FAR Frequently Asked Questions

What is FAR?

Floor area ratio, or FAR, regulates the amount of gross floor area that can be built on a lot. It is a ratio of gross floor area to lot size, or:

FAR = Gross floor area of building(s) on a lot

lot size

The purpose of FAR is to regulate above-ground mass; that is, the built mass that one can see from the street or a neighboring property. It is one of several dimensional regulations used in Newton in residential districts, including:

The purpose of these dimensional requirements is to allow development of residential lots in ways that balance the interests of both owners and neighbors.

What are "FAR limits"?

FAR limits are described in Newton’s Zoning Ordinance. They represent the maximum allowed FAR for residential structures in each zoning district.

What is "actual FAR"?

An existing or proposed home has an "actual FAR," the gross floor area of the residential structure or structures divided by the lot size. The Zoning Ordinance describes what elements of a structure are included in gross floor area.

I have an attic/basement that is currently unfinished. Can I finish the space under the regulations?

Under the regulations, you can finish any existing space (e.g. attic, basement) without regard to FAR.

Can I finish an existing basement or attic in my house?

Yes! You can finish any space within your existing building envelope without regard to FAR.

How do I know what FAR limit applies to my property?

The easiest way to see the FAR limit for your property is to visit apps.newtonma.gov/far/index.php. This website has an online FAR calculator that will give you an FAR limit that applies to a particular lot size in a particular zone.

To use the calculator, you will need to know your zoning district and lot size. (The Assessor’s database has estimates of lot sizes and zoning information (http://assessing.newtonma.gov/NewtonMAWebApp/) and associates at the Inspectional Services Department desk in City Hall can also assist in identifying your property’s zone and estimating lot size. A zoning map is also available here.

Note that, under the FAR regulations, a bonus of .02 is available for construction on lots created before 1954, provided that new construction complies with setback requirements for post-1953 lots and the new construction does not create or increase nonconformities with respect to lot coverage or open space. The bonus also may not be used in conjunction with Section 30-21 (c) of the Zoning Ordinance, the de minimimis rule. If applicable to your property/project, the .02 should be added to the FAR limit shown in the FAR calculator to find the total FAR limit for your property. Setback requirements can be found in the zoning ordinance in Section 30-15, Table 1 (an online version of the Zoning Ordinance is located at: http://www.newtonma.gov/legal/ordinance/title.htm).

How do I measure the various elements included in FAR?

Please see the "Floor Area Ratio Worksheet" for instructions on how to calculate FAR under the new regulations. Associates at the Inspectional Services Desk can also answer specific calculation questions.

When I calculate my allowed FAR or the actual FAR of my house or proposed construction, how many decimal places do I calculate to?

Calculations should be made to two decimal places.

I have an existing house and want to finish the attic or basement. Do I need to do an FAR calculation?

You do not need to do an FAR calculation if you want to finish space within the existing building shell. You do need to do an FAR calculation if you want to build an addition, replace a portion of your existing house, or build entirely new construction

I want to enclose a porch. Under the FAR regulations, do I need to do an FAR calculation?

Yes, you need to do an FAR calculation to ensure that by enclosing your porch, you are within allowable FAR.

Under FAR regulations, can I get a special permit to exceed FAR limits?

Yes, as under current regulations, one may apply for a special permit to exceed FAR limits. Information on the special permit process is available here.

Under the FAR requirements, when measuring space above the second story, one of the requirements for space counting toward FAR is that the space "is at least seven feet in any horizontal dimension, as measured within the area having a wall height of five feet or more." Must space be 7' in just one direction to count toward FAR, or must it be 7' in all directions?

Space must be 7' in all directions to count toward FAR.