Part 2: Building Permits
In Part 1, Intro to Permits, we covered how to figure out which jurisdiction you’re in, what trade permits are, and how to get them.
We also covered all the projects that DON’T require the granddaddy of all permits, the Building Permit. In this post, Part 2 of the Permitting 101 series, we’re going to talk about the biggest hurdle to your remodel dreams and how to make sure you get through the process without a hitch.
When You Need a Building Permit
According to the City of Portland Bureau of Development Services, which will be similar for most of the surrounding jurisdictions:
As you can see, just about anything more than a cosmetic refinishing or trade install or repair requires a building permit. The difficulty getting them will vary depending on your project; for instance, a simple re-roof permit may be a quick over-the-counter process with a simple sketch and worksheet, while even small additions will require full existing and proposed conditions plans, building sections, framing plans, and possibly structural calculations and an engineer’s stamp.
As with the trade permits, normally your contractor will print the plans and apply for the building permits for you. If you haven’t chosen a contractor or intend to GC the work yourself, you’ll have to fill out a form stating as much, and can pull the permits yourself.
If you’re working with a design professional, they’ll most likely know exactly what your permit set needs to include and will take care of the necessary plans and details for you as part of their service. If you’re handling that part of the project yourself, you’ll just need to do a little research to make sure you’ve included all the information the department needs to see to review and approve your permit.
Most Commonly Required Permit Info
For large projects like additions and major interior remodels:
Each jurisdiction has its own application checklists detailing exactly what information is required for the building permits. For many project types, their website will provide a list of the plans, details, and worksheets that must be submitted for review. If that information isn’t readily available, a call or visit to the building department will be helpful to make sure you submit a complete packet. Whether you talk to them on the phone or in person, take everything they say with a grain of salt; if you ask them on the phone, they’ll likely tell you to follow the checklist to the letter. If you ask them in person, they’ll probably tell you to only include information relevant to the exact work you’re doing. Either way, the answer may be completely different by the time you actually get the plans drawn up and submitted for review, and even if you get permits approved, the inspector reviewing the work in the field may decide he wants additional details and info.
The best thing to do is just go in with your head up and your eyes open, keep the flow of communication open with all parties AND with the city, have a spirit of adventure and trust that things are going to work out.
What to Expect...
In short, there are no guarantees. You can have the best team with the most experience, and you may still run into problems that no one could have anticipated. You can significantly increase your chances of sailing smoothly through permitting if you choose your team carefully, start talks with your building department early, and be diligent about your budget – include plenty of contingency funds in reserve for things that might come up unexpectedly.
The single best chance you’ll have at getting your plans approved is to make sure you pick a good team. If your builder knows what he’s doing and how to get work through inspections, he can help advise your design team on best practices, how the details, sections, and plans should look, and what type of framing and construction types he’d like to use (there are a lot of ways to build a house!). If your design and engineering team is experienced in your jurisdiction and type of project, they’ve usually seen most of the stumbling blocks and can address them before they become issues, or know how to address the issues if they do come up during permitting. Aside from technical skill and knowledge, the best quality in your team is a good attitude and a true desire to help you. The have to be able to enter the permitting phase with the determination to work with your building department, be willing to make the needed changes, and be happy to stick with you through to the end.
But really, relax! The fact is, the “worst case scenarios” are pretty rare, and permitting is easy more often than it isn’t. There’s usually a round of City or County questions, what we call a “checksheet,” asking for more information or plan revisions to alleviate code concerns. Most of the time these are simple for your designer and engineer to address, and after the response is submitted the plans are usually approved and you’re ready to go.
Tell me, have you gone through permitting recently? Was it a breeze or a nightmare? What did you learn, and is there anything you can share to help others planning a big remodel? Share the knowledge and the love to help them on their path!