ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Building My Own House - Where Do I Begin?

Updated on June 6, 2011

If you are thinking about a home addition, or building your own home from the ground up, where should you begin? How much can you add?

A lot of us would start by talking to designers and contractors. You can save yourself a lot of headaches by talking with the City, County, or Township that you live in before starting a major home renovation or construction project. Your local government typically has a Planning Department and a Building Department. The Planning Department implements the zoning code, which governs the height, size, proximity of your house to your property line, use of the building. The Building Department governs the building code, which protects the life and safety of the residents/occupants. Often, the 2 departments will have seemingly “contradictory” or “not so clear” regulations. Regardless, the most stringent of the 2 regulations will govern. Your first stop will be the Planning Department. Your second stop will be the Building Department.

Planning Department - At the Planning Department, you are going to ask for a few things:

  1. Find out the basic zoning of your property. This will often be R1, R2, R3, etc. R = residential. The number that follows often means the maximum number of units you can have on your property. Do not confuse these designations with the Occupancy designations in the Building Code, which is governed by the Building Department.
  2. Find out if there are any overlay zones on top of the basic zone. An overlay zone is additional zoning regulation on top of your basic zone. It can include downtown overlay zone, design overlay zone, historic overlay zone, wetland overlay zone, etc. Typically if your property is located in one of these special zones, your design approval process may be more complicated as there are often additional requirements for the overlay zones.
  3. Obtain the zoning code sections that applies to your zone. These are typically part of the municipal codes. Find out the required setbacks, lot coverage, building heights, etc.

Pick up a sample application at the Planning Department. It should tell you what documents you’ll need to submit for your project, also known as the "submittal". The term “submittal” is also used during construction by contractors. It refers to samples or shop drawings that the contractor submits to the architect or owner for review. The time period between submitting the project to the city to receiving a planning approval is often called the Entitlements Phase. Sometimes the submittal list will vary depending on the size of the project and the type of approval process.

Once you’ve obtained your planning approval, you will have a given time to pull/obtain the building permit from the Building Department. This differs from city to city, but is typically one year. Use the period between planning approval and building permit to finalize your design and construction documents. If this process ends up taking more than a year, you may be able to file for an extension, please discuss with your local jurisdiction.

Building Department -The Building Department is in charge of making sure your project is structurally safe, has adequate fire protection, and other technical aspects of the building. The Building Department enforces the building code. There used to be 4 different types of base building codes in the country. They have since been consolidated into the International Building Code and International Residential Code. The word “International” is used due to the fact that Canada uses the same base code. For single family residential constructions, you will need to refer to the International Residential Code as it is adopted and modified by your state and city. The building code’s designations R1, R2, R3, etc., refer to the occupancy of the project, meaning, who is going to occupy the building. For example, an "A" occupancy is an assembly space where people congregate. A "B" occupancy is for business. An "R" occupancy is for residential use, similar to planning. But the numbers after that does not refer to the number of units, but more specifically the type of residential use, such as hotels, apartments, nursing homes, or single family homes. Single family residential construction is normally an R3 occupancy.

At the Building Department, check the submittal requirement for the Construction Permit, also known as the Building Permit. This list is probably similar to the Planning Permit list, but more elaborate, and more detailed. Discuss with the Building Department estimated time frame and review procedure.


In most cases, the Planning and Building Departments are very helpful and want to see your projects succeed, which will bring in more fee and tax revenue. Always make sure to take notes of your discussions with them and send them a copy as a record. Building your own home is stressful as is. Throughout the process, you are going to make a million decisions that you normally wouldn't think of making. By finding out what is allowed first, and by giving the local government a "heads-up" about your project, this will make the permitting process at lot smoother, and will allow you to focus on the important issue - building your house.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)