Building Permits and Approvals: Top Tips To Avoid Red Tape Delays
Securing zoning approvals and building permits are critical steps in the preconstruction process.
Delays here will set your project back weeks or even months, so it’s important to know what you’re up against and how to navigate the requirements during preconstruction to get your project started as soon as possible.
Let’s walk through the zoning, permitting, inspection, and approval process together. That way, you can avoid the red tape and get the permits you need for your next construction project.
Building permits, inspection, and approval terms to know.
Understanding the terms of the permit and approval process is critical for success. Here are the key terms to know.
Zoning refers to local laws and ordinances that dictate property usage in particular areas and jurisdictions.
City planners zone some land parcels for business and commercial use, while other areas allow residential developments. There are still other areas zoned “mixed use.” Mixed-use zoning allows residential housing, including multi-family, public parks, retail stores, restaurants, and offices. Other uses may include housing for the elderly, childcare facilities, and recreation.
A zoning application is a form that must be submitted along with the relevant construction documents to request permission to build.
A typical zoning application packet may include
- Zoning application
- Land use affidavit
- Wetlands assessment
- Stamped architectural drawings
- Site plan, including site drainage plan
- Local area impact studies, traffic plan, etc.
Renovations to an existing structure generally do not require zoning approval unless the renovations change how the property is used.
In other words, if you renovate a private home intending to use the property as a restaurant or commercial business, you would definitely need to apply for rezoning.
Zoning approval is required before applying for a building permit.
In fact, stamped copies of your approved zoning application and building plans are integral parts of your building permit application packet.
A building permit is a document issued by the relevant government authority (city, county, state, or federal government) that allows a construction project within their jurisdiction to move forward.
Construction projects, renovations, and demolition projects all require building permits. All buildings and any construction-related activities that could potentially affect the safety and well-being of the populace require permits.
Building permit application
Like a zoning application, a building permit application is a form submitted along with the relevant construction documents to request building permission.
A typical building permit application packet may include
- Stamped copies of your approved zoning application
- Stamped copies of your approved building plans
- Building permit application
- Contractor registration
- Many jurisdictions require contractors to register their businesses
- The registration process allows the building authority to assess the credibility and reputation of the contractor
- Contractor license (if applicable)
- Zoning application fees
The zoning approval and building permit process can be unpredictable.
If a reviewer, zoning official, or inspector has a question, your permit is on hold until you can address their concerns. Questions and concerns can delay their response time and ultimately affect your project’s start date.
It’s essential to be as thorough and detailed as possible in your zoning and building permit applications. That’s because when building officials have everything they need, your construction project can move forward without delay.
What’s the process for obtaining building permits, inspections, and approvals?
The first step in the permitting process is to apply for land use permission and zoning approval.
The zoning approval process involves submitting your zoning application with any additional information required by the government authority.
This additional information can include plans, drawings, surveys, and other documents related to the proposed project.
The application form also requires permit application fees.
Once submitted, the application goes through a plan review process.
- Is the zoning application properly completed?
- Does the application packet include site surveys, plot plans, and architectural drawings?
- Is the project located in a historical district?
- Does the project require a change of land use hearing?
- Is the project for commercial, residential, or industrial development?
- Does your project require a variance or rezoning for approval?
The zoning review process allows the authorities to verify that the property lines and rights-of-way are accurate and that the proposed plans meet local building codes and zoning laws.
After reviewing the zoning application and attached documents, the government authority decides whether or not to issue the permit.
The zoning process can take several weeks or months to complete, depending on the project’s complexity and the backlog of permits under review.
How does the building permit process work?
After zoning approval, the next step in the permitting process takes us to the building department.
General contractors apply for building permits by submitting their building permit application along with stamped copies of the approved zoning application and building plans.
Contractors may also be required to
- Register with the local building authorities,
- provide copies of their building or contracting license, and
- pay the requisite building permit fees.
Permit fees are based on the total cost value of the project, less the value of the mechanical, plumbing, and electrical work.
That’s because the licensed trade subcontractors must apply for their permits separately. And their permits are based on the value of their portion of the project.
Lumping the licensed trade costs into the building permit application would cause the general contractor to pay more than its fair share of the permit costs.
What do building officials look for during the building permit review process?
Building officials are responsible for protecting people’s safety, health, and welfare within their jurisdiction.
To accomplish their mission, the officials review the information in the building permit application packet to ensure the constructed environment will be structurally sound and meet all building, fire, and safety codes and standards.
Building officials rely on the information presented in the following submittal documents to make their assessments and decisions.
What documents are included in the building permit application packet?
