Building permits are not designed to be a nuisance for homeowners and property developers. They are a way for counties, towns, municipalities, and states to ensure that all buildings meet minimum safety and structural standards. They are meant to keep people safe, not hinder development. But they can be a challenging aspect of building or renovating if you don’t know enough about them.

What Building Permits Are

Most people already know that building permits are official approvals issued by local government agencies, allowing you to proceed with a construction project. But it’s more than just simple approval. It is only granted after the local building department has assessed the application and supporting documents. They consider land use regulations, the current zoning of the property, safety issues, construction standards, along with other local requirements before approving or declining your application.

Cost of Building Permits

The cost of permits varies depending on the project’s size, complexity, and location. Fees are typically based on the valuation of the construction work, and some local authorities might charge additional fees for plan reviews, inspections, and certain types of permits. It’s important to contact your local building department early in planning to get an estimate of the permit costs you might face.

When Permits Are Needed

Most major construction work requires a building permit. This includes new constructions, major renovations, structural changes, and significant alterations to the plumbing, electrical, or mechanical systems of a building. Minor updates, such as painting or minor repairs, do not require a permit, but it’s always best to check with your local building department. In some locations, a permit is not needed to build a new deck, while in others, it’s required.

Local Variation in Regulations

Building permit requirements differ across municipalities due to varying local conditions, including climate and potential natural hazards. In Maine, the Mandatory Shoreland Zoning Act mandates that local municipalities enforce zoning regulations for construction within 250 feet of the normal high-water mark of certain bodies of water. And in California, the Green Building Standards Code (CALGreen) requires green building standards for most new construction and major renovations.

Learn about the specific codes and standards that apply to your project in your area. Working with local experts such as architects, contractors, or a permit service can help you understand local regulations.

Types of Building Permits

Building permits are categorized into several types, including:

  • Residential and Commercial Permits: Distinguished by the nature of the property, whether for living purposes or business operations.
  • Structural Permits: Required for projects that alter the building’s structure.
  • Mechanical Permits: For installations or changes to heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems.
  • Electrical Permits: Needed for major electrical work.
  • Plumbing Permits: For plumbing installations and modifications.

This list is not exhaustive; the specific type of permit required depends on the scope and nature of your project, and local requirements.

Technology and Building Permits

Many local governments are using technology to make the approval process more efficient. This includes online applications, digital submissions of plans, and Archistar’s eCheck technology for online building permit assessment. This tech can speed up the approval process and improve communication. Familiarizing yourself with the digital tools offered by your jurisdiction can make applying for permits easier and more flexible.

How Long Permits are Valid for

Permit validity ranges from six months to a year, depending on local regulations. If the work hasn’t started within a specified time frame or there are significant pauses in the construction process, you may need to renew your permit. It’s important to understand the specific timelines set by your local jurisdiction to avoid any unnecessary hiccups.

Building Inspections

Inspections are a critical part of the process. They ensure that the work being done matches the approved plans and complies with local building codes and standards. Inspections are usually required at several stages of construction, before covering up any work, and upon project completion. Failing an inspection can lead to delays; be prepared and ensure everything is up to code before the inspector arrives.

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Projects can face delays from underestimating the time for permit approval, submitting incomplete or inaccurate documentation, or not realizing the need for more permits related to zoning or environmental impacts. Avoid these issues by preparing thoroughly, ensuring your plans are complete. Check with professionals or your local building authority to understand all requirements.

Building Beyond Code

While meeting the minimum standards set by building codes is necessary, exceeding these requirements can improve the safety, efficiency, and value of your project. Consider incorporating sustainable building practices, higher-quality materials, or advanced safety features that exceed the basic code requirements. This approach can not only save money in the long run, but it can also make your property more appealing and competitive in the market.

Making Changes to the Building Plan

Changes are often needed once a project is underway. If you find yourself in this situation, it’s essential to inform the issuing authority and submit any revisions for approval. Significant alterations could require a new permit or an amendment to the existing one, so it’s best to address these changes as soon as possible to avoid delays.

Post-Permit Considerations

After receiving your permit, it’s important to continue following local regulations and maintain communication with the building department and your construction team. Schedule inspections as required, stick to the approved plans, and address any compliance issues immediately. After the project is completed, obtaining a certificate of occupancy is often necessary to confirm that the building complies with all regulations and is safe for occupancy.

The use of technology for building permits can make the application and approval process significantly more efficient.  Your local building department can request a demo of Archistar’s eCheck system to see how it can speed up approvals, benefiting both them and property developers.