My Boulder Dream Home
One of the greatest real estate opportunities is building your dream home in Boulder Colorado from the ground up. Or, as is quite common, re-imagining an existing house to be your ideal sanctuary. Complicating the process are the myriad and heavily enforced construction rules for building in Boulder. Rodwin Architecture delivered a stand out presentation on the codes and rules for building in Boulder. This post touches on what you need to know in the City of Boulder (the county is somewhat different).
In creating rules for building in Boulder, the City has worked towards two overall goals. To preserve neighbors’ property rights and to enforce code. For instance, Boulder has a strong policy regarding height limitations. In constructing your new home, there is a policy for determining the low point from which your house will be measured. Did you know this low point could be on your neighbor’s property line?
Boulder Architects Have Extensive Knowledge Of The Rules For Building In Boulder
There are urban myths that didn’t follow the rules for building in Boulder. Realtors cite the house built three inches too tall. According to lore,it had to be torn down because it failed code inspections. Of course, the truth is likelier that Boulder code required the owner to correct the height, which could have meant taking the roof off, re-doing the trusses, then new roof on, re-shingle, etc. Not fun.
You don’t want to make a mistake on the rules for building your dream house and find yourself tearing it all down. Having an excellent architect is key to successfully working through all the requirements while delivering a stunning new castle for your family.
Steps One To Three
Imagine for a moment, the perfect lot is available to you. It is the one you’ve been eying for years, day dreaming of remodeling or just flat-out building upon. Step one should be to contact an architect and make certain you can do what you have in mind.
Budget is going to be an important part of the transaction. What risks does any given property carry? The flood path, past permitting by the seller, solar shadows, even the use of the driveway are items that can be quickly probed in an initial consultation. How will quirky rules for building in Boulder affect your budget? The roof line?
Fast Fact: A typical Permit Review in Boulder Colo can take 5 to 8 weeks
If things feel good at this stage, you will probably want to have an official feasibility study. With so many different rules for building in Boulder on the books, you need to understand how a wide range of attributes will affect your property. Such as:
- lot size
- historic preservation (Martin Acres is 50 years old; not historic, but certainly not new)
- Allowed, conditional and prohibitive uses
- setbacks and encroachments
- greening building
- accessory units
- maximum home size
This phase may even involve creating a sketch. When it comes to engineering your dream home, the more information you can specifically supply the building department, the better. If you have not already, this is also a good stage to select an architect. Boulder prefers newer homes to be energy efficient. Three architects with a strong emphasis on this aspect of building are:
The Devil Is In The Details
Some of the rules for building in Boulder sound crazy. Almost to the point of disillusioning. For instance, in Martin Acres it is especially common to see a garage that has been converted to living space. Oddly, this creates a problem for parking — even if an ample sized driveway exists.
Generally code excludes the driveway as a parking space in terms of approving a permit. Sure, the previous owners parked all their cars there for years. A lack of parking scenario could prevent you from qualifying for your future dream home permits. Brandy LeMae with WORKSHOP8 makes a good case for having an experienced architect from start to finish. Doing so prevents little mistakes from cropping up midway into a project -surprises can be costly.
Another aspect to consider: solar rights. The sunshine that falls on your neighbor’s lot and home is protected. Builders need to take care with roof lines to protect a neighbor’s right to sunshine. Boulder Colo has stringent guidelines regarding total square footage. Decks and balconies count towards the total allowed square footage. Patios do not. Hence, frequently with major remodels and new construction owners trade decks for patios.
Frequently overlooked and potentially expensive are any prior permits. For instance, sometimes you run across houses where a seller pulled a permit and then failed the final inspection. While the outgoing owner has always lived with it, the new buyer owner could be saddled with the task of first correcting back to original any failed permit items before starting the new work.
This is the sort of rules of building in Boulder the average home owner is likely not familiar with. And it is a great example of the value an architect will lend your dream home project.
I suppose if I mention Historic Preservation you are bracing for the next “oh no” moment. And while there are some additional concerns for historic homes, there are actually some benefits. Historic homes can get around parking issues more readily. And the rules for building in Boulder can be more flexible on height for a historic home. There is no single answer when it comes to designing your dream domicile. Architects can really help you save time, money, even the fate of your project.
How high Can I Build In Boulder?
35 Feet is the simple answer. But when it comes to permits and meeting code, there is nothing simple about following the rules for building in Boulder. For starters, the height is not measured from the base of your house to the highest potential spot. Instead, 35ft is measured from lowest point within twenty five feet of the tallest side (lowest exposed point) of the structure to the highest point on the structure. See diagram. And by the way, that lowest point could actually be on a neighbor’s lot.
