Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  • Do I need a permit to add or replace a fence?

    If the side or rear yard fence is 6 feet high or less, you do not need a building permit. No front-yard fence, wall, hedge or screen planting of any kind located between the front property line and the front-most wall of the residence is permitted to exceed 4 feet in height.

    For corner lots, no fence, wall, or hedge may exceed 3 feet in height when it is located within the site distance triangle area; the remainder of the front yard area outside of the site distance triangle area may have a fence, hedge or screen maximum of 4 feet.

    The site distance triangle on corner lots is the area formed by the intersecting curb lines (or edge of pavement when no curb exists) and a line joining these points at a distance of 40 feet along each line from their point of intersection.

    Please also note that you may not build your fence too close to the street in the City's right-of-way without an encroachment permit (see Encroachments). Should you have any questions regarding fence regulations, please contact the Planning Division at (650) 802-4263.

  • Do I need a permit to build a greenhouse or a tool shed?

    Single-story buildings that are not attached to other buildings may not exceed 120 square feet without a permit. However,Planning Division regulations limit the location and height of these non-permitted buildings. For any structure above 120 square feet, contact the Building Division at (650) 802-4261.

  • Do I need a permit to build a retaining wall?

    If the retaining wall is wood, no permit is required if it is 3 feet or shorter. A permit is not required for a masonry or concrete retaining wall less than 4 feet, measured from the bottom of the footing to the top of the wall. See the permit information above. However, as with fences, you may not build a retaining wall in the City's right-of-way without an encroachment permit. Contact Public Works at (650) 802-4195 for information on encroachment permits.

  • Do I need a permit to connect to the city storm drain system?

    Yes, you will need an encroachment permit. See the Encroachments section, and call the Public Works Department at (650) 802-4195.

  • Do I need a permit to install a pool, spa, or hot tub?

    Hot tubs, spas, and swimming pools require building permits and security fencing. Call the Building Division at (650) 802-4261 for more information.

  • Do I need a permit to replace a furnace?

    Yes. Most furnaces are replaced by mechanical contractors, and they will obtain the permit for you.

  • Do I need a permit to replace a sink or a toilet?

    If you are simply replacing a toilet like for like, a permit is not required. We issue simple plumbing permits for sink replacements and similar work. Please call the Building Division at (650) 802-4261 for more information.

  • Do I need a permit to replace my roof?

    Yes. Most roofs are replaced by roofing contractors, who obtain the permit themselves. In fact, roofing contractors apply for more permits than any other group of contractor. Residential re-roofs must be least "B" rated. No unrated roofing is allowed in California. Please contact the Building Division at (650) 802-4261 for more information.

  • Do I need a permit to replace my water heater?

    Yes. Whether you pay a plumber to do the job or replace it yourself, a permit is required. Codes have changed dramatically since most old water heaters were installed. Please call the Building Division at (650) 802-4261 for more information on recent code changes as they pertain to water heater installations in California.

  • Does the San Carlos Building Division have the building plans for my house? May I get a copy?

    The Building Division has records for almost all properties, but they are primarily short records of the permits taken out since the development of the property. Sometimes, especially for older houses, there may be no plans, they may be outdated or incomplete, or the work may have been done without the proper permits. In such cases, the plans would not appear in the file. We typically have more complete files for homes built from 1980 to present.

    If you would like to request information on past building permits or plans, complete a public records request.

    State law prohibits the City from releasing copies of any plans it has on file without the written permission of the current owner of the property and any architect or engineer who may have stamped or signed the plans. For more details, call the Building Division at (650) 802-4261 or stop by during normal business hours.

  • How do I know which materials are approved for construction?

    Some products commonly used in home remodeling projects must have prior approval by the Building Division, or be listed by a nationally recognized independent agency. Some of the listing agencies are Underwriters Laboratories (UL), American Gas Association (AGA) and the International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO Evaluation Reports).

    When you identify a specific brand and model you want to install, check with the Building Division to see if it is approved for use in San Carlos.

  • How does the Building Division define whether or not a room meets the definition of a bedroom?

    We are asked this question quite often. The following is the Building Official's definition of what constitutes a bedroom within a single-family residence:

    Bedroom: any space in the conditioned area of a dwelling unit or accessory structure which is 70 square feet or greater in size and which is located along an exterior wall, but not including the following: hall, bathroom, kitchen, living room (maximum of one per dwelling unit), dining room (in proximity to kitchen, maximum of one per dwelling unit), family room (maximum of one per dwelling unit), laundry room, closet/dressing room opening off of a bedroom.

    Sewing rooms, dens, studios, lofts, game rooms and any other conditioned room along an exterior wall which is 70 square feet or greater in size will be considered to be bedrooms unless the room is specifically exempted. If a home office, library or similar room is proposed, it may be exempted from being considered a bedroom if there is no closet and at least one of the following is present: A) permanently built-in bookcases, desks and other features that encumber the room in such a way that it cannot be used as a bedroom; B) a minimum 4 foot opening, without doors, into another room; or C) a half wall (4-foot maximum height) between the room and another room.

