Tips Before You Renovate

​​​​​​​​​Starting a new home improvement project can be very exciting fo homeowners. Whether you're preparing for your first project or are a veteran to the process, consider these steps and tips to help your next project run as smoothly as possible:

Familiarize Yourself With Your Property Lines and Applicable Zoning and Building Regulations 

The zoning and size of your lot has a major impact on the kind of projects that can be completed on your property.  Factors such as the size of your completed project or the use of a detached structure, for example, are affected by such coding and ordinances and a project must comply with them in order to be approved by the city. 

For more Zoning information, please contact Zoning Administration with the Department of Planning & Community Development at (757) 385-8074. 

Get To Know Your Neighborhood Guidelines

Many, but not all, residential communities have their own set of design guidelines to maintain architectural integrity and unity.  Such guidelines standardize such characteristics as residential styles, materiality and size, among others.  Some projects may even require approval from your local homeowner’s association.  Check your homeowner’s manual for the information you need.  Study  the trends of your neighborhoods (style, color, size, etc.) and develop your project accordingly.

Put It on Paper 

Whether they are floor plans, sketches, or photographs of similar finished projects, having visual references for your idea will help you realize your vision.  Oftentimes, it is beneficial to consult with a professional or someone with experience in your type of project to receive feedback and helpful suggestions.

Secure a Permit From the City 

The City of Virginia Beach requires building permits for a number of types projects, including but not limited to detached structures, additions and pool installation.  

For more information on obtaining the required permits, fees, and inspections, please contact Permits and Inspections with the Department of Planning & Community Development at (757) 385-4211.

Prepare Your Site

Be sure to take all necessary safety precautions before starting your project.  

Think About the Details

Think about accessibility, energy efficiency and how your project will impact the environment.

Begin Your Project

As you construct, employ green building and renovation techniques to reduce the impact of your home improvement on the environment.


In order to transform your home into a structure that is easy to navigate for all, there are some specific guidelines that facilitate mobility, comfort and the ability to complete everyday tasks.

When the entry into a building is not level with the ground outside, a ramp should replace or accompany stairs that lead up from the ground to the entry. Ramps should have a grade no steeper than 1:16 to 1:20.

Bathrooms must be large enough for a wheelchair to enter and exit efficiently. An accessible bathroom should have an open 5 foot radius unobstructed by walls, toilet and cabinet bases and shelving. Showers and tubs should not include steps and should be easily accessible as well.

Doorways and Passageways

Paths and walkways through the home must be consistently 32 inches wide. While open, doorways must allow 32 inches of open space between the face of the door and the opposite frame to allow for the passage of wheelchairs.


Countertops and tables should be no higher than 36 inches from the ground. All people should be able to both see and reach across these surfaces.

 Energy Efficiency

​Energy efficiency is the key to reducing electricity and gas usage and saving money.  By making a number of preparations and adjustments to your home, you can help improve both the state of the environment and even your finances.

Energy Efficiency Tips

  • Install energy efficient windows, doors and skylights
  • Incorporate low-E glass coatings, glass filler between layers and composite framing materials; Energy Star products
  • Keep temperature of home consistent; comfortable
  • Lower energy bills and saves money
  • Reduce green house gas emissions
  • Energy Star appliances and bathroom fixtures that save water
  • Replace faucets and toilets with fixtures that use less water
  • Electronics such as televisions, radios, telephones and computers use less electricity than traditional appliances
  • Appliances​ such as washers and dryers can save both energy and water
  • Insulation
  • Sealing and insulating basements and attics help reduce the amount of energy needed to cool or heat your home
  • Insulating walls and sealing openings, such as doorways, windows and garage doors, prevent drafts which increase energy use
  • Replace traditional light bulbs with energy-efficient bulbs
  • Unplug any and all appliances that are not in use; even when they are off, appliances can still use electricity

 Reducing the Impact to the Environment

​The construction and life cycle of a building greatly effects the environment in which we live. Building requires large amounts of energy and raw materials and produces large quantities of waste. Green building and design works to reduce waste and use energy, water and materials more efficiently will decrease the negative impact of the built environment on the earth and human health. This type of building and design initiative aims to create built environments that are livable, safe, productive and comfortable. By making your home more sustainable, the livability and marketability of the home is increased while the negative impacts to the environment are reduced.

This section provides information about how to incorporate green, or sustainable, tactics into their home improvement project. Green building, homeownership and economic development will all be discussed. Going green can help with the new construction and rehabilitation of residential and commercial buildings. This is a key element in the economy and housing markets. Buildings become less costly to operate and maintain by making them more energy and resource efficient.

What is Green Design?

Green building is an approach to design and construction that minimizes or eliminates the negative effects of buildings on the environment and the people who occupy them. It focuses on a broad spectrum of concepts, including sustainable site planning; energy efficiency; water; material; and resource conservation and indoor air quality. Green building considers the entire life cycle of a structure and its components. Green buildings can look the same as a traditionally‐built building but use different methods to achieve their goal. Green buildings may have metal or vegetation‐covered roofs to reduce heat gain, walls and floors made of recycled or locally harvested materials, or heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems that rely on natural systems, such as solar or wind energy. Sustainable buildings also make use of natural light to reduce electricity needs. The buildings are also oriented to maximize use of the sun throughout the year.

Do Green Buildings Cost More? 
Not necessarily. In the past going green was not always practical for the average American home buyer, but as green practices have become more widespread, specialized material prices are falling and designers and developers are learning how to apply green principles in cost‐effective ways. In addition, it is commonly found that going green will save homeowners more money in the long run in terms of energy costs.

Why Build Green?
Green buildings can lead to a cleaner environment, better health and a stronger economy.  Buildings consume two-thirds of all electricity used in the United States.  Green buildings can reduce energy consumption of an individual structure by up to 40%.  Building construction and demolition create 136 million tons of waster per year.  Green buildings encourage recycling and reuse of materials to reduce waste in our landfills.  Most people spend hours in buildings where the air inside can be worse than outdoors.  Green buildings make interiors cleaner, healthier and more comfortable.  The benefits of green building are numerous and together they create a convincing case for changing the way buildings in the United States are constructed and renovated.

Six Reasons to Go Green

  • Reduced energy and water consumption
  • Lower initial construction cost
  • Higher building valuation
  • Increased local economic growth
  • Improved occupant health
  • Improved environmental health
  • Green Renovations
  • Five Areas of Concentration

Environmental Considerations (Health, Air Quality, Waste Water, Storm Water Management)

  • Waste Reduction
  • Pollution Prevention
  • Water Conservation
  • Energy Conservation
  • Green building/products focuses on energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, resource efficiency, site management, and water conservation.

Quick Tips
Basic suggestions and recommendations for homeowners who are interested in incorporating sustainable techniques into their desired project:

  • Research ways to recycle, reduce, and reuse where possible
  • Explore ways to reduce energy usage, waste, and water consumption
  • Reduce exposure of hazardous materials (chemicals/waste products that cannot be recycled/disposed of without special handling procedures)
  • Switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs
  • Program thermostat settings
  • Plug air leaks
  • Choose energy star appliances
  • Explore solar opportunities
  • Water use reduction
  • Identify green power opportunities
  • Choose low-voc products
  • Use wood alternatives or wood products certified by Forrest Stewardship Council (FSC)
  • Provide shade and wind protection by planting trees
  • Use native plantings
  • Research how green building can save costs
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