Why you can’t get a permit to build from stock home plans in some cities

Updated: Dec 20, 2019

Q: “I’m planning to build a new home in Palo Alto, so I bought some stock home plans. When I tried to get a permit to build it, the City suggested that I hire an architect. Why?”


A: Palo Alto is a city that prides itself in its community appearance and quality homes. It is one reason why home prices are generally higher and retain their value better than many other Bay Area cities. The City Planning and Building Departments recognize that an architect will have the experience necessary to design a home that fits with the surrounding environment. It is also important to note that Palo Alto is not the only city in Santa Clara County where you may receive a similar request. In my experience, Los Gatos, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Woodside are a few other municipalities where the services of an architect comes highly recommended.


Another reason that they may want you to hire an architect is that your stock plans may have elements in the design, such as a cathedral ceiling, that falls outside of the conventional framing guidelines of the California Building Code. If the design of the home does not conform to those guidelines, then an architect or engineer licensed in the State of California must be hired to specify the structural elements like beams and rafters and to provide calculations that show that these structural elements are properly sized for the home.


Stock home plans also take no consideration to the uniqueness of a property such as a heritage oak tree that must remain, views or solar orientation. They also may not comply to City regulations such as “daylight planes,” setbacks, height restrictions, flood zones, and others specific to the City. Palo Alto is one of the local cities that is concerned about heritage oak trees and has specific regulations governing them. These unique elements of your property are important in creating a comfortable and beloved home.


Lastly, there are specific code issues in the State of California. In the United States, each state is responsible for choosing what model code to follow and may adopt amendments to the code to customize it for issues unique to California. California’s natural environment require architects and engineers to prepare buildings to protect people from earthquakes, brush fires, mudslides, high winds, snow loads,  and floods.  Even so, each city is then allowed to add additional codes or regulations. If the person that designed your stock plans is unfamiliar with the special circumstances in our State and in Palo Alto, then the plans may not be suitable for your property.


It is always best to consult with your local planning and building department before you charge ahead on any new construction project to be sure that what you plan to do complies with the special codes and regulations particular to your City.


Our firm has experience designing new homes in Palo Alto and local communities and is familiar with the specific regulations. We can assist you in creating the home you envision while still complying to local and State regulations.


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