Advice on dealing with building inspectors

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We're about to start serious renovations on our old, old house. Although we'll be using professionals to do plumbing, electric and drywall, we want to do demolition, prep work, and stuff like tiling ourselves to save bucks (a lot to do, little money). We definitely want to do everything with permits and up to code.
Any sage advice on how to deal with our building inspector/code dept? We want to get off on the right foot and avoid as many hassles as possible. I'm going to try to make an appointment down at the building department to talk over our plans before we start, but I'd like to know if there's anything I should know before we go in: what to bring, what to say, what NOT to say...
Thanks.
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nj_dilettante
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nj_dilettante wrote:

My suggestion would be to treat them like knowledgeable professionals who are there to help you (and your contractors) to a good job that conforms to the proscribed standards. As friends rather than adversaries, IOW.
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dadiOH
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My question would be is there any reason to even see them? Wouldn't the contractors be the ones who would do the filings for permits and set up the proper inspections? I don't see anything the OP is doing that would need clearance from the PTB prior to beginning. Anyone? Seems at the surface to be a waste of both OPs time and the Department's. Am I wrong (won't be the first time..today).
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Kurt Ullman wrote:

Good point, the person who pulls the permit is usually the one responsible for meeting the code requirements. If you pull the permit for the contractor and they later bail on you, YOU are the one holding the bag legally.
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However, if you trust your contractor and are willing to pull the permit yourself, you may save some big bucks. If pulling the permit will involve a half day of the contractor's time, plus the time waiting for the inspector at various phases of the construction, the contractor may be very happy to give you a substantial discount.
But I agree that I'd never try this with a contractor I hadn't used before.
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Doug Boulter

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Is there going to be a contractor? The OP said they will be doing the demo. A permit may or may not be needed for that. If I was doing the job myself, I'd skip that step. If the plumber or electrician goes for a permit and inspection and the homeowner did not get one (if required) for his work, that would piss off the building inspector. Better to ask what is needed.
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Good point and answer to my question. Thanks. The visit would be basically to say this is what I am going to do and this is what the contractor(s) are going to do. What (if anything) do I need to coordinate with youse guys in B.D.
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dadiOH wrote:

Ditto... The town will stick it to you on the reassesment of your property value, that has nothing to do with the inspectors. They are the to make sure the building is safe for you and future owners.
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nj_dilettante writes:

You absolutely must know ahead of time whether your local authority exists to support the building trades, versus bona-fide enforcement of physical standards. If the former, don't assume they will be in the least accommodating to you as a do-it-yourselfer. In some places, a primary mission of the building department is to *prevent* DIYers from "legally" working on their own homes; it doesn't matter how competent you are or how correctly you will do the work.
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On Thu, 20 Jul 2006 10:50:07 -0500, Richard J Kinch

