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Robert Lamoureux: Will permit process be affordable?

Your Home Improvements

Posted: May 7, 2010 10:37 p.m.
Updated: May 8, 2010 4:55 a.m.
Hi Robert,
I am interested in a rural property in Leona Valley, and I would really like to get your thoughts.  There is a house, but it is there illegally. I want to keep the house and have it permitted, but according to the homeowner, we need to install a fire hydrant. The homeowner has already spent $20,000 for the well and $3,000 for a 5,000 gallon tank, and if I want the hydrant that’s up to me.  I’d appreciate any light you could shed on this. The water tank needs to connect to the hydrant 220 feet away. Could you also provide an idea of the costs? I just want to have an idea if this home will be affordable. It’s up on a hill, so it won’t be fun. Thank you,
Dan T.

Hi Dan,
Well, if you like digging it will be a lot of fun. First thing would be to excavate a trench for the pipe. Use 4” Schedule 40 PVC. If this run goes under a driveway or anywhere there is traffic, the top of the pipe has to be 40” below grade. Everywhere else, it has to be 36” below grade, times 220 feet. Anything coming up out of ground needs to be galvanized, it can’t be plastic. Then hook up your hydrant head. This hydrant has to be a minimum 50 feet away from the structure. You might think the closer the better, but you don’t want the firefighters in peril. They need room to set up their hoses and fight the fire. If it’s too close, they can’t get to it.  

You will also need a ringer for the tank. If your water supply is below 1,500 gallons, you would need a ballcock to sound a bell. This is electrically operated and you’re going to need a dedicated circuit. You need 220-feet of electrical pipe. For a run that long use #8 because of the resistance. And like I always say, use a qualified electrician.  

Depending on if the land is fill or shaved — shaved is almost like concrete to dig — considering accessibility, with materials and labor, you’d be looking at about $15,000 for what we’ve discussed so far. That’s if the well and pump are up to standard.  

Keep in mind you need a minimum road clearance of 20 feet for the fire department. The roads leading to the development need to be that wide so fire trucks can access the property. In Los Angeles County, the requirement is 15 feet wide. Depending on your situation, you may require additional road work.  

If you have entry gates, you will need a fire department key switch. They need a way to get in. It’s called a Knox switch or Knox box with a Medeco key. This is authorized by Section 506 of the International Fire Code. The fire department will talk you through the procedure, but you have to go through the Knox Company in Kentucky.  

This box has a reflector so when the fire department rolls, especially at night, they can find the key switch. These boxes will either house a set of keys to gain entry to the property or, more recently, they are being designed as a free standing key and cylinder that operates a micro-switch which opens the gate to the property.  

Only the fire department has a key so they can open the gate in case of fire. Not even the homeowner has a copy of the key. One key will operate every box in a particular zone, and every zone has a different key.   

You will also need to replace your septic tank. If it’s not permitted, they are going to make you tear it out and start over.  

Also, is the electrical panel sized up enough to handle the dedicated circuit to the water tank and the electrical devices you will be bringing to the property?  

Hi Robert,
We live in an HOA and we are being told that the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department is requiring a key be provided so they and emergency vehicles enter the property. Is that true?  
Lynn D.

Hi Lynn,
Yes that’s true. We discussed Knox boxes briefly above. More and more, we’re seeing these boxes being made available for fire, police and emergency personnel.

Call the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station and ask what you need to do to remain in compliance. There are two or three locksmiths here in the SCV who are authorized to sell the lock, then you can have your gate contractor install the boxes for you.  

Hi Robert,

Is there any reason I can’t use a flat roof for sunning?  
Victoria W.

Hi Victoria,
Yes. This sounds like an accident waiting to happen. Or at the very least, you might cause the roof to leak.

There is a good chance that the roofing membrane of a flat roof is not designed for furniture or the weight of an individual that could push down on the surface and cause damage. Chairs push down into the hot membrane, which then dries, cracks and causes leaks.  

First of all, you need to make sure that the roof can take the load of pedestrian traffic. If so, how much traffic? Once people start accessing that area, you would need rails around the perimeter and it would have to be gated. This all may sound like overkill, but it’s important to take safety seriously.  

You might think that you’re the only one using the roof, but what if friends start joining you in this new hot spot you’ve discovered? Someone could get hurt if the proper safety precautions are not followed. This is one of the reasons there are codes. People often get hurt or killed when they don’t follow codes.  

Falls make up a high percentage of the number of deaths each year. In this case, it would be very easy to fall off the roof or fall through the roof.

The first step would be to get an architect who can tell you if the roof is rated for pedestrian traffic. If it is, you would need to convert the roof to a deck — all of which requires permits.  

Bottom line would be, unless you go through the building department, get an architect to come out, pay the fees, go through the proper authorities for the permits and do the work, I would recommend staying off of the roof.  

We have designed a custom, full-color The Signal/Your Home Improvements T-shirt we would like to give you if we answer your question in our column.

Robert Lamoureux has 25 years experience as a general contractor, with separate licenses in electrical and plumbing contacting. He owns IMS Construction Inc. in Valencia. His opinions are his own, and not necessarily those of The Signal. Opinions expressed in this column are not meant to replace the recommendations of a qualified contractor, after that contractor has made a thorough visual inspection. Questions to


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