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    Why Property Setback Rules Mean You Should Always Get a Survey Before Building

    Holding Green House Paper Model
    Buying a raw piece of land is a great way to build the home of your dreams, right down to every last landscaping detail. However, incorrect placement of your home or even a minor structure like a shed could cause you to run afoul of local zoning and building codes and rack up thousands of dollars in fines and fees. You may also have to demolish the structure you worked so hard to build.
    In order to avoid this, it's important to learn about the property setbacks set by your local zoning board. Once you know what they are and how they apply locally, you should have your property freshly surveyed and marked so you know exactly where to build and where to avoid building.

    What Are Setbacks?

    A setback is a zoning requirement that determines how far you must locate structures away from sensitive features. Features that may trigger the establishment of setbacks include:
    • Bodies of water like creeks, rivers, and lakes
    • Public and private roads
    • Property lines and neighboring structures
    • Wetlands and other environmentally protected areas  
    Different types of structures and additions may require different setbacks from the same features. For example, a building like a shed or home may need to be set 50 feet or more away from the road, but your zoning codes may allow for a propane tank to be located just 25 feet away instead.

    How Does a Pre-Building Survey Help?

    If you can pull up the full list of setbacks required by your zoning board, you may think you can lay out and plan your structures on the lot just with a tape measure and some hard work. Unfortunately, it's very easy to make serious mistakes when trying to do this yourself because only surveying equipment is accurate enough to base a decision on.
    Improper layout can lead to a home you can't inhabit or sell, so it's not worth trying to save the money you'd spend on a survey with those kinds of risks. Setbacks also vary greatly from county to county. For example, one area may measure a public road setback from the edge of the road closest to your property, while other counties require the measurement to start from the middle of the road.
    Hiring a local surveyor eliminates the need to check every detail of each setback and try to get accurate measurements on your own. Just let them know you're concerned about local setbacks and ask for a report that shows all of the relevant borders and barriers so you can layout your desired structures and improvements in the right place from the very beginning.

    What Is a Foundation Location Survey?

    Even after you've had a pre-building survey completed, you should still continue having at least one more survey done before your home is completed. The foundation location survey must be taken after the foundation is poured but before the rest of construction proceeds. It's required in many areas for construction permits to verify that you've complied with all the essential setback requirements in your placement of the structure.
    Having a foundation location survey completed is a good idea to limit your losses in case there was a mistake. A foundation does cost thousands of dollars to pour, but it's still only a fraction of the total cost of a house and easier to cut to fit the setback requirements with minimal work.
    Planning your new property and ready to get help with the setbacks? Contact us here at John E Sirine & Associates for help with the process and advice on what else you might need to survey on the lot.