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How Tall is Tall? Getting the Low Down on Height Regulations

February 24, 2015

Most people now assume that when they go to build anything, regulations will limit what they can build. The earliest codes were designed to address safety and health concerns in dense city environments, but once the suburbs exploded and whole towns were created in a few years, aesthetic concerns came into play when neighborhoods’ quality of life suffered from those who built too big, too close or too tall.

People in existing communities during mid-20th century American suburban sprawl came to realize that what other people built can have real impact on their property values. So new laws were created by local governments that located buildings, including houses and additions to houses.

These laws most often use measurements of area, separation from property lines and height. The area of any building is pretty straightforward to compute. How far a home sits away from its property line is just a dimension. But when the grade slopes, roofs have pitch and/or there are several peak and eave heights, the height of any building is subject to a lot of interpretation.

If you are considering building a new house or addition with more than one floor, understanding how high your roof can be before you begin designing it is a good idea.

Every town or county in the vast majority of suburban communities has its own idea of what a building’s height is. It’s not just the dimensions involved —10 feet is 10 feet anyplace in the land — but where those dimensions are taken to is the subject of extreme variation.

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This house had more than 10 eave heights and 5 peak heights. The coastal town in Connecticut where the home is located used the architect’s definitions of an average of all the various roof heights to verify compliance. The cupola was not limited by the rest of the roof’s average height limitation — it had its own 50ft. max height limitation for its peak, which this example was well shy of.

The different places to measure to and from vary from town to town when it comes to figuring out how tall a home is. First the low side: the grade upon where the home is located can be an average from the highest point to the lowest point of the grade that is at or near the house. Sometimes the low point is the starting point, sometimes it’s the high point. The actual grade can be what existed before construction, or after construction.

The high point of measuring a home’s height can be the highest peak, the average of the home’s peak, and average between the eaves and the peak, and on and on.

Computing height is not only complicated it is completely subjective from town to town. Getting a variance for a height that is higher than the laws allow is very difficult because the perception of bulk of any building is greatly impacted by how tall it is, no matter how the dimension of its height is defined and calculated.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 21, 2016 2:08 pm

    perimeter length (each segment of roof) x height to midpoint (at each segment of roof) = “height area”

    Height Area/ Total perimeter Length = Average Building height (from average grade in this case.

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