Understanding Home Building Permits & Inspections

Executive Summary:

The permitting process is undertaken by the contractor but as the owner, it's worth quickly familiarizing yourself with the process. Since building permits are administered at the local level, they can vary in requirements, complexity and cost. You will have to contact your local building department to determine the precise requirements. Building permits are different from zoning approval. The permit application process is typically undertaken by the general contractor and sub-contractors and consists of submitting a form, payment and drawings to the local authority. Afterwards, the local authority will often send out inspectors at various stages of the construction process to ensure that the work is proceeding as per the approved drawings and building code.

Example Permit Floorplan
An Example Sheet from a Set of Construction Documents Released for Permit


What kinds of New Construction Permits are There?

There are all kinds of permits that may be required depending on where the lot is located. The general rule of thumb is that the more rural your lot is, the fewer permits will be required. Some of the possible permit types are listed below:

  • New Home/Dwelling Construction Permit
  • Foundation Permit
  • Septic / Sewer Permit
  • Demolition Permit
  • Retaining Wall Permit
  • Solar permit
  • Grading / Stormwater / Erosion Control Permits
  • Mechanical / Electrical / Plumbing permits
  • Accessory Structure Permits
  • Deck / Patio permits
  • Roofing / Siding Permits

Who is Responsible?

The general contractor will be responsible for the building permit (unless you are acting as owner-builder). The various sub-contractors will typically be responsible for their own permits (mechanical, electrical, plumbing, etc).

It's valuable (but not totally necessary) to find a general contractor and sub-contractor who has worked in your building department's jurisdiction before. They will have a sense of the local rules and have pre-existing relationships with the code enforcement officials that may save you time on your build since they will be able to expedite the process and avoid failing an inspection. This is a significant part of the value in hiring local contractors.

Identify Local Variations:

Building permits are administered and regulated locally by town, city or county. The first step is to identify the local building department that has jurisdiction over your lot. Search online for the town/county name and "building department". This website will often have all the information that you need, as well as contact information for the permit office who can answer any remaining questions that you have. It's good to develop a working relationship with these officials since clear communication and understanding of the requirements and lead times can save you time and money during the build process.

Valuable information to obtain when speaking with the building department:

  • What documents are required for the building permit?
  • Is an Architect's and/or Engineer's stamp required on construction documents?
  • Are soil or water test results required?
  • Permit cost?
  • Permit lead times?
  • Permit expiry dates?
  • Inspection schedules?

Applying for Permits:

Once you or your general contractor have gathered all of the requirements from the local building department you can proceed to apply. Many building departments now have online portals but you can also do it the old fashioned way at their office.

For the main New Home Construction Permit you may need:

You will submit this form and documentation as well as the permit fee and then wait until they review and approve your application before you can start to build. Note that the permit will often have an expiry date attached to it so you should ensure that you don't obtain the permit too far ahead of time.

Other miscellaneous permits will be submitted by the sub-contractors in the same way. Electrical, plumbing and mechanical contractors will often have to submit proof of their state licensure and registration before the permit will be approved. Most other permits require minimal documentation to be submitted so it's rare to need to submit full mechanical / electrical / plumbing plans.

The Inspection Process:

Again, this process can vary across jurisdictions. Almost all jurisdictions will send a building department official out to certify the construction at least once but some will send them out many times.

Some common inspection windows are:

  • Footing /Foundation Inspection
  • Partial & Final Framing Inspection
  • Grading Inspection
  • Insulation Inspection
  • Final Inspection

At each step the building department official will be looking at different aspects of the build for compliance with the building code and making sure that the construction matches the approved construction documents. Note that the quality of the town inspection can vary significantly and does not guarantee that your house was built per the plans or per code. It can be worth hiring a private inspection at various stages to ensure things are done right.

To prepare for the inspection you should ensure that the job site is clean and organized. Doing a pre-inspection walk through with your general contractor can be a good idea. Having a copy of the full size printed construction documents is also very helpful. Lastly, offering the inspector a coffee or snack can't hurt either! If you fail an inspection, it's not the end of the world but it may set you back a few days. Good luck!

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