March 2006

Last week Steve Yett and I took a trip out to Ventura and submitted our Coastal Development Application to the California Coastal Commission. The package we submitted contains all the permissions and approvals we’ve obtained thus far in our journey to build the Burns residence.

I anticipate this to be a very smooth process due to the fact that Steve and I consulted with the Coastal Commission early in the stages of design. For this consultation we brought detailed site photographs so we could talk about the house design and weed out any potential cautionary areas before we got too far along.

One part of the early design that could have been questionable was a second story guest unit. The original idea was that it would be positioned on top of the garage. After speaking with the Coastal Commission, it was decided that putting the guest unit under the garage would be the better option. Along with the guest unit, there were a few other small considerations we took in after that initial consultation.

** Tip: If you are building in the Coastal Zone I would recommend checking in with the California Coastal Commission as early as possible with your design, as making changes at this stage, both big and small are much easier to deal with and accommodate.

For those interested in reading about the California Coastal Commission: Visit their site.

We finally got our Los Angeles County Health Department approval for the design of our septic system! This was a huge step for us, as this approval was the last major piece we needed to be able to submit our package into the California Coastal Commission.

For those that don’t know about septic systems here’s the basic rundown…if your land is in an area that is not serviced by a sewer system then you most likely will have to have your own septic system. This involves drilling seepage pits or having a leech field. In my case I had to drill five seepage pits. Two of the five are for current use and the other three are for future use. The idea is that all the water and waste from toilets, sinks, showers, tubs, etc will leave the house and go into a treatment tank, once treated it will flow into the seepage pits and then drain slowly back into the earth. Over time the pits can get clogged up and fail, thus the reason for the future pits.

The number of seepage pits you are required to have is based on the number of bedrooms and fixtures your house has as well as the calculation of how quickly the fluids drain from the pits. The drainage calculation is determined by performing a “perc test”. A perc test is basically drilling a handful of test pits and having a water truck fill them up with water and then checking the drainage rates over a certain period of time. The slower the pits drain the more pits you will probably need.

** Here’s something important to keep in mind…In the early stages of building you might be tempted to try and save some money by skimping on the septic system and design only the minimum required for your house plan…if during the building process you decide you want to add another room or perhaps later on down the road you’d like to do an addition to your house, you might not be able to based on the current capacity of your septic system. Another thing to keep in mind…because part of the calculation to come up with the size of the septic system is based on the number of bedrooms, it is important to realize that offices, hobby rooms, etc are considered bedrooms by LA County. For example, our plans show the main house as three bedrooms, and office and a hobby room…but when talking about the floor plan in septic system terms, it’s viewed as a five bedroom.

My point here is that the septic system can be a big constraint on the future size of the house and one would be much better off designing for growth in the early stages.