    Please contact the Building Division at (650) 802-4262 if you have further questions.

  • I need to hire a contractor for a building project. Where should I start?

    Ask your friends and neighbors about positive experiences they had with area contractors.

    Contact the Peninsula Builders Exchange, a non-profit, member-run organization, for a referral. Call (650) 591-4486 or visit the exchange online.

    Licensed contractors offer the best protection and tend to do the best work. Ask to see the Contractor’s License Card they carry. Make sure the license is active and issued to the person with whom you speak. Call the Contractors State License Board at (800) 321-2752 to verify all information provided by the contractor. Have the contractor's name, license number, and business address handy when you call.

    Try to get bids on a job from at least three different contractors. Ask for references of work the contractor has completed locally. Make sure you get a written contract, and don't sign it until you fully understand all the terms. It is a good idea to arrange with your contractor to hold the last substantial payment until the Building Division signs off on the final inspection.

  • I want to build a new commercial building or house or add onto an existing house or do a commercial tenant improvement in San Carlos. What do I have to do?

    Building a new commercial building or house or adding onto an existing structure is a process that varies based on the project that you are trying to complete. For more information on this process, visit our Building a New Home/Home Additions page.

  • May I do the work myself?

    Yes, work on an owner-occupied home may be performed by the owner. You may also hire another person or a contractor to perform the work on your own home. The contractor must be licensed and maintain the proper insurance and business license.

    State law requires worker's compensation insurance be provided for all workers, so be sure your contractor has worker's compensation insurance for his or her employees.

    You may check your contractor's license status on the California State License Board website.

  • May I use a credit card to pay for building fees and permits?

    Yes, we accept MasterCard and Visa for permits and fax permits.

  • What are the construction noise hours in San Carlos?

    As of January 1, 2012, the construction noise hours in San Carlos are as follows: 8 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday-Friday and 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays. No construction noise-related activities are allowed on the following holidays: New Year's Day; Martin Luther King, Jr. Day; Memorial Day; Fourth of July; Labor Day; Veterans Day; Thanksgiving; and Christmas.

  • What are the requirements for installing a residential air-conditioner condenser unit?

    Air conditioning (AC) equipment must be located to comply with the City’s Noise Control Performance Standards (SCMC TABLE 18.21.050-A: Noise Limits). A minimum setback of 25 feet from any property line while located in the rear yard area will generally comply with the noise standard (55 dBA daytime and 45 dBA nighttime, measured at the property line). Air conditioners located in side yard areas generally do not comply with the City’s noise regulations.

    When the AC condenser is replaced or installed in a side yard location, it must allow for a clear 3-foot path of travel and the installer must provide documentation to the satisfaction of the Building Official that the unit will comply with the Table 18.21.050-A Noise Limits referenced above.

    If the air conditioning unit is later determined by the City to exceed the limits of the Noise Ordinance, it must be relocated, replaced or otherwise modified to achieve compliance with the Noise Ordinance.

  • What types of construction require a building permit in San Carlos?

    Most anything that you can possibly think of requires a building permit from the City. It is much easier to list things that do not require a permit:

    • Fences 6 feet tall or shorter; however, our Fence Ordinance governs where tall fences are allowed. Check with the Building Division to discuss location of fencing before you start construction.
    • Wood retaining walls 3 feet tall or shorter, measured from grade, and concrete or masonry walls less than 4 feet tall, measured from the bottom of the footing.
    • Painting and wallpapering.
    • Freestanding sheds less than 120 square feet, but check with the Planning Division for setbacks to property lines, height, etc.
    • In general, any mechanical or structural work (e.g., cabinets, doors, windows, roofs), plumbing work (e.g., sinks, irrigation, water heaters), or electrical work (e.g., appliances, furnaces, garage door openers, pool pumps) require a building permit. If you have any questions about a specific project, call the Building Division at (650) 802-4261.

    Remember: Building permits help ensure that any work performed in your home is done safely and correctly. Although safety is our main concern for you and your family, a project built without permits and inspections will often cause problems and create delays when it is time for you to sell your home.

  • Why do I need a permit?

    Building permits control the type of construction and use of property in the city. The building permit is based upon the California Building Codes, which were adopted (in addition to local ordinances) to protect health, general welfare and the investment in your property. The evidence of a building permit is oftentimes necessary to obtain financing from lending agencies.

    Many permits also require review by the Planning Division. The Planning Division is a separate division from the Building Division, but is also located in San Carlos City Hall on the first floor. The Planning Division reviews height, size and occupancy type of your project, as well as neighborhood impact.

    The Planning Division can be reached at (650) 802-4263.