Having a general idea about permits and inspections decreases some of the stress associated with building a new home. Whenever you educate yourself about the homebuilding process, you take away some of the mystery, some of fear of the unknown and THAT decreases stress. This week’s mini lesson is about permits and inspections, which are definitely not the most exciting parts of the design build process, but they are extremely important. Learn what to expect.
Last week in episode 8, I discussed some things to consider in choosing a lot for your home. Before you purchase a lot, you’ll want to make sure the site conforms to local codes and ordinances. But how do you find out about those local codes? Well, you visit the building permits and codes department in your local area. It may be called something slightly different, but you get the idea.
Before we dive into today’s mini lesson, let’s go over this week’s pro terms… that’s right, you heard an "s". I have 3 terms this week because these 3 terms are often confused.
1. Plat — A plat, spelled PLAT, is a diagram that shows the divisions of a piece of land—the layout of lots. You’ve seen a plat if you’ve looked at a subdivision diagram that shows all the numbered lots in a neighborhood. Usually you’ll be shown a plat, also called a plat plan, when selecting a neighborhood lot on which to build.
2. Survey— defines the boundaries or property lines of a parcel of land. It’s that simple.
3. Plot Plan -- A plot plan, and plot spelled PLOT, is also called a site plan. It is a view of the entire property and everything that is, or that will be, on the property. It is a basically a survey, showing the property lines, PLUS anything that is or will be defined, built or installed on the property, including existing structures, proposed structures (like your house), easements, setbacks, roads, retaining walls, water wells, or septic systems.
So, in summary a plat shows the division of the land, the survey shows the boundaries of the land and plot plan is the survey plus the house and anything else on the property.
This week’s mini lesson is about permits and inspections, which are definitely not the most exciting parts of the design build process, but they are extremely important.
If possible, you should visit your county or city building permits department BEFORE you purchase a lot or have a house designed. You can get some information online, but it is always best to go to the building authorities in person.
First let me warn you…many building officials are leery of owner builders. I think that’s because many owner builders are not well prepared. Unlike you, many have failed to put in the time and effort to learn the basics of residential construction.
But if you let those officials know that you’ve been doing research and you are using a construction professional as a consultant or project manager (if, that is, indeed what you are doing), they should have fewer reservations about you as an owner builder. And if you’ve already decided on a consultant, you might want to take him on that initial visit to the building department.
Even if you decide to go it alone as on owner-builder, the fact that you are proactive enough to make an appointment well before you begin the permit and construction process should let the building authorities know that you are willing to go the extra mile in order to make the construction process go smoothly.
At that initial meeting with the building authorities, ask for a copy of the area building code. You probably won’t understand it all, but reviewing it will give you some idea of the minimum building standards.
Over the years, several standard building codes have been used in the United States, but today The International Building Code is generally recognized as America's standard code. International Building Code is short for The International Residential Building Code. Sometimes, though, the Uniform Building Code is used--that’s also known as the International Conference of Building Officials Uniform Building Code.
Although the International Building Code is often used in the US, you should check with your Building Department to identify which code is used in your area.
The building codes place minimum standards of construction upon building professionals in order to ensure the safety of a home, and its surroundings, and the health and safety of the home’s occupants.
In addition to asking for the building code when you initially visit the building department, ask questions like:
What are the 3 most common mistakes that you see in residential construction?
What are the minimum distances or setbacks that the house can be from the property lines?
Are there any restrictions on the architectural design of the home? This is especially relevant if you are looking at a lot in a historical district.
Is an architect or engineer required to design or sign off on the house plans?
Are stock house plans that can be bought on the online acceptable? And do those plans need to be approved by an architect?
Is it acceptable for plans to be drawn up by house designer—someone you can design a home, but who doesn’t have the license and insurance that an architect does? Some counties will require involvement by a licensed architect and/or engineer, and other counties won’t. The only way to know is to ask.
How many sets of plans need to be submitted? Usually it averages 3 to 4. Also ask about the dimensions of the sheets of paper used for the plans and the scale of the plan. It seems nit picky, I know, but some counties have really specific requirements.
Is a Pre-submittal or pre-construction conference required before the plans are officially reviewed? This pre-submittal conference is a smart idea, whether it is required or not. It will allow you to present an overview of the proposed project using a survey, site plan, blue prints and other necessary graphics. You can answer questions and provide interpretation and clarification before the plans are officially reviewed.
Other questions to ask are:
How long is the permit valid? Usually it’s 1-2 years and you can apply for an extension if needed. But ask to be sure.
Ask what the expected processing time is for review and approval of plans. Some counties or cities take several weeks for approval.
Does the building department require that the elevations be approved? Elevations are the view of the house— what the house looks like on the outside.
Are there any incentives offered by the state or local utility companies for including energy efficient building features or products?
Is a roof truss plan required? Roof trusses are those very large, pre-fabricated triangular structures that span and support the roof. Sometimes people use them inside in vaulted ceiling— they look like triangular ceiling beams. If you are using them, most of the time they will need an engineer’s stamp of approval.
Ask if a Landscaping Plan required?
Is a list of subcontractors is required at the time of the permit application?
Ask if a plot plan, a plat or both are needed.
