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Codes and Permits

Robert Roskind/Ten Speed Press 1983

Understand the quickest and easiest way in which permits are obtained…
GETTING YOUR building permit can involve any-thing from one or two quick visits to the building department to a six to twelve month emotional trauma that can leave you with the desire to take up arms against the government or abandon the entire project before building begins. Unfortunately, the ease or difficulty which you experience in getting your permit often depends more on your local regulatory agencies than the merits of your own project. It is wise, however, to be well pre- pared and know what to expect beforehand, The only advantage you have in dealing with the agencies is that you know you are coming and they don’t. In some circumstances this allows you to do some investigative work to determine beforehand their likely responses to your requests.
First, understand that most building departments are accustomed to dealing with professional builders and contractors who know what is needed to get a permit. Only occasionally (though it is becoming more frequent) do they encounter a novice. Usually there is little or no system set up to communicate to the novice what, exactly, is required in order to obtain a permit to build…Take personal responsibility for finding out what you will need to get a permit. Do not expect the building and other regulatory departments to accurately tell you. Find which departments must sign your permit paper, go directly to the head of each department, ask him or her for a written list of what is needed from you in order to have your permit form signed…
Second, do not view your permit departments and their inspectors as “the enemy” (though it sometimes takes the compassion of a Zen monk not to do so). They are public servants, their job is to help you and if you view them and treat them this way they will remember this too. Be respectful… Try to include them in your project so that your success becomes their success and remember they are sometimes as frustrated by the bureaucracy as you are and they are not always to blame… your permit may sit in a basket for three weeks while waiting for five minutes of someone’s time. If you can talk with that person it may speed up the entire process…
For Further Reading
Building Regulations: A Self Help Guide for the Owner Builder
Edmund Vitale. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1979.
One and Two Family Dwelling Code
Council of American Building Officials, 569 Georgetown Building, 2233 Wisconsin Ave., Washington, D.C. 20007
Checklist of possible permit requirements:
Potable water on site GPM
Road permit
Grading permit
Environmental Impact Report
Perc test or septic permit
Energy code calculations
Coastal Commission permit
Flood Control permit
Fire department O.K.
Encroachment permit
Workman’s compensation insurance application
Fault zone O.K.
Endangered species habitat
Engineered foundation due to fault zone, slides, or poor soil
Tree cutting permit
Carport, garage, or off street parking permit
Building height OK
Zoning clearance
Well drilling permit
What your plot plans must include: driveway, name, address, property lines, survey, slope, streets…
Floor Plan: Appliances, heating, electrical outlets, decks, porches, windows, doors, stairs…
Structural Plan: joists, rafters, floor area…
Exterior Elevations
Framing Plan: cross section, insulation, details…
Outdoor Projects 1-2-3
Home Depot/Merideth Publishing 1998
Codes and Permits
Just about every local government has its own zoning regulations and building codes. You may view them as a nuisance, but they ensure the projects you build are safe and may prevent your neighbor across the street from constructing a monstrosity.
Basically, zoning codes regulate the construction you may undertake, while building codes regulate the way construction must be done. Your projects must comply with both sets of regulations. Several national codes serve as models for local building codes. We can’t tell you what you may and may not have to do in your own locality… Be sure to check out local variations with your building inspector.
Have a clear understanding of what your local ordinances will and will not allow before you even begin to plan your project…
The consequences of violating zoning and building codes can be severe- in some cases requiring you to have the work professionally checked, in other cases requiring you to tear down the work and start over.
In short, don’t try to short-circuit your local ordinances. Know what they will let you do and what they will not. Know when you need a permit and always get a permit before you begin work.