Making Good Decisions
Despite plenty of anecdotal evidence to the contrary, there is no legal justification in any North American building code for denying a permit because of the use of an alternative material or system. At the same time, there aren’t any building departments that would answer a general inquiry about whether or not they will permit any given alternative solution with a general answer of “yes.” Permits are not granted or denied on the basis of a single material choice, but for meeting a complete set of requirements that demonstrate the viability and safety of the entire structure.
All codes include provisions for working productively with materials that are not directly recognized by code prescriptions, or materials being used in ways that are not directly prescribed in the code. In making a permit application, you must understand what aspects of your proposed building do and do not meet the prescriptions of the local code. You must also acknowledge that plan reviewers are concerned with specifics, not generalities; permits are granted or denied based on the exact details of the proposal and if the details are missing, inadequate, or in contravention of the code, a permit will not be granted even if the idea is generally feasible. In-depth advice for code considerations is given in Decoration 9.
Every homeowner has a vision of how his or her building should look and feel. Never before have so many aesthetic options been available to homeowners everywhere; we are no longer limited to the materials and vernacular of our particular region but can pick and choose from a vast palette of options, including millions of images online.
There is no way to prescribe a particular aesthetic or to rank options in comparison to each other. However, it is important to understand how all your other goals may intersect with your aesthetic desires.
Important questions to consider include:
Does the siting of my building directly influence my aesthetic options?
Does the property size or orientation impose aesthetic choices or limitations?
Do municipal by-laws (height restrictions, boundary setbacks, location and size of parking areas, exterior finishing, and/or color requirements) impose aesthetic limitations?
Do the performance targets of my building directly influence my aesthetic options?
Do passive solar options dictate building size, shape, orientation, or window sizes?
Do energy systems (solar panels, chimneys, and exterior mounted mechanical equipment) impose aesthetic considerations?
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Do wall and roof thickness, window performance, and other energy efficiency measures impose aesthetic considerations?
Do the chosen materials impose aesthetic considerations?
Are the materials able to create the desired shapes and massing?
Are materials able to accept the desired finishes?
Are there regional vernaculars that offer aesthetic possibilities?
Will lifestyle choices support aesthetic choices?
Does the shape, flow, and finishes of the building match your daily needs?
Does the size, location, and budget of your home match your aesthetic choices?