When obtaining a building permit for your small house building project, you must keep in mind that every township, county, and state, is going to have slightly different requirements for obtaining a building permit, although they all seem pretty similar.
Before going ahead with your building permit application checklist, the first step is to undoubtedly confirm the building department jurisdiction your land falls under. Most Land Use & Planning Department personnel are pretty good about answering questions. The more polite and humble you are in approaching these people the better your interaction will be with them —and ultimately the correct information will be obtained.
An Internet search will yield the best sources for the particular permit requirements for your particular township or city.
Getting Your Plans Approved
You might be nervous about getting your house plans approved by the Building Department. Be prepared for some comments from the building inspector about plan details that need to be changed. And if you’re working with an alternative building material that the inspector isn’t familiar with expect some reluctance on their part to pass approval. Submitting a book or video/DVD on the subject along with your plans might help smooth things along in the approval process.
Owner-builders should be warned that Building Inspectors and Land Use Department people are VERY busy people. It’s my opinion that it’s really quite rude to NOT do your homework and reading ahead of time and call the inspector with inane and obvious questions. Make the best use of your time with an inspector by asking very specific questions.
Although the requirements may vary slightly for every township, county, and state there are some common general requirements across the board. A commonly shared requirement is the two basic phases of the building permit process which is the plan review and construction inspection.
During the plan review the county staff reviews the permit application and building plans to make sure they comply with the building codes for the designated county. The plan review must be completed before a building permit can be issued.
After the building permit has been issued, a construction inspection takes place in which the Building Inspector approves each step of the project as it progresses. The purpose of this inspection is to verify that the work is done safely and in accordance with the approved plans and the county building codes.
The following information provided is to give you a basic building permit application checklist. As a reminder, make sure to check the procedures in you jurisdiction and then add them to this basic checklist.
- Obtain the appropriate application from the Land Use and Building Departments.
- Obtain the Map Parcel Number which is assigned by the Assessor’s Office.
- Complete the application for a Building Permit. (This establishes the property owner, contracted workers, and scope of the work.)
- Make a to-scale aerial drawing of the property showing boundaries, roadways, setbacks, existing structures, and proposed buildings (indicate north). Most Land Use offices these days have an online Geographical Information System (or GIS) where you can see your parcel in their database. Here’s the GIS page for Calumet County, WI as an example.
- Submit blueprints for the house; this should include drawings for basement or foundation, floor plan, framing plan, structural details, and elevations of all sides. (Sometimes there is a planning fee involved with this submission.)
- Permits that should be obtained BEFORE submitting the building permit: Access Permit (yes, there is a permit required to even drive on, or “access” your property), Septic Permit, Well Permit, and Soil Test also known as a Percolation Test (some places just require the percolation test, while others require the more expensive soil analysis).
- Project Inspection Schedule
- Contracted Worker’s list with Insurance Certificates attached for Compensation and Homeowner’s Insurance.
- Submit Land Use application fee.
- Submit payment for Building Permit Fee. (In some jurisdictions this fee is in addition to a Zoning Permit fee.)
In most jurisdictions, Building Permits are valid for up to one year after it is issued. If the building project goes beyond that the permit will likely have to be renewed, along with the requisite fee.
Keep in mind that in some jurisdictions it is necessary to submit two or three sets of plans when you apply for a Building Permit. For the Town of Harrison I was able to get away with submitting one, and then using the same one for the building process (this is not common, I’m not sure how I talked the inspector into this).
Additionally, depending on your jurisdiction a Percolation Test on the land may be required in order to qualify for a Building Permit. This test determines whether or not the soil is capable of allowing liquid waste to seep naturally into the ground without surfacing. If the test is negative, building cannot commence on that land parcel.
For my little plot of land there were 3 soil analysis pits that had to be dug. It was really an interesting process, and listening to the soils guy talk about what the different colors meant was intriguing. (But, don’t ask me to recount what he told me! — I was just glad it all passed). In the end the land turned out to be suitable for a conventional septic system. A rarity in this area– most are mound systems.
Sometimes two current land surveys are required for a Building Permit. These surveys show data that is pertinent to zoning and building code regulations. They also show proposed work footprints and lot coverage calculations.
If you are managing your own small house building project, depending on the jurisdiction, you may be required to submit a worker’s compensation statement. Even though your subcontractors should have their own liability insurance, your state may require you to obtain “workmen’s comp”, which effectively makes the subcontractors employees.
You will need to check on these requirements and add them to your Building Permit Application Checklist if necessary.
When your plans have been reviewed, stamped, approved, and signed, one set will be returned to you with your building permit.
When your permit is issued, one set of your approved plans will be returned and work can begin. The permit and plans must always be on the job site and available to the inspector. And most places require you to visibly display your building permit certificate. It might be a good idea to get it laminated as things can get pretty dirty and wet around a construction site.