Feb 25

Class K - The Alternative Building Code


Class K - The Alternative Building Code
 Written by Bill Barksdale

I spent a very interesting hour with Countys Chief Building Inspector, Chris Warrick, recently.  I wanted to find out as much as I could about County s often cited, but little understood alternative to industry standard building codes.  The old standard code was called the Uniform Building Code.  In California we use the California Building Code and the new standard code is called the International Building Code or IBC.

So what is Class K?  No one at the building department knew where the term came from.  Class K is a relaxed construction standard intended for use by owner-builders for Limited Density Rural Dwellings, which is approved by the State.  Basically the purpose is to make sure structures are safe.  There are some differences from the traditional building and it s always been kind of a mystery exactly how Class K works, so Chris took the time to explain it to me.

To qualify, properties must be zoned for a size of one acre or larger and the structure cannot exceed 2 stories (a half-story is where the ceiling height is less than 7 per Chris). The fees are the same as other permit fees.  This is not meant to be a punitive process, as the myth that is often circulated says.  One does have to consider the normal fees for permits, i.e.:  school impact fee if appropriate, fire department fees, recycle/reuse ordnance fees and environmental health fees for septic & water development.

One big difference in Class K from the standard code is that all inspections are waived except the final inspection!  In other words, the structure is only inspected after it is completed.  The owner-builder has the option of having the traditional series of inspections if they choose, but the only required inspection is the final one.

Class K came about because many people in the County built homes and appurtenant structures without permits.  There needed to be a way to get these structures permitted without having to tear them down.  Sometimes those homes were sold and the new owner needed to get none-permitted construction permitted.

This code doesn't just work for already existing structures though.  You can intentionally choose to build utilizing the Class K code.  Why would you do that?  Well, for one thing you can use the lumber you milled on your own land without having it graded by a professional timber grader.  You can also use components such as recycled windows and doors.  And of course there s the single inspection a big advantage!

Here s the process, and my advice is to just take it slow, step by step.  It s do-able:

1)  Go to the Planning Department (501 Low Gap Rd, Ukiah, Rm 1440) to find out what the setback and zoning law requirements are for your parcel.  In other words, how far from the property line should you be.  If your existing structure is too close, there are remedies like variance (to amend a rule) so don t get depressed

2)  Go to the Environmental Health Department (same address) to find out what the waste disposal standards & water standards are for your parcel.   I didn t interview anyone from Environmental Health so I can t say how user-friendly they are trying to be these days.

3)  If your parcel is accessed directly from a County or State roadway, you will most likely need what is called an Encroachment Permit.  This simply creates a legal right to pass from a private property onto an adjoining public roadway (not required from private property onto a private roadway like a road association normally).  There may already be one on your property.

4)  The Building Department will need plans as follows.  They will need 3 copies, one for building dept, one for the owner, one for the Tax Assessor.  A) Sketch of foundation plan  B) Under floor framing  C) Wall, ceiling & roof framing  D) Floor plan of each level  E) Two elevation drawings, front & side normally  F) Cross section drawings of stairways, elevators or other unusual installations  G) Plot Plan on 8 x 11 grid paper (special grid paper provided by County Planning) showing how the structure & improvements relate to the property lines, septic installation, other structures, water sources, etc.

I've seen these plans and they are often hand-drawn to the best of your ability.  Ask Building what they will accept.

5)  Submit the Class K compliance form for Planning & Building.   This is a simple 1-page form identifying the site and waiving all inspections except the final.

6)  Dept of Forestry & Fire Protection application.  This asks some questions about size of structure, distance from property lines (at least 30 ), roads & driveways, bridges, and a Plot Plan like the one for the Building Dept.

I asked Chris if engineering is required.  His answer, very seldom .  Engineering is only requested for what he described as very complex construction.  Once again, inspections are meant to help insure that structures are safe so people don t get hurt or killed.

NOTE:  During our conversation the County s new Planning & Building Director, Nash Gonzales, stopped by.  I've known Nash for a number of years starting with a course in Municipal Planning that I took with him a number of years ago.  He is helping to make our Planning & Building Department a much more friendly agency for the public.   Nash and Chris let me know that together they are planning a Seminar for the public about the Building and Permitting Process!  You heard it here first.  Be looking for it or call the department  707-463-4283.

This seminar will, hopefully, be recurring something that Chris said he has been trying to put in place for a number of years.  With Nash's support it looks like it s finally going to happen.

I asked what types of construction the County approves.  Chris s answer:  wood-frame, cobb, metal frame, rammed earth, straw bale, styro-block, masonry, log / heavy timber & concrete have all been approved.  He said we will consider everything.

In closing Chris asked me to let you, dear reader, know that he wants to get rid of the fear of dealing with the Planning & Building Department.  Just call him (707-463-4283) and ask your questions.  You don t have to identify yourself or your property.  Use your building department for answers , he said.

My impression from this interview is that the Mendocino County Planning & Building Department is making a real effort to be more user friendly.  Time will tell.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR, Bill Barksdale: I have been selling real estate in the Willits/Mendocino Co. market for over 18 years. I can be reached at Coldwell Banker Mendo Realty Inc. PH: 707.459.8888 or Email me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . I hope you will find my site (Bill Barksdale's Real Estate Site) of use to your home buying or selling a home now or in the future.

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