HOAs and Flat Roofs

Our HOA, like many others, has an architectural review committee, and a set of architectural guidelines. Most of the guidelines aren’t real burdensome, though some might have been like the requirement of a substantial exterior deck. But we were planning on doing that anyway. The guidelines are a little persnickety about exterior lighting and fences, but neither of those are big deals on our end.

One lingering issue is the question of roof slope. One of my friends who works in construction defect litigation told me a story about a big battle-of-the-experts in a case involving snow loading. Apparently there are two schools of thought when it comes to roofs in mountain environments. The first says build steep roofs so the snow falls off. Think A-frame. The other school says build the roof strong to handle snow loading and make it pretty flat, like a shed roof.

Shaun is largly on team shed roof. It’s pretty trivial at this point to strengthen the roof to the point it can handle the snow loads, and it’s generally cheap to build because it’s a big flat rectangle.

First Design

Here’s the rub: at least historically, our HOA’s architectural regulations were not on team flat roof. They were on team A-frame, and required at least a 5/12 roof pitch – a 5 foot drop in height for every 12 feet across. It’s pretty close to the pitch on the stick house you would draw if someone handed you a crayon and a piece of paper and said you need to draw a house.

But last February they changed the regulations. In large part, it seems, thanks to our neighbors, who have a low-slope roof. The committee approved of their roof, apparently with a comment along the lines of “this is the direction mountain architecture is heading.” Which, from our perspective, seemed true. So it should be helpful to follow in our neighbors’ footsteps.

Construction of a Flat Roof
The trailbreakers next door

The remaining issue is that though the HOA changed the architectural regulations to open things up a bit, the regulations still didn’t entirely bless flat roofs. The specs required a 5/12 or steeper slope or shallower slopes subject to committee approval. It was still kind of squishy.

We reached out with our initial sketches to the committee to find out if they had a problem with the roof slope before we sent the plans for structural engineering. A new slope would require another round of engineering, so we wanted to find out early if they had a problem with a shed roof.

They said no. Not “no, you can’t have a shed roof,” but “no, we won’t tell you if it’s okay or not.”

Apparently the rationale was that it’s a volunteer committee, so they only want to go over everything once. And that means going over a set of fully-engineered plans. Which isn’t a big deal if they end up approving of our design, but which would be REALLY LAME if they end up rejecting the plans and we need to re-engineer everything, and then re-submit the plans for permitting.

So hopefully none of that happens and everything is approved without a hitch.

Meanwhile, we kept hitting the books. We’ve mentioned some of the others that were really helpful, like A Pattern Language or House. Others, not so helpful. Like Building Your Home: A Simple Guide to Making Good Decisions. It was a little too simple; too basic. “Here are some things to think about” isn’t terribly helpful if the list comes without much insight.