Dear PoP – Rules for Adding an Addition?

“Dear PoP,

I’ve been dreaming of doing a small addition to my bungalow in Brookland in order to expand the tiny kitchen and was wondering if you had any information about building restriction lines. How far from the property line does the house have to be in the back (if it helps, my house backs to an alley)? I don’t have any idea where to start finding this info and would like to know my options in order to begin the planning process.”

First step should def. be visiting DCRA’s Home Owner’s Center because permits will be required. But has anyone added an addition to the back of their house? Off hand do you happen to remember some of the rules?

This is actually also a dream of mine. Can anyone speculate as to the possible cost of a project like this?

17 Comment

  • Half of your addition has to be made available to those making less than 50% of area median wage.

    • ah

      That would be getting off cheap on cost.

      There’s no way to know the cost without knowing what you’re planning. A new kitchen can alone cost $25k unless you go super cheap on appliances and cabinets. Obviously it can go up, way up, from there. Add in the costs of pouring a slab or digging a foundation, framing it up, new plumbing and electric, windows, the inevitable french doors for rear yard access, and so forth and even a modest addition including a kitchen could hit $100k.

      Now, I’m sure somebody’s brother can do exactly that for $25k, but I’m figuring you want someone reputable and to do a good job.

  • Your BRL lines are shown on the copy of the plat you got when you purchased your house. If your settlement papers are handy I would check there. If not, go down to DCRA and for something like $10 bucks they will make a copy for you. BRL’s are different on sides and front and back so you need to know.

  • There’s a percentage property coverage that you’re allowed to have and it varies by neighborhood. For example, your house can’t exceed 80% of the lot area in X neighborhood.

  • pablo .raw

    Go to to identify the zone district where your house is located, then refer to the document DCMR 11 for information regarding rear yards, sideyards, etc.
    I’m going to guess that you are in zone R-5-A and if that is the case, the minimum depth of your rear yard should be no less than 20 ft.

  • Get a DC licensed architect and contractor, rather than relying on anonymous postings on a website.

    • Prince Of Petworth

      I’m sure they’re not relying on anonymous postings but rather are just in the very early stages of the process and are curious to quick facts/experiences of others.


      You people who don’t get it, really crack me up.

  • Pablo.raw had it right. Search the using “search by location” and pop your address in. It’ll give you the location and the corresponding zoning number. Then you can go here and see a summary of the regulations.

    For example, a R-5-A allows:
    “Permits matter-of-right development of single-family residential uses for detached and semi-detached dwellings and, with the approval of the Board of Zoning Adjustment, new residential development of low density residential uses including row houses, flats, and apartments to a maximum lot occupancy of 40%, 60% for churches and public schools; a maximum floor area ratio (FAR) of 0.9, and a maximum height of three (3) stories/forty (40) feet. Rear yard requirements are twenty (20) feet, side yard requirements are not less than eight (8) feet. If all other provisions of the zoning regulations are complied with, conversion of existing buildings to flat or apartment use is permitted as a mtter-of-right.”

    Depending on the scope of the project, the Homeowner’s Center is definitely the place to go to get help and permit assistance and they can give you some guidance. It mainly focuses on fences, decks, interior renovations and other smaller projects.

    You should definitely talk to a certified architect or contractor for new construction as you’ll need someone to get electrical and plumbing permits.

    We have this and other zoning info here:


  • That is correct – your address and therefore your zone designation dictate the setbacks along with other pertinent information regarding building on your property.
    I’m a licensed architect as well as a licensed contractor in the District. I would be happy to speak with you about your project. Additional information can be found on my website –
    I can be reached at 202.494.5061.
    Thank you.

  • It differs per neighborhood but is clearly spelled out by the district zoning laws. Hire an architect or design/build firm and they’ll know all about it and can help you achieve what you want.

  • Cute bungalow!

  • That’s no bungalow! That’s a foursquare!

  • Hire us! Wiebenson and Dorman Architects.

  • Call the zoning department instead of DCRA. They are exceptionally helpful and seem to know everything about the percentage requirement.

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