professional to prepare the permit set and have it submitted. If the work done without the permit is simple and only impacts a room, preparing the permit set should be quite easy and won’t take too much time for the architect.


Yes, replacing windows does require a permit, and the new windows will have to meet today’s code and energy efficiency requirement. Note that some windows need to be tempered, like in bathrooms, near stairs or doors.


Construction costs, choosing a builder

Prices vary greatly depending on the type of cabinets and fixtures you want. Price range for finishes and fixtures can vary one to five-fold. If your bid is too high, you could consider using different finishes or looking for a new contractor. But refrain from picking the lowest bidder. It’s never the best idea and usually hides either that they did not take the full scope of work into account in their bid, or that they might cut corners or underpay their staff. In either case it could result in you ending up paying the same for a result that is not the one you expected.


No. Builders are not allowed to charge upfront down payment for unexpected issues. This is a huge red flag that you should not hire this builder.


Yes. The best-case scenario is that the builder is properly licensed but just does not have the time. But it usually means that the builder is not licensed for the work you hired them for or does not have issuance. In any case, if you pull the permit, you are doing no one a favor, you are only just becoming the General Contractor which is never recommended.

Yes. When pulling the permit themselves, the homeowner legally becomes the General Contractor for the project. Only pull the permit if you know you can take on the task of professionally managing your home remodel or construction. General Contractors are not only paid to manage the work, but they also make sure all the sub-contractors are properly licensed and that the work they did was well done and executed in proper sequence.

Construction cost can vary greatly depending on the scope of work. The builder should be able to give you a per square foot estimate of your construction cost.

Berkley, CA

Grant St Remodel

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