In Central Florida, if you want to build a home or an addition to your home, you must FIRST find out how much land you have for construction. Your licensed Contractor will do all of the following, but if you really want to know, read on. Hiring a Civil Engineer, Geotechnical Engineer, Surveyor, and doing thorough research can save dollars, months and disappointment later:
A survey is almost always needed to get a permit for any addition or new home. For an addition, you may be able to draw the added area onto an existing survey. Or, you can order a new one from a Registered Surveyor. Get an estimate of the cost from them including “elevations” of the slab, lot corners, driveway and street. If you have a large site, and your house is a significant distance to the property line, the Building Dept. might not require a current survey – call them.
Hire a local Geotechnical Engineer to do a soils test. Every lot is different. Don’t rely on anyone’s advice other than a ‘Geotech’ Engineer. Ten per cent of the homes we build would have settling issures if it weren’t for the soils tests we require. You want to know if the soil will support the weight of a house without settling and having cracked floors and walls. The Engineer can offer several depths to test, at varying costs. They will test for loose soil, water table, muck (decayed vegetation), clay, etc. They can also do environmental tests (ie radon), and the perc test for a septic system. If the lot needs corrections, they will make recommendations and follow up testing.
SETBACK LINES – GOVERNMENT
This might be on-line. Better, call your Building Dept. and ask “What are the setbacks for my lot?” You want the: front, side, and rear setbacks to the house. Also ask about pool and screen enclosure setbacks. If you have a corner lot, odd shaped lot, or waterfront lot, take your survey to the Building Dept. Write down the answers and the name of the person who gives you the information.
SETBACK LINES – SUBDIVISION HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION
Setbacks are not usually shown on a survey. Ask the Surveyor if they can include setbacks. If you have a Architectural Review Committee in your Homeowners Association, it will have requirements which might be greater than the government setbacks in #2 above. If you are in an old subdivision, look on-line or in the County records for recorded subdivision requirements. Also look for setbacks to driveways, air conditioning equipment, etc.
Study your survey for drainage, utility or conservation easements which might be greater than the setbacks. There usually are easements along the side lot line. Ask if anything, including the driveway can be built into an easement.
Ask the Building Dept. if generators, pool equipment, and air conditioning units are allowed in the setback area. Generators usually have required distances to other houses due to their loud noise. The distance from the lot line to LP gas tanks, plus the distance to the house, can also be a limiting factor.
You may be required to (or it could be very wise to) hire a Civil Engineer to create a drainage plan. Remember this: “Water flows down hill.” Every subdivision has County “approved construction plans” for the installation of the roads, sewer and water lines, etc. Look in those plans for the “Grading Plan”. There are typically three drainage plans – “A”, “B”, or “C”. Read the notes on the Grading Plan to find the slope per foot. Then ask the Building Dept. for the height needed between the finish grade and the slab. Then do the math to tell you how high the slab must be above the road, and solve the drainage issue. Compare this information with the Survey and the FEMA requirements.
SLAB ELEVATION AND FLOOD INSURANCE
The survey should have the FEMA Flood Zone on it. Ask the Surveyor or Civil Engineer what elevation is required for the slab and equipment pads. If you’re in a flood zone your mortgage holder will probably require you to buy flood insurance. If the house slab or the air conditioning or pool equipment pads are built too low, you could be denyed insurance or pay a premium. You can apply to FEMA for an exemption in some cases – the Surveyor has the forms.
Go to the local office of your State Health Dept. to learn their requirements. Ask the Health Dept. and the well driller about their knowledge of conditions in your area. Typically your well must be at least 75′ from a septic field or another well including your neighbor’s well or septic field. Ask if there is enough space for a well drilling truck to maneuver to lift out the pump in the future. Note: if you’re in an old citrus grove tell the driller to have the water tested for nitrates. You probably will need a test from the Heath Dept. before you can use the water or get your final inspections.
The State Health Dept will have septic information. Ask an installer how much of your lot the tank and the septic field will need, and how close it can be to the lot line. A “perc test” (“perculation”, how fast water absorbs into the ground) will be required Ask if you will need a ‘mound system’. You may want to consider one of the new “on-site waste water treatment systems” that use less ground area and are more environmentally friendly, but do cost more.
Any information you have should be put into an organized file for future reference. Give copies to your Contractor, who will appreciate it greatly.