Can You Replace “Any” Window You Want?
Replacement Window Policies in Local Jurisdictions
Every community has different zoning codes and building regulations. Usually these codes, regulations and laws are designed to protect the public from hazards, natural disasters and outdated technology. Some codes and regulations exist with an eye toward maintaining the aesthetic – especially in historical building districts. Others are adopted by jurisdictions as a way to cut home ownership costs and keep up to date with the latest advances in window technology. If you’re looking to replace your windows, you and your window installation professional must look up your local laws, regulations and codes first.
Compared to the other parts of a house or business, windows are easy to break. That’s why they’re often the focus of laws and ordinances governing what you can and can’t do to your home. Your city council, zoning board or even your state government may have adopted safety ordinances and codes pertaining to what you can do when you replace your windows.
For example, if you own a building in a hurricane prone area, your windows may be required to have some measure of impact resistance. When upgrading your windows, you need to keep this in mind. Some jurisdictions may allow the impact resistance to take the form of external shutters that can be closed over your windows when a storm is imminent to protect them from flying debris.
But, if you’re making an investment in your home, you can also come up to code by investing in windows that use laminated glass. Laminated glass is two sheets of glass pressed together without space for air between them, held together with a plastic so that if something goes flying into it, the glass will still crack but the plastic polymer sheeting will hold it together.
Effects On Exterior Appearance
Safety is just one example of how local jurisdictional policies affect the type of windows you can choose from when you’re replacing those in your home that are a little too old, a little too aesthetically unappealing or technologically inferior. Another example of policy dictating the types of windows you can use is historical building codes.
If you live in a designated historical place, or a designated historic district, you may be required to replace windows with windows that are similar to those already in place, in order to keep the exterior appearance of the building in line with the antique image of the house or district. Material selection and construction methods of windows today varies quite a bit from window construction even just 100 years ago. While local coding may require your windows to look the same from the exterior, newly constructed windows can still give you a boost in safety, security and savings on your heating and cooling bills.
If you live in an area that has a homeowner’s association, you may also have to check with them to ensure that your windows meet their guidelines. You may think that you never signed up for a homeowner’s association, but there’s a chance that you did when you signed the closing paperwork on your home. While the standards set by homeowner’s associations aren’t law, they’re pretty powerful entities, usually formed with the good of the community they serve in mind. Homeowner’s associations can complicate things if you don’t live up to their demands – possibly going so far as to levy fines against members who don’t follow their instructions, which can pile up and eventually even force the home away from the hands of the homeowner. Always double-check with your homeowner’s association before replacing your windows.
Construction Safety and Regulation
Local building codes and zoning ordinances don’t always apply to the actual windows themselves. Sometimes they regulate just the type of work being done, or even who it’s performed by. Even if you’re just replacing windows that already exist in the structure, you may be required to file a building permit with your city or county government. If you’re creating additional windows, you’ll almost always have to file for a building permit.
Building permits let the government in your jurisdiction keep tabs on what’s going on in their area. It allows them to see what you’re doing to your building before you embark on the project and it provides some measure of protection against the potential safety hazards of shoddy workmanship and installation. In the unfortunate and unlikely event that something goes wrong after your window replacement is complete, you have concrete documentation of who completed the project and can more easily determine who is liable for damages.
Coping with Zoning Codes and Building Ordinances
It’s exceedingly easy to see all these rules and regulations as a hindrance to your building improvement process – but they don’t have to be. If you do your research before beginning a project, you’ll know exactly what guidelines you’re working with and can tailor your window replacement to those specifications; or if necessary, apply for a variance allowing you to do what you and your contractor feel is necessary. By staying in line with the laws and regulations set in place in your area, you’re saving yourself legal headaches, financial hardships and battles with the applicable agencies.