Architects have a few tricks of the trade to help improve the numbers. For instance, if the lowest point of the structure is a porch, it might be possible to cantilever the porch and move your starting low position uphill a bit. Sometimes, a small effort like this can make all the difference.
Since the early seventies, Boulder Colorado has had an active Historic Preservation Board. This board balances protecting community assets with the rights of individual owners. Your property will face a review if it is:
- In a historic district
- Older than fifty years (this is not really all that old for a home, i.e. think: Martin Acres)
- Property is an individual landmark
- A building that is more than 50 years old will be moved or partially demolished.
What about upgrading doors and windows for higher energy efficiency? While Boulder is generally all about better energy savings, historic preservation can prevent an owner from making upgrades. City of Boulder code can require repair versus replacement depending upon where the window is located.
Believe it or not though, there are advantages with historic homes. State and Federal tax incentives exist. And variances are allowed for items such as parking or measuring the height of the renovated home.
Can I Build In A Flood Plain?
Yes. Sometimes. No. When it comes to building a home in the flood plain in Boulder, it really makes a difference what portion of the flood plain the house sits inside. If the house is located in the 500 year flood plain, remodeling or construction is allowed. At the other extreme, if the property is high hazard, then construction is not allowed. New construction will require a house to have its narrow side facing uphill – so that water in a flood could readily move around a house versus hitting it broadside like a dam.
Fast Fact: Rodwin Architecture offers a FREE consult before you start your project. Find out, can you do what you want before you commit.
Easily Overlooked Items
Setbacks, easements and parking are all too often overlooked with construction/remodeling projects in Boulder. For instance, your neighbor’s solar rights can limit your ability to build up even if your lot would otherwise allow for it. Steve Lane, with BAS1S, points out a good architect can change the dimensions of the roof to accommodate the neighbor’s solar rights.
Additionally, parking is required for a home. A driveway may be present but qualify due to setbacks, per rules for building in Boulder. This is one that catches buyers off-guard all the time. Another concern would be outstanding permits from previous projects. Occasionally, owners start a project but are unable to complete it to code. Failing a final inspection requires the incorrectly finished improvement be torn out before any new permits can be issued. This can add time and cost to a project.
Water is another item that can sweep remodeling plans off the table. Be sure to check the size of the main water line. Some homes will require an upgrade from 3/4 inch to one inch when adding a bathroom. Adding costs of fifteen to twenty five thousand to a project can dampen an owner’s enthusiasm for that new master bathroom.
Boulder makes the news lately for discussing the process of becoming its own utility. This is reflective of one of the many areas where Boulder looks at energy consumption and savings. Homes undergoing remodeling project are subject to improved energy requirements. New construction homes, especially those over 3,000 square feet, can face rigorous rules for building in Boulder. HERS or similar scoring systems can mandate homes to be quite energy efficient – bordering on Net Zero. This attention to energy savings can add 15% to 25% to the total cost of construction through higher quality materials, mechanical systems and construction techniques. WORKSHOP8 builds contemporary homes with a very low (ideal) HERS rating and even constructed the net zero Ghost House in Denver.
Vacant Lots: Build From Scratch
A vacant lot in Boulder will offer plenty of advantages, though home buyers should be prepared for additional costs. Start by adding $50,000 to the cost of a blank lot for initial utilities, permanently affordable incentive programs and more. And keep in mind, all the usual rules for building in Boulder apply. And, many of the expenses with a vacant lot are cash. Mortgage lenders require larger down payments and adding utilities (unless part of a construction loan) are cash outlays.
Remodeling an existing structure can save on start up expenses. Building upon a virgin lot can offer plenty of advantages: positioning for the best views and sunshine, maximizing the lot.
Boulder Real Estate Collaboration And Partnership
When it comes to designing, building, executing and enjoying your dream Boulder home, my goal is to be an active partner. From start to finish. Having resources for my clients is important. The architects and engineers can assist you in complying with all the rules for building in Boulder. I will help you find that perfect lot, location or view. Get in touch today to start your home search.
Thank You Boulder Architects
A big thank you to Steve Lane with BAS1S, Brandy LeMae with WORKSHOP8 and Scott Rodwin and Kirsten Snobeck for all the information, photographs and slides they shared to make this blog possible.
About the author: The above local Real Estate information on Navigating The Rules For Building In Boulder was provided by Bob Gordon, a local expert in his field. Bob can be reached via email at BobGordon303@gmail.com or by phone at 303-443-3334. Bob has been helping people move in and out of the Boulder/Denver area since 1995.
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