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Community and Q&A

New city code Des Moines Iowa

userfriendly | Posted in Building Code Questions on

Des Moines Iowa is in process of passing new code that will make a single story have min. 1400 sq ft, basement, and a single garage. Two story min. 1800 sq ft, basement, and single garage. They are just raising the tax base in my opinion. Zero on making homes more GREEN!  Any ideas on how to change citys mind?

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  1. GBA Editor
    Brian Pontolilo | | #1

    Hey Greg,

    Have you been to any of the meetings where this change was discussed? I'm curious to know the argument for it.

    1. Expert Member
      MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #2


      From way I can glean from news reports, the idea was to establish guidelines that would fast-track what the city considered "standard" houses, and keep the current more cumbersome application processes for anything that didn't meet those size stipulations.

      Whether that was the true intent, or something else in in play, isn't clear.

      1. GBA Editor
        Brian Pontolilo | | #3

        Interesting. I know that this isn't unique and that many municipalities have minimum square foot requirements in their zoning laws, I've just never heard the logic for it.

        1. Expert Member
          MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #4


          I've never heard a similar explanation tendered. The usual reason seems to be the preservation of property values for existing neighbourhoods. We have minimum sizes for various spaces in our building codes, but those are for public health or safety reasons, and are well below the sizes Des Moines is mandating.

        2. Expert Member
          Dana Dorsett | | #5

          So, slab on grade & crawlspace foundations are expressly disallowed, only basements?

          Does the basement have to be the same size of the first floor conditioned space?

          And every house is required to have a garage?

          1. Expert Member
            MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #6

            Every house has to have at least a single car garage. Each house has to have a full height basement. The intent is it cover the ground floor sq footage, but I don't know how the regs are worded.

  2. Expert Member
    BILL WICHERS | | #7

    This seems like people who don't really understand what they're doing trying to mandate things. I've seen plenty of dumb government regulations that have similar origins. I imagine this is trying to boost the tax base, so that they know every house will net them at least some particular amount of revenue. Governments cause problems for people when they start thinking of how they can make more money.

    My guess is no one at the city realizes this will rule out slab on grade and other things. My guess is there will be a lot of unforeseen consequences. You might try using the argument that this new rule is going to drive up the cost of construction, ultimately increasing the cost of housing in the area. That might get peoples attention to give more resistance to the city.


    1. userfriendly | | #8

      I totally agree with you. This city is putting the squeeze on big time. My taxes just went up this year 16% in 1 year! And no garage. I told them you are the pin and we are the ballon. They are really bad with money, and you should FEEL the streets we drive on! Thanks to all, Greg

    2. JC72 | | #9

      Basements don't add a lot of tax value because they're below grade and not always finished.

      One positive that I can see is that HVAC should now be located in the basement rather than the attic which is a plus. Plumbing of course is easier to work on.

      Garage might not be so bad because people will should keep their paints/solvents etc. in that space rather than an interior closet in the living space.

      A side benefit is tornadoes. IIRC tornado alley is beginning to shift to the east (i.e. towards Des Moines).

  3. Aedi | | #10

    If you are passionate about encouraging greener construction, I recommend trying to get a group of like-minded people together and lobby for your own changes.

    Take the recent rules change that Seattle enacted, which caps square footage on single family homes and makes it easier to add accessory dwelling units to existing stock. The aim is to increase housing density in certain areas of the city, preserve existing structures, and make the city more affordable overall:
    Perhaps it will be possible to get similar rules enacted in Des Moines.

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