This is certainly a local question. In Lee County Florida the building department was very helpful when I built my own pool.
The perrmitting process was actually harder than dealing with the inspectors, simply because of the government red tape aspect. The inspectors were easier to work with as a homeowner than they are to builders.
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Something else to consider: even the best managed , most competent, most home-owner friendly building department operates under budgetary and personnel constraints - in many parts of the country the building/rehab boom is still continuing - there are a lot more jobs to inspect - but building departments don't want to add employees it will be difficult to lay off when the housing boom slows.
The result is that some departments and inspectors are badly overworked: in some areas near me communities are scheduling inspectors for 20, 25, or 30 stops per day - and that's a day that also has to include driving to the sites, paperwork, etc.
Even if those inspectors are Supermen and Women with X-Ray vision, there is just no way to they can perform comprehensive inspection in the time available. Stuff - perhaps important stuff - is going to get missed. And even at best, they are inspecting "to code" , which IMO often represents minimum safe standards, not "best practices".
My opinion (and I admit I have a personal interest in this) is that unless a homeowner undertaking major work has extensive and varied construction experience they are they are going to need on-going assistance in assessing it's quality to insure a good result - an organization that specializes in residential construction management, a Architect who understands the practice as well as the theory of residential construction, a Home Inspection who is competent to do residential "phase inspections", or someone else who has the required knowlesge and experience.
That IMO someone with a wide general experience of such work, the time and resources to research any questions which come up, no other financial or business interest in the protect, the ability to understand what both the homeowner and the contractor are trying to accomplish and the ability speak "Contractor" to the contractor and subs and "Homeowner" to the homeowner, needs to be making regular visits to the job-site to evaluate the work on such projects.
And I'd back up that assertion with this fact: on my own projects (the rehab of small rental properties) I can bring municipal inspectors, my own experience, the knowledge and experience of top-quality contractors, a construction savvy architect, and various technical representatives to bear on the problem of doing it right, and ALL of us are constantly finding things that were overlooked, done wrong, not done at all, or that that could (and should) be done better - and absent ANY of these inputs we would get a substantially worse final result.
Michael Thomas Paragon Home Inspection, LLC Chicago, IL mdtATparagoninspectsDOTcom 847-475-5668
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Building departments, like people, have personalities: some are a lot easier to deal with than others. Some jurisdictions exercise their charter more zealously than the one next door. Some are efficiently run, some lose paperwork, or need need constant follow up to move things along. Fortunately, in my experience AHJs on the whole have become much more professional, efficient and honest over the last 40 years.
Assuming yours is an average building department, what I'd aim for more than anything else is a non-adversarial relationship.
There is a good chance you are going find there that there are seemingly arcane rules and regulations which cost you and time and money, which don't seem to make sense, are confusing, appear to be applied retroactively, or are actually in conflict with something you were told previously by someone else in the same department, or by some other department.
Expect these sorts of difficulties.
On my projects - I do some development in a small way - the building department's inspection of work done by careful and experienced tradesman usually turns up a few thing that need to be changed. And you can expect the same - only more so - of work you do yourself.
Remember - always - that to a large extent these guys (and the occasional gal) get to make the rules, and getting into a argument with a zoning analyst or a building inspector (who is probably wishing you had hired someone who already knows the rules) is almost always a losing proposition.
That said, your's is the right approach - go down to the building department, find out what is expected of you during the portion of the work you will be doing, and make sure that you understand - form the City's point fo view - the division of responsibility between yourself and others working on the property .
Ask about general regulations governing the sort of work you will be doing - for ecample during demolition their may be prohibitions on noisy work evenings and/or weekends, regulations on dumpster placement and the length of time they can sit, environment regulations and/or fees fees regarding the disposal of demolition debris, requirement to fence off the property before you start work, and so on.
Establish if there are permits required for your portions of the work, if the require inspections, and if so how you request inspections, the lead time required, and so on. (Are there (re)inspection fees? Are they in your budget?)
If you will be doing permitted work, ask if the building department publishes a "checklist" or "guide" listing the problems they most frequently encounter during inspection of these systems, or any other sorts of material useful to a homeowner in your position.
And if possible, try to get a feeling for any sort of anticipated work the build department does NOT want you doing yourself.
For example in my community a homeowner can pull a permit to do almost any sort of work on their own house, and when when rehabbed I applied for a permits to do a *lot* of plumbing and electrical.
Permits granted, no problem.
I also applied for a permit to replace the water line out to the street.
Somehow, that the permit did not get issued, calls didn't get returned, etc.
Eventually, I wised up and asked the plumbing inspector why.
"Well, the City really does not want homeowners touching anything their side of the meter.
"You know you are able to do it right. I know you are able to do it right.
"But the Water Department does not want *any* homeowner doing it, and it will take FOREVER to get that permit."
That's exactly the sort of battle you don't want to fight, and ideally you want to develop the sort of relationship with the building department were they regard you as a competent, honest and reasonable (if perhaps somewhat "over-ambitions") homeowner, and are they are willing to be candid about such "facts of life".
--------
Finally, though this isn't "Building Department" advice, if you haven't already done so pick up the phone, contact your insurance agent, and find out what you have to do to completely protect yourself during this project. For example I've been consistently advised (by attorneys as well as insrance agents) that in my state it's wise for a homeowner undertaking major work to to carry their own workers'-comp policy as a backup again the possibility of responsibility for the injury or death of an employee of a contractor or sub who is not properly insured. For example thay have a certificater of insurance, but missed ths last three payments).
Good luck with your project,
Michael Thomas Paragon Home Inspection, LLC mdtATparagoninspctionDOTcom 847-475-5668 847-475-5668
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On Thu, 20 Jul 2006 10:54:06 -0400, "nj_dilettante"

