Floor Area Ratios – Bulk and Volume

I attended a meeting this week regarding proposed changes to the current FAR in my neighborhood in Kirkland.  I thought I’d report on Kirkland specifically on my blog, but raise the BIG question here.  Should neighbors and local governments be able to dictate, beyond height and setbacks, how “big” your home can be?[photopress:bigger_house.jpg,thumb,alignright]

Is the “argument” really about size?  Or is it about “style”.  It seems that people complain more about homes with a flat roof made of smooth stucco, than they do about homes with pitched roofs.  If everyone in town hates the house you want to build, should that matter?  Is this argument really about trying to dictate “taste”.  When an old house is torn down, the new one built in its place can’t be expected to look anything like the one that was there, can it?


The reason more houses are being built with a flat roof, rather than a pitched roof, is because of the height restrictions.  Here the height can’t exceed 25 feet.  If you have a point at the top, that point counts as your 25 feet, so you lose a lot of square footage at the top vs. building your second floor up to 25 feet with a flat roof. 

FAR is not so much about the size of the house, as it is the size of the house relative to the lot size.  If the building code has a restriction of 50% FAR, then the maximum size of a house on a 5,000 square foot lot is 2,500 square feet.  Unlike real estate agent and appraiser criteria, building code square footage can include the attached garage, but often does not include the “air space” of a two story room with no floor at the second level.  “Volume” related complaints suggest that this “air space” should be included in the square footage as if it had a floor.[photopress:small_house.jpg,thumb,alignright]

I will stick to the specifics of the actual Kirkland meeting on my blog, but here in RCG, I thought we could talk more about the issue generally.  Used to be as long as you adhered to the height restriction and setback rules, all was A-OK.  Now people want to dictate and prevent “monoliths” and homes that just don’t seem to “fit” into the type of town “we” want to be. 

The fur does tend to fly at these meetings.  Anyone have any opinions on this topic?  Some of the questions raised are “Why do so many new homes have such small yards?”  Should we really be able to tell people whether or not they MUST have a “yard”?  Whatever became of one story houses? and “What’s going to happen if my neighbors sell?” Should we let people do whatever they want with the land that they own, or should neighbors and local governments have some say in the matter?

Weigh in your opinion.  Inquiring minds want to know how people feel about this topic.

This entry was posted in General and tagged , , , by ARDELL. Bookmark the permalink.


ARDELL is a Managing Broker with Better Properties METRO King County. ARDELL was named one of the Most Influential Real Estate Bloggers in the U.S. by Inman News and has 33+ years experience in Real Estate up and down both Coasts, representing both buyers and sellers of homes in Seattle and on The Eastside. email: ardelld@gmail.com cell: 206-910-1000

10 thoughts on “Floor Area Ratios – Bulk and Volume

  1. A perspective from an outsider – one who wishes to move to Seattle, but who cannot currently afford it (from the land of $140,000 homes that would be $350,000 in Seattle)…

    In my part of Texas, the following constraints can be put on all construction:
    1. Setback (Front/Back/Side/Aerial)
    2. Exterior Const. Material (Brick, Wood, Stucco, etc. – percentages of each type can be specified, especially pending # 3 below)
    3. Neighborhood Type (if other homes in the vicinity are one-story, you cannot build a two-story house without acceptance of the majority of your neighbors)
    4. Historical Districts & Visual Zones

    Austin is having problems with what they call “McMansions” – see http://www.escapesomewhere.com/austinblog/2006/02/moratorium_passed_on_mcmansion.html . I can say this is a problem there – you can have a street of two bedroom cottages and then have this Taj Mahal that completely fills the area of the setback.

    We don’t have FARs here – you can put anything on a lot if it is in keeping with the neighborhood and if you don’t have to rezone or get a special use permit (i.e., constructing a storage building or swimming pool in a setback, etc.). Once you ask for one of those, anything and everything is fair game and is on the table.

  2. Great topic, Ardell. Interesting article this week in The Economist on creeping nanny-ism in government. The traditional way to exert architectural control over a neighborhood has bee the homeowners’ association. I have been President of several, and one thing I particularly recall is that if the association does not exercise its review and consent power consistently, then it loses the legal power to block anything. While I can appreciate that a city building department might want to defend the bastions of good taste (in their opinion), or ensure that any new development is “in keeping with the neighborhood” (Jeffrey’s phrase above), that is all a very slippery slope. With Ardell’s Kirkland example in mind, I might suggest to the people of the neighborhood that the reason their property is worth so much is precisely because someone with money who wants to live there can build the McMansion of their dreams. Denial of rights to ‘highest and best use’ has been the subject of quite a few legal wranglings lately. This topic will be the gift that keeps on giving 🙂

  3. To Jeffrey, Kirkland didn’t have FAR code restrictions until 1999. They are proposing some fine tuning of the 1999 code. Bulk and volume of housing becomes a more heated issue where there are views involved. The little house with a view can now only see the neighbor’s walls surrounding them, instead of the Lake Washington view they had before the homes around them were torn down and replaced with bigger homes. You also get less sunlight, a big issue here in Seattle, if the homes around you start to tower over you.

    In L.A. I saw a house so surrounded with monoliths that mold started grown on the little old house and even in the dirt surrounding the house.

  4. The Eastside of Seattle is full of homes from the 50’s and 60’s with flat roofs. Personally I find them much less offensive than the peaked roof’s on the faux-craftsman style McMansions that are now in style. Given the same amount of square footage, a well designed house with a flat roof will block much less of the sun and the view than a McMansion with a monstrous pitched roof. Ask anyone on Mercer Island who has lost their view of the water due to all the old 60’s houses being replaced with pitched roofs.

  5. In Seattle, things are just the opposite. Height limit is 30′ , but with roofs of min. 3:12 slope and a peak with a return, they are allowed to go to 35′. Planar roofs are not allowed this extra 5′.

Leave a Reply