Having a Plot Plan is a requirement by many building authorities before they will issue a building permit.
A plot plan will show that your proposed new house doesn’t cross property lines, violate set-backs, or encroach upon easements.
Using a registered and insured land surveyor to prepare a plot plan helps assure the correct placement of your new home. Have the surveyor not only denote placement of the home, but also of the garage, fencing, a pool, a deck, or anything else that will be built or installed on the property.
Even if a plot plan is not required for a building permit in your county, hiring a surveyor to place stakes on your lot to designate the exact placement of your future house is worth the fee. It will ensure that your home will fit on the lot without issue.
So…after you have made an initial information-gathering visit to the building department and after you get your code compliant house plan, purchase your lot, get the survey and plot plan completed, you can apply for your building permits.
There is usually more than one permit required for building a new house.
Building permits not only allow you to build, they help assure that your new home will be built according to local and state building codes.
A building permit is a legal document required to start construction or renovation of a property. Every jurisdiction has different fees and requirements for permits.
Counties typically base their permit fees on the square footage of the home and/or the value of the project. Fees that I saw in my research ranged from several hundred dollars to around $3000.
Many counties or cities, especially larger, more affluent areas, may charge impact fees on top of the construction permit fees. These impact fees are paid at the same time you pay for your home building permit and they are used to help fund local schools, traffic, parks, and affordable housing. Sometimes these fees are quite large so ask about them in your pre-construction meeting with the building department.
What if you submit your plans for approval and there is a problem, so no permit is issued?
If your plan is not approved, the inspector will notify you by email or phone. You will need to pick up your plan and the attached correction information.
After your plan is corrected, you can resubmit it to the Building authorities. Normally, a resubmitted plan review takes just a few days.
After your plan has been re-reviewed and approved, the building department will notify you to pay for and pick up your general building permit.
Fees for permits and inspections might be listed online. Or you can call your local permit office and ask them the cost for your general building permits and inspections. Usually, the cost for inspections are included the permit fee.
In addition to the general building permit, which the homeowner or general contractor must pay for, permits are also needed for electrical wiring, plumbing, HVAC, driveways, wells and septic tanks. Those permits are obtained by and paid for by each relevant subcontractor. The cost of these required permits is usually included in each contractor’s bid or contract price and the permit will be in their name.
Once the plan is approved and the fees paid, permits are issued. Building permits must be posted in a conspicuous place on the lot. Building supply companies can provide you with a permit display. After the permit is displayed, construction can begin.
Throughout the construction process, the house will be inspected to make sure it passes code. Several inspections are required. Different building inspectors may inspect different parts of the project at different times — the soil, the framing, the mechanical systems, the insulation, the stairs, handrails and alarm systems are all checked during the different inspections.
The inspection schedule will be issued when the building permit is issued. Inspection points will vary from county to county, but most jurisdictions will have inspections at the following times:
- before pouring the concrete footings
- before pouring the concrete walls
- after the plumbing rough-in (a rough-in is a rough or basic
layout of the lines or pipes without making the final connections. A rough-in is like a rough draft)
- after the HVAC rough-in
- after the electrical rough-in
- after the framing rough-in
- after the insulation is installed
- after the drywall installation
- after laying sewer or septic lines
- after the house is deemed complete
The inspectors are government employees, or subcontractors or former general contractors who work for the government.
Inspections usually don’t take a lot of time. Sometimes the inspector is on site for only 15-30 minutes.
Although you don’t necessarily need the building inspection checklist, it’s a nice reference to have, if the inspector will share it with you. With that checklist, you and your subcontractors will know, before the inspector goes on site, what things he will be checking.
As the homeowner, you must provide the necessary information for the subcontractors to get the permits on your behalf. But its the subcontractors who will apply for individual permits, call for inspections, correct the problems found during inspection, and receive final approval of their work.
If a problem is discovered during an inspection, a Correction Notice will be issued. This correction notice will outline the problem and the solution. After the correction, the work will be re-inspected.
After your final inspection, a "Certificate of Occupancy" will be issued. This can be a formal certificate or it may be the original building permit with official signatures added. You may have separate septic, plumbing, electrical, gas, and HVAC permits. Keep copies of any separate permits, as well as the general building permit.
Wow, that was a lot of information, so it might be helpful to listen to this episode more than once. That’s allowed, you know … and it won’t cost you a thing. But let’s see what you’ve learned so far. Ready to take your quiz?
1. What’s the difference between a plat and a plot plan?
The plat shows the division of the land; its a diagram of the layout of the lots
The plot plan includes the survey plus the house and anything else on the property.
2. True or False: All counties require that house plans get a stamp of approval by an architect or structural engineer.
False. In some counties that’s required, in others, it’s not. Permits, building codes, approvals and inspections will vary widely from place to place, so it is essential that you find out the requirements for your area.
3. What building code is known as America’s standard building code?
The International Building Code
Remember, the purpose of this podcast is simply to educate and inform. It is not a substitute for professional advice. The information that you hear is based the only on the opinions, research and experiences of my guests and myself. That information might be incomplete and it is subject to change, so it may not apply to your project. Always consult a professional about specific recommendations for your home.
I appreciate you for stopping by. I hope you learned something today and I hope you’ll listen to the next episode of BYHYU.