There is more to building than sweat and sawdust. Whether building a custom home, putting an addition over the garage or remodeling the kitchen, your local building department must be taken into account.
You must anticipate their input, and add to your schedule the necessary time for approvals, processing, re-drawing of plans and re-working the changes required to meet code. Building codes for each step of construction, including framing, electrical work, and plumbing, as it varies from city to county. Individual inspectors within a single department can also interpret the codes differently. Understanding the time and steps required to take a project from plans through approval can help you decide how best to proceed.
How Do I Get a Building Permit?
You have two choices. You can hire an experienced general contractor familiar with the building permit process, or you can go it alone.
In either case, the first step is to go to the building department, discuss the project, and ask which approvals will be needed.
It is important to have a list of specific questions to ask. Write down the answers to each question and have the person answering the questions sign off on the list. If you go through these steps before a builder or residential designer draws plans, you will probably save time, money and frustration.
What Questions Should I Ask at the Building Permit Department?
The most commonly overlooked question, which can definitely cause delays, is not asking which other departments must approve the project before the building department will even look at it. These other departments can include Redevelopment Agencies, Environmental Planning, Fire Districts, Transportation, or Water and Sewer. You should be prepared for the time it will take for your plans to pass through all the different departments.
Also, be sure to ask questions about fees. Most building departments have lists explaining every city or county fee required. Don’t forget to consider school district fees, which you may need to research and pay separately before a building permit is issued.
You may discover that a 1,100-square-foot structure will cost thousands of dollars more in fees than a 990-square-foot building due to sizing breaks in the fee schedules.
Do I Need a Building Permit to Remodel?
Yes, though the approval process for remodeling is much quicker, the building department should still be consulted, as well as a contractor.
For instance, if you want to remodel a kitchen, you may find that moving the sink to another part of the kitchen and adding a second sink in a new island will add thousands of dollars to the cost of the project, and you may decide to change the design. Making this decision before plans are drawn will obviously save a lot of time and money.
The planning process determines each subsequent step of the entire project. Take the time to do a good job from the start, and you’ll save time and money and get what you want.
Kathy Maynard has been matching homeowners with home improvement contractors since 1990 and has written scores of articles advising homeowners how to find, hire and work with reputable service professionals. She also authors Weekend Warrior, a weekly home improvement column in The Sacramento Bee.