Remodeling with & without Permit

Many of my customers and even some contractors find interpreting the
Building Code to be a bit confusing in regard to remodeling projects.
When is the Building Permit required?
If the changes are purely cosmetic, the permit is not required,
independently from the size of the project.
In Florida, in addition to the the standard Building Code, there is a
Code for existing buildings. It may be the same in other states
because the Florida Building Code is based on the ICC: International
Code Council guidelines.
The Code has divided the remodeling work into 3 categories:

  • ALTERATIONS LEVEL 1:
    Includes any kind of REPAIRS done throughout the house, such as
    replacing appliances, plumbing fixtures, carpet, painting etc.
    A Building Permit is not required.
    -ALTERATIONS LEVEL 2:
    Includes any work that alters the existing layout:
    e.g., wall demolition, fabrication of new walls in new locations
    different from the original, new kitchen layout with new or old
    cabinets & appliances, new bath layout, etc.
    The total remodeling work area must be below 50% of the total house
    area. If the work area exceeds 50% of the total house area, the
    remodeling project falls into
  • ALTERATIONS LEVEL 3:
    which means, the entire house must comply with the latest Building
    Code requirements. The entire roof must be reinforced, each wood truss
    must be restrapped, and new doors and windows must be installed.
    Existing exterior walls must be reinforced per the new Code.
    The existing foundation must also meet the new code standards.
    This is a very expensive remodeling category.
    It is better to keep the work area below 50% or divide the project
    into two phases, each below 50%.
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Best Windows for Homes

Choosing the right windows for a new house or for remodeling an
existing house is very critical. Windows are not just aesthetic elements,
they play a big role in safety and energy efficiency.
Strategically placed singularly or as an assembly of
more units can dramatically change the appearance of
the house; placed symmetrically with rhythm and balance
will give a majestic look to the house independently from the style.
A more random layout will give a more informal and casual look.
To be energy efficient, a window shall have a
low conductivity value: u=36 min. which require the use of double glazing.
Window framing are available in aluminum, vinyl or wood clad.
Aluminum or vinyl are commonly used in subtropical climates.
Wood clad are better looking and cost more, but
might have a condensation problem between the two materials.
Safety in florida is very important. windows are the weakest element
in a house, that is the reason their fabrication has to meet rigid criteria
established by the FBC. All windows need to be approved by the
bldg dept prior installation by providing a certificate showing NOA test results.
regulations might be annoying but in many cases they protect the owner and save lives.


Windows Installation Details
Transitional Home, Pool Patio
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Principles of Bathroom Design

The bathroom is the most private space in the house.
It is also a place where vanity is not just a piece of furniture.
The ideal bathroom should be spacious and beautiful,
but when the space available is limited, it is critical to place each element
strategically to have a functional layout without sacrificing beauty.
When designing a bathroom the first thing you want to avoid is a wall
in front of the entrance. To give depth and a sense of perspective,
I place the small elements, vanities or tubs, across from the entrance;
the large elements, showers & toilets, at the opposite wall.
When space is a luxury, I have placed an open large shower
in front of the entrance. There are many variations in the
above basic conceptual design, of course, due to peculiar bathroom shapes.

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Principles of Kitchen Design

The kitchen is the center of gravity in the homes of many American families.
In some cultures the kitchen is more than a mere space for cooking,
it is also a space where family and friends gather together to
cook, eat, drink, and enjoy each other’s company.
A kitchen doesn’t need to be large to be beautiful.
It has to be functional and has to reflect the life style of the occupants.
A kitchen can take different shapes but basically there are only two types:
Formal and Casual. An open kitchen to the family room is casual and more
stimulating. It opens the wings to everybody in the house. On the other hand,
for people who value privacy,
a formal, closed-in kitchen is more appropriate.

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How to Enclose a Porch or Patio for Living Space

Enclosing an existing Patio is one of the most common changes homeowners make.
It allows them to expand the living area very efficiently because the roof and
floor are existing. Increasing the living area also increases the value of the house.
An existing porch can be enclosed with wood or masonry walls.
Both types of walls are fine, I prefer masonry walls in South Florida.
It is easier to build wood walls around the patio and easier to anchor
those new walls to the existing structure but it depends on the type of beams
below the roof and the type of existing foundation that is below the new walls.
Independently from the type of walls used, the Florida Building Code requires
that the concrete footing must be min. 16″x18″. Unfortunately around a patio
the footings are much smaller, about 10″x12″. It has
to be increased to meet Code and to resist the extra gravity and lateral load.
If the beam below the roof is made of wood material, it is not easy to anchor
a masonry wall but it can be done. In this case, a wood wall would be more
appropriate but most homes in South Florida have concrete beams, so a new
masonry wall is a perfect match and easy to anchor to the existing concrete beam.
A #5 steel rod can be used to connect both elements in order to resist
high wind pressure and have a perfect joint between the existing and new.


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Building a Second Floor Addition

Adding a second floor above an existing house
is very critical and more expensive than building
on the ground level.
If the lot is too little and no other options are practical it
is important to choose a location that will not require lots
of demolition and repair work to the existing house.
A new second floor will put a lot of pressure on the existing
foundation system, which has been designed to support a
one-story house. To be sure, it is better to obtain the original
plans, if possible, but if the original blueprints are unavailable,
it would be a good idea to dig around the foundation to find out
the concrete footing size. Guessing can be disastrous and very expensive.
To minimize cost, the location of the new addition is critical.
I prefer to build on top of the existing garage.
Two methods can be used: a new post and beams system to bypass
the existing foundation, or demolish the garage and build
new foundations large enough to support two stories.

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Remodeling or a New House?

By Florida Building Code: When the cost of remodeling exceeds 50% of the house’s market value or the remodeling area exceeds 50% of the house’s total area, the entire house has to comply with the new Building Code
(which will increase the cost of construction substantially)
Construction considerations: If the remodeling work or addition is limited in scope (just a couple of rooms, about 20% of the entire house)
it is worth it to remodel or add to the existing house.
On the other hand, if the remodeling work and/or the new addition is much more extensive,
the homeowner should analyze other options to determine if it makes sense financially.
Even after remodeling an existing house is still old –
most of the existing electrical wiring, plumbing and mechanical systems will stay in place.
By experience and asking some clients after the house has been completed,
we find that many regretted their decision. Most would have preferred a new house,
(comparing SF to SF, remodeling work is typically more expensive than building a new house).
One empiric rule of thumb to help making a choice between remodeling
or a new house is the following: When the cost of remodeling exceeds
about 40% of the house market value, it is better build a new house.


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