- Completed Building Permit Application.
- Two sets of drawings signed and sealed by a registered design professional showing the proposed work.
- List applicable codes used.
- Indicate the proposed fire suppression systems.
- Indicate the Use Group, Design Occupancy Load (number of people), and Construction Type classifications on the drawings and application forms.
- Include a Site Plan showing the building footprint, easements, sidewalks, grade elevations, adjoining tenants, setbacks, utilities, hydrant locations, and drainage system.
- Indicate any fire area separation walls, firewalls, or party walls.
- All fire-rated walls must be identified by hourly rating.
- Floor Plans of all floors, including a foundation plan.
What other information is required for a building permit?
- Plans should also contain all relevant information, such as door swings, stairs, windows, built-ins, etc.
- Clearly describe wall materials.
- Spaces should be identified by name and intended use and show the location of the exits.
- Include elevations to describe the building exterior with cross sections, wall sections, and detail sections to describe the building construction.
- Accessibility details must show interior elevations in compliance with Barrier-Free, ADA accessibility laws, codes, and ordinances.
- Calculations are required to demonstrate the plumbing system and its fixtures comply with the building code.
- All new fire protection assemblies, including UL numbers, as necessary.
- Complete structural information, including beam sizing, framing plans, etc.
- Provide calculations if necessary.
- Pre-fabricated truss specifications must be provided on-site with the approved plans during the rough building inspection.
- A complete description of the HVAC systems, including ductwork and piping.
- A complete description of the electrical systems, including lighting, service, power equipment layouts, circuits, and capabilities.
- Landscaping plan including parking, handicap access, walkways, entries, fire lanes, and egress plans.
How long does the building permit process take?
The review process for building permits can take several weeks or months to complete, depending on the project’s complexity. This way, the building permit process is similar to the zoning approval process.
The building authorities need time to review the permit application and attached documentation to ensure compliance with all building codes, State laws, and local ordinances.
It’s also wise to remember that in some cases, additional information or changes to the proposed plans may be necessary before the official can approve and issue the permits.
And since the zoning and permitting processes can each take several weeks or sometimes months, project managers should stay in touch with their local building officials to answer questions and provide whatever they need.
Staying in contact with the building department during preconstruction is vital to establishing trusting, healthy, and productive relationships throughout the project.
How does the building permit inspection process work?
Once you have obtained all necessary permits and approvals, it’s time to begin construction work!
Most jurisdictions have online inspection request portals or, at the very least, an automated inspection request system. But in either case, the sequence is the same.
- Contact the local building department.
- Request the specific inspection you need.
- Give a detailed location of the inspection with directions as applicable.
- Request an inspection date and time.
- Confirm your inspection request and submit it.
Before requesting your building inspections, ensure your building inspectors can easily see the active building permit and have access to a current and updated plan set.
The job trailer is usually a good place to post. Make sure to protect your building permit with a weatherproof covering and that the building plans are close at hand.
Make every effort to give the building inspectors everything they need to ensure trouble-free building inspections throughout your project.
What inspections are required for most construction projects?
Here’s a sequentially ordered listing of the typical building inspections most projects need.
- Soil erosion control inspection
- Site survey inspection
- Site layout
- Soil inspection
- Footing inspection
- Pier inspection
- Waterproofing and drainage
- Backfill inspection
Structural and systems inspections
- Framing and structural inspections
- Deck inspection
- HVAC rough inspection
- Plumbing rough
- Electrical rough
- Fire blocking
- Insultation inspection
- Gypsum board inspection
- HVAC final inspection
- Plumbing final
- Electrical final
- A final building inspection for certificate of occupancy.
Project managers must stay on top of the inspection process because each construction phase requires an inspection before the next phase can begin.
Additionally, several work packages within each phase often require inspection before the next work package can resume.
This is why understanding the inspection process is vital to ensure that your project meets all requirements, is built to code, and stays on schedule.
Navigating the building permit and inspection process requires patience, diligence, strong communication skills, and attention to detail.
But with a clear understanding of the building permit and inspection process, you can avoid red tape, confusion, and schedule delays, ensuring your construction project runs smoothly from preconstruction through completion.
And one final note. Always research local regulations and contact your local government authorities if you have any questions about what type of permits your project requires.
Are you preparing building permit applications for your next project?
Manage your contract documents and the critical information your building officials need. Stay in contact with your subcontractors and licensed trades to ensure they’re on target to safely, productively, and profitably meet all their inspection milestones.
Get a custom demonstration of the Linarc project management system today—the intelligent, intuitive, easy-to-use tool for managing the complexity of today’s building projects.