As a city that finds itself on the cutting edge, whether in business, technology, or architecture, San Francisco recognizes that while growth and change is inevitable, steps should be taken to try to maintain the city’s classic beauty. This is no more apparent than in the San Francisco window permit and replacement rules mandated by the Residential Design Guidelines.

Updated in 2003, the Residential Design Guidelines set forth rules for homeowners to follow that ensure all upgrades or improvements done to the home will be compatible with the home in question and in keeping with the overall aesthetic of the neighborhood. Below you will find an overview of those rules, including several key guidelines that will keep you from paying a hefty fine.


Before making any decisions, the SF Planning Department suggests performing a through evaluation to determine whether the window needs to be replaced or just repaired. This is especially important for original or historic windows. Keep in mind windows on the both the eastern and northern facades are general less exposed to the elements and will not need replacement as often as windows on the southern or western facades.

Acquiring a Building San Francisco Window Permit

Before signing off on any work to be performed, a permit needs to be obtained before any improvements are done. With windows that are visible from the street, the Planning Department will check to see if the proposed improvements are appropriate in regards to the architectural aesthetic of the building. If it is not, the work will not be approved and you might face a fine for moving forward (that also goes for work that was done pre-approval).

Size and Style

The protocol for determining the size for the replacement windows, the starting point is pretty simple: take a look at the other houses in the neighborhood. The replacement windows should be proportional to the other homes and buildings in the neighborhood.

As far as the style you should also consider the neighborhood, as well as the architectural style of the home. For example, if the home historically features Spanish style windows, you also replace it with a Spanish style window.


In order to determine the materials, we need to look at the time period the house was built in. Windows in keeping with that historical time period should be used. If the time period the house was built in cannot be determined, they getting windows that keep in line with the surrounding neighborhood. This goes for every aspect of the window (for example, the configuration of the windowpane, characteristics of the glass, etc).

During the planning phase of replacing an original window, you will most likely be asked to replace it “in-kind”, meaning that you must replace the window with the exact same size and type of window.


The main takeaway for window replacement for homes in San Francisco, is that homeowners must try to keep line with the surrounding neighborhood and the architectural time period of the home. For questions regarding specific regulations, call the Planning Information Center at (415) 558-6377 or visit

Learn how to apply for a San Francisco window replacement permit here.

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