Although the frequent snow and ice storms may suggest otherwise, spring will be here soon enough and bring with it the outdoor construction and renovation season. Towns in the Greater Hartford area and the State of Connecticut have a number of ordinances in place that homeowners need to be aware of as they plan this yearâ€™s projects. Whether youâ€™re a weekend warrior or planning to hire a crew, make sure that you comply with any local, state, or national Historical Preservation Ordinances, the State Digging & Excavation Laws and your townâ€™s general Licensing and Inspection Laws. Just a little up-front planning can prevent major headaches both during the work and after the project is complete.
Historical Preservation Ordinances
If you live in an older home that is within a Town, State, or National Historic District, you may need to follow Historical Preservation Ordinance guidelines when performing exterior renovations. For example, most of the homes in my neighborhood in the West End of Hartford are included in a National Historic District. There are multiple historic districts in the neighborhood, each representing a different style, size or age property. In an effort to preserve the historic and architectural character of the community, the City of Hartford established the Historic Preservation Commission to review work done on homes that are within national, state or local historic districts. All projects that are visible from the street and require a building permit need to be approved by the Commission.
One of the goals of the Preservation Ordinance is to help homeowners understand their options for maintaining their property in keeping with its original character. The City put together a set of historic preservation guidelines recommending the type of work that should be done on Hartfordâ€™s historic buildings. They cover entrances, masonry, paint, porches, roofs, siding, sites and windows, and can be downloaded from the City website. Most projects are expected to be approved by the commissionâ€™s staff, and to be turned around in a few days. More complicated projects are heard at the monthly Commission meetings, where either the homeowner or contractor presents the plan. Minutes posted online from recent meetings show that the Commission is willing to require changes to â€œfinishedâ€ projects, so property owners that do not get preapproval for their projects proceed at their own risk.
Despite the potentially heavy handed regulations, the ordinance should provide two primary benefits to West End homeowners. It will help extend the life of our homes, and will help maintain the unique feel of our neighborhood. The Ordinance also considers the possibility that historical preservation may be too costly in some cases, allowing economic hardships and precluding work to be required that raises the cost of an improvement by more than 20%. All of this information and more can be found here.
Check with your townâ€™s Historic Preservation division for specifics related to your neighborhood and home.
Digging & Excavation
After the planning is complete, be sure to find out where the buried utilities are located before the project begins. State law requires that the utility companies be notified before anyone uses equipment to dig on their property.
The homeowner first marks the project area on the ground using white paint or flags. The utilities companies will then mark the locations of the various services in a color (the website has a key for the color coding). At least two full working days notice is required, so homeowners need to plan a little in advance.
In Connecticut the company to contact is called â€œCall Before You Digâ€ and can be reached at 800-922-4455.
City Licensing & Inspections
Finally, most renovation work (both external and internal) needs to be reviewed and approved by your town. Since contractors will (hopefully) apply for permits on the homeownerâ€™s behalf, the important point to remember is that an inspection is needed to close out all permitted work. Try to get the inspection done as soon as possible so that there is no confusion or uncertainty months, or years, later. See your local townâ€™s website for the details or call the town hallâ€™s Licenses & Inspection division for more specific information related to your projects.
Iâ€™ve had a number of interesting conversations with both sellers and the folks at Hartford Licenses & Inspections as I tried to understand the official status of projects. After working through the process a few times, I would strongly recommend keeping a list of contractors that have done work at your property and the inspectors that closed out the job. This information could be very important when you eventually try to sell.
Regular home maintenance and periodic upgrades are a fact of life for any homeowner. As you think about your next project, make sure that you are following any necessary Historic Preservation Ordinances, the Digging & Excavation Laws and the Town/City Permitting Laws. It may require a little extra time up front, but it will save time, money and energy over the long run.