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
in the words of the immortal Sgt Schultz:
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.
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).
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.
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
But I agree that I'd never try this with a contractor I hadn't used
To reply by e-mail, remove the obvious word from the e-mail address
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
Paragon Home Inspection, LLC
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
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
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
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
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
Somehow, that the permit did not get issued, calls didn't get
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
"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,
Paragon Home Inspection, LLC
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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