In our area I've seen an (over) qualified Contractor not be granted a permit. It dealt with a block wall being extended by 25-30 feet and something about the block/footer size. It happened to my friend, so she went with the Contractor for the permit and acted as her own contractor. That was allowed and the wall went up.
I did the same for a patio cover, so I needed electrical and building permits. In less than 45 minutes we were out with the papers. Each desk I had a big grin and a nice attitude to each person from the data entry person, to the one that approved the plan and the one that took my money.
When the inspectors began, we developed a short but polite relationship. We were always ready when they scheduled the inspection. In one instance of the building aspect we pointed out a requirement by the department that was not correct, based on the material. The inspector annotated this and approved.
Oren
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Changing the subject slightly, if you are doing the demo yourself, you should take one of the one-day claseses at:
http://www.leadsafetraining.org/ or call your state's housing office. Most large cities would also have some ideas of local training. Almost all of it is free. You want the training for Renovators and Remodelers or the equivelant. It is one-day and somewhat boring, but it gives you really good info on how to do the work.
It is valuable training on how to do the work without contaminating your house wit lead-based paint. This is esp. urgent if you have/will have small kids.
Good luck with it.
nj_dilettante wrote:

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Looks like an excellent resource - thanks for posting that..
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MDT at Paragon Home Inspections, LLC wrote:

Also check out: http://www.hud.gov/offices/lead / Of course: http://www.hud.gov/offices/lead/disclosurerule/index.cfm
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When I built my 24 by 32 foot workshop I had to deal with the county building permit office. The people there were very efficient. The process to get the three permits took only about an hour. I then had to get a permit to connect the toilet and sinks to my septic system. Again, a simple process.
I contracted the concrete work, but I did ALL of the other work myself. That included framing, plumbing, electrical, insulation, drywall and roofing. When the inspectors were called, they were here within hours. They were professional in every way and gave me heads-up on what they would be looking for on the next phase. I've never built a complete building, other than a shed, before, but I did a lot of reading before I started and during construction. Everything passed without having to redo anything.
It was a pleasant experience. I hope yours will be as well. Just remember that the inspectors are the authority. Deal with them accordingly and don't be afraid to ask them questions.
Good luck.
Frank
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On Thu, 20 Jul 2006 10:54:06 -0400, "nj_dilettante"

You don't say whether you live in a big city or a small town .. that makes quite a difference.
But your first step -- inquiring -- is the appropriate one. They'll tell you what plans, permits, inspections etc. you're going to need .. and whether you or the professional should be pulling the permit.
Permit requirements vary from place to place, you may or may not need an umbrella development permit, which likely requires two sets of plans (simple hand-drawn is usually fine.) You definintely will if you are making structural changes to the house; likely, they will want an engineer's stamp on the plans for the changes.
As far as inspections go, meet code, make sure the job and the site are neat and clean, treat the inspector with the same respect you would want ... and you'll have no problem.
I deal with permits and inspectors weekly ... and even though the number of building permits issued here (hence, the workload) has increased fifty percent ... they remain courteous and helpful.
Good luck.
Ken
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Yes. Don't lie to them and don't try to pull a fast one. Where I live they are allowed to make field judgements based on circumstances. You don't want a situation where they feel comfortable making your life miserable, just because you tried to take advantage of them.
S
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mrsgator88 wrote:

Hi, Inspector is only a human like you and me.
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