Applying for a Window Replacement Permit in San Francisco

Replacing windows in San Francisco can be a very difficult task. This is especially true when you don’t know the requirements of the process, as it requires approval from the San Francisco Planning Board. Because of this, there are many possible hindrances that can slow or even stop the process for those who apply. Most residents are not aware of the guidelines and difficulties. We will briefly explain what is needed to navigate this complicated process to get the quickest and best results. Bear in mind that, applying can be difficult, drawn out, and frustrating even for us as professionals, and we have years of experience installing windows in San Francisco.

Architectural Character & Aesthetic Requirements
As per the San Francisco planning board, windows that can be seen from a publicly visible street or other right-of-way are an important part of a neighborhoods character and also the individual architectural character of a building. If replacement windows are proposed for any type of structure in San Francisco, the new windows must be compatible with both the character of the neighborhood and the candidate building they are to be installed on. This must encompass compatibility in terms of size, glazing, operation, finish, exterior profiles and arrangement. If these requirements are not met, the application will not be approved.

If window replacement is necessary, the San Francisco Planning Board wants the applicant to thoroughly document and investigate the structural and architectural detailing of the window and seek professional assistance. This is a requirement, and if an applicant does not comply, the chances of getting approval to install new windows are basically non-existent. Thankfully the Window Station of San Francisco can help with this complicated process on your projects.

When attempting to replace the windows in your San Francisco structure, the Planning Department reviews every window permit application on a case-by-case basis. There are no exceptions to this rule. The following is a list of information they list that may be required to process an application to replace windows. Be aware that there are more stringent requirements in place for buildings listed as City Landmarks or that exist as contributors to a historic city district. This is part of Article 10 of the Planning Code. As such it requires a Certificate of Appropriateness for any exterior work to be done. In addition, buildings listed under Article 11 of the Planning Code must also be reviewed for historic architectural compatibility by the Zoning Administrator. Either way, approval must be obtained before any building permits will be issued for your San Francisco home, business, or structure. You must also be aware that the Planning Department staff may often request additional information, thereby extending the already drawn out process. They will respond to your case when they are ready and may even require additional fees or permits without any further notice or recourse.

Historic Windows
In situations where original or historic windows are already installed and new window replacement is proposed, the requirements will be even more difficult. If you are applying to replace historic windows in San Francisco, the chosen replacements need to match the existing windows in overall, size, glazing, operation, material, finish, exterior profiles and arrangement. The planning department will ask that you submit the information from the following checklist for review.

  • Photographs of the whole building taken from the curb
  • Streetscape photos of the immediate block
  • Close-up photos of the different types of windows to be replaced, including any millwork or brick molds between windows and surrounding the window openings.
  • A site plan or clear aerial photograph showing your building and the walls of your neighbor’s building on each side, as well as overall photos of each elevation where the proposed window replacement is to occur.

The applicant will be asked to provide specific details for the proposed windows (head, jamb, meeting rail, sill, etc.) with dimensions. These details must also show exterior profiles for the windows, including brick molds and any surrounding exterior millwork.

The Planning Department wants to know the materials, size, and appearance of both the existing windows and the replacement windows, so you’ll need exact measurements. We also suggest that you look at manufacturer’s product data sheets. These will often have some of the required information for the new windows you’re considering. The Window Station of San Francisco can of course provide you with this data when you enlist our assistance.

Windows with Divisions
If the current windows have divisions (muntins) they can be replaced with either true divided light or simulated divided light (SDL) windows as long as the new windows match the historic size, glazing, operation, finish, exterior profiles and arrangement. The SDL windows must meet the additional requirements detailed by the San Francisco planning board.

Windows with Exterior Millwork & Brick Molds
If you desire to replace or alter the profile of exterior millwork or brick mold, the San Francisco planning boards requires you submit details of the existing and proposed new millwork or brick molds with exact dimensions. When the original or historic windows no longer exist, the owner has the option of retaining the existing window or replacing it with a compatible sash. Again the San Francisco planning board will insist that you submit the required information for review. Here is what you will need:

Photographs of the neighboring buildings and their windows on each side of your building
Photographs of the neighboring buildings immediately across the street and their windows
For corner lots, bring photos of the subject building and the building’s other three intersections, showing their windows closest to each corner.

As you can probably see, applying for a window permit in San Francisco is not an easy task. If you decide to go it on your own, we hope this information has helped. We also would be glad to assist you in the process should you need professional help.