You've lost your house in a catastrophic fire. You can afford to rebuild, now that help from your insurance company is on the way.
First, you'll need a construction permit from your municipality's building department--or if you live in an unincorporated community, from the Los Angeles County departments of public works and building and safety.
County officials said Thursday they hope to streamline this process by opening what they call a "one-step permit center," starting Monday and running through Friday (8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) at 125 S. Baldwin Ave. in Arcadia.
"We know people are anxious to get their homes rebuilt--they don't like to wait," said Ed Biddlecomb, the county's assistant building superintendent. The center, he adds, will be equipped to offer approvals required for the permit--from the fire, regional planning and public works departments.
Next, you'll need to commission an architect to help plan your born-again dwelling. Or, builders say, if you intend to build essentially the same house you lost, the old blueprints will suffice--that is, if those blueprints survived the fire. If not, you can obtain a copy from the architect or possibly from your community's building department.
Now comes perhaps the most crucial hurdle: hiring a contractor. That, some experts say, poses another challenge: avoiding fraud.
"Every time there's a major disaster and people have to start over, they can leave themselves open to fraud, if they're not careful," said Tio Galli, president of Galli and Sons, a Sherman Oaks contractor for 39 years.
When strangers pitch business as contractors, Galli said, homeowners should ask them to show the following: driver's license, Social Security number and California contractor license number.
"You might also ask them if they know the telephone number of the state Consumer Affairs office," Galli said, referring to the agency that issues contractor licenses. "You've got to be very, very inquisitive. If they're not honest, they won't like all those questions. They'll leave and go find another sucker."
And once you've found a contractor you can trust, experts say, you may face stacks of regulations that didn't exist when your destroyed house went up--tighter restrictions on insulation, glazing (size and energy efficiency of windows, sliding doors and skylights), height (one story or two?), heating, plumbing, electrical wiring.
"If you lost an older house, you may have had a 70-amp. system in it," said Bob Baumheckel, a Montrose builder and property inspector. "If your community has new requirements, you may need to upgrade to a 100- or a 200-amp. system--depending on how big a house you want to build."
Foundations can pose problems. Experts say fast-moving fires such as those that destroyed hundreds of residences Tuesday and Wednesday tend to leave foundations unscathed; slower-burning fires, they add, can rupture the concrete.
Soil erosion also is expected to be major factor in rebuilding, particularly in hillside areas that will be vulnerable to slippage from winter rains.
"People who rebuild in the hills should consider adding subterranean drains," said Paul McGrath of Foundation Contractors, a Van Nuys firm specializing in foundations. "Or they might want to think about building swales, or concrete terraces to steer the runoff to storm drains."