For both novice and seasoned developers, securing building permits is an essential but frustrating part of every project. Before you can start digging the foundations for your new commercial structure, or take sledgehammer to your dated bathroom, you must submit building plans to your local building department. And this is no simple task. But with right approach, you can ensure that your building plans meet the permit requirements. Helping you to avoid delays and costly revisions.

Know Your Local Codes and Regulations

Building codes and zoning ordinances vary between cities, counties, and even neighborhoods. Research the specific requirements applicable to your project’s location.  Important regulations include:

  • Zoning: Determines permissible land use (residential, commercial, etc.) and building requirements like height, setbacks (distance from property lines), and lot coverage.
  • Building Codes: Cover construction standards, materials, fire safety systems, accessibility, and energy efficiency.

Your local building department website or a visit to the office is the best place to start your research.

Hire the Right Professionals

An experienced architect or engineer can impact the compliance of your plans with codes and regulations. They understand the complexities of the permitting process and can help translate your vision into technically sound plans.  If your project involves specific systems like complex plumbing or electrical, it might be necessary to also bring on specialized consultants. This does mean higher upfront costs, but these can translate into huge savings later.

Communicate with the Building Department

Don’t underestimate the value in developing a good rapport with your local building department.  Many offer pre-submittal meetings where you can get feedback and identify issues before you formally submit your plans.  These meetings are your opportunity to ask questions that help you avoid surprises later.

Prepare Clear and Complete Plans

Your plans are the blueprint for your project. Here’s what to include:

  • Site Plan: This should show the property boundaries, existing structures, proposed building location, setbacks, landscaping, and utilities.
  • Floor Plans: Have detailed layouts of each level, including room dimensions, doors, windows, and fixtures.
  • Elevations: Show the exterior appearance of the building from all sides.
  • Sections: Illustrate the structure’s internal composition, like wall assemblies and roof framing.
  • Specifications: Include detailed descriptions of materials, finishes, and construction methods.

During your meetings with the building department, you can ask about their specific requirements for plans.

Anticipate and Address Concerns

Even if you hire professionals, meet with the local building department, and have a deep understanding of local regulations, your plans may still need revisions. Here’s how to handle common areas of scrutiny:

  • Environmental Impact: Certain types of developments and locations automatically require a detailed Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIAR) to be included. Even if not required, consider in advance your project’s environmental impact and include mitigation measures.
  • Infrastructure Capacity: Determine if existing infrastructure (water, sewer, power, roads) can handle the added load from your project. If not, you may need to plan for upgrades.
  • Neighborhood Compatibility: Ensure your design is in keeping with the existing neighborhood character. Be prepared to discuss how your design addresses any neighborhood concerns.
  • Accessibility: Research and incorporate accessibility features required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Start Early and Factor in Delays

First-time applicants should note that the permitting process can be lengthy. Start early in your project timeline to account for:

  • Plan Development: Creating detailed, code-compliant plans takes time, especially if you factor in feedback and revisions.
  • Review Timeframes: Building departments often have backlogs. Find out the typical review times in your area and build them into your schedule.
  • Potential Revisions: If your plans require changes, this will add extra time to the process.

Delays can be costly, but knowing what to expect can help you build in mitigation strategies.

Prioritize Organization

Organized and well-presented plans ease the review process and reflect positively on your project.  Make sure to:

  • Follow Submission Requirements: Each jurisdiction has specific requirements for plan formats, number of copies, etc. Adhere to these closely.
  • Clearly Label Plans: Ensure all plans are labeled with the project name, address, date, version, and the relevant sheets.
  • Include Supporting Documents: Provide any required reports, calculations, or certifications along with your plans.
  • Keep Copies: Have copies of everything, including all correspondence and decisions.

Check if your local building department uses Archistar’s eCheck technology. This allows you to submit your application online, but also checks it against local requirement immediately. This gives you a chance to revise anything that fails to meet local regulations and then resubmit without waiting days or weeks for feedback.

Stay Responsive and Engaged

It’s normal for reviewers to have questions or request revisions. To avoid delays, be prepared to:

  • Address Questions Promptly: Respond to any inquiries from the building department as quickly as possible.
  • Provide Requested Revisions: Work with your architect or engineer to make necessary changes in a timely manner.
  • Track Progress: Check in periodically with the building department to get updates on your application’s status.

Following these steps will increase the chances of your building plans meeting permit requirements without excessive delays. If you have a good relationship with the local building department, get them to request a demo of eCheck so they can see how the technology can make the entire process more efficient.