Probably the most intimidating part of building your own house is the permit process. Not only do the the requirements vary from township to township, but at times the decisions made seem so subjective that we find ourselves seething in frustration. However, permits and inspections are a necessary step, and they are in place predominately for your protection. Ask any earthquake victim in Iran. Because I am concerned here with new construction, I won’t go into the permits required for renovation; that’s another story.
In a new development, the buyer usually doesn’t have to think about permits; the builder takes care of all the details. With independent projects, you may end up engaging a contractor who hires all the sub-contractors and takes care of the permits. This makes life infinitely easier for the buyer, but you’ll pay for that convenience. In rural areas, because township officials are usually volunteers, they tend to work only one or two hours a week, and often after five o’clock. If you miss their time, you’ll probably have to wait another week. This could run your builder ragged and cause unwelcome delays.
If you decide to get the permits yourself, the first thing you permis de construire want to do is go to the township office and acquire their Code Requirements for Single Family Dwellings, and also their Building Permit Requirement Checklist (or whatever they call these documents). The Code Requirements will cover everything from smoke detectors to egress windows, from stair requirements to insulation, from foundations to chimneys and anything in between. It wouldn’t hurt to send a copy to your log home manufacturer, just in case. The Building Permit checklist, though more simply worded, will be the most important document to familiarize yourself with. If even one of these items are unchecked, you won’t get that permit that day!
Once you start the process, you come to realize that the Construction Permit is the most important, the most sought-after, the most critical objective in your immediate scope. Without it, you cannot even break ground. Since everything ties together, the township wants to make sure you have your “ducks in a row” before they “permit” you to start. There will usually be a one-year time limit to the permit, or a six-month time limit if construction is stopped in the middle. You should budget about $1500-$2000 for your average building permit, unless there unusual circumstances attached to your project (wetlands delineation, variances, etc.).
Because every township is different, I’ll limit myself to my own building project, which took place in rural NJ. We chose to sign up as Homeowner Builder, which the owners can opt to do if they are going to live in their own house. We were technically responsible for getting the permits and the subs (although we hired a contractor who hired most of the subs for us). This meant that we had to climb a steep learning curve to understand all the components of the project.
Here is what we had to acquire to qualify for the building permit:
TAX CERTIFICATION: This document came from the township, and verified that not only did we own this piece of land, we were up to date with our property tax payments.
TWO SETS OF SEALED BUILDING PLANS: We learned very quickly how important this was. What they wanted was an Architect’s or Building Engineer’s stamp on the plans that came from the log home manufacturer. Do not assume that the plans will come pre-stamped. Not all manufacturers have the ability to apply a seal from every state. Our plans were not sealed, and we had to scramble around and find someone willing to stamp someone else’s plans. This is not an easy task, because most architects do not want to take on that responsibility. This snag set our project back two months.
Included in the building plan will probably be a separate foundation plan, since most log homes do not provide a foundation as part of the building. If there is a separate foundation plan, it too will need to be stamped by a qualified engineer or architect.
SIGNED, SEALED ELECTRIC PERMIT APPLICATION: Don’t expect the log home manufacturer to provide electrical drawings. Once you hire an electrician, you’ll have to sit down with him and determine where you are putting your outlets, light switches and fixtures. Local code will determine how close together your outlets will go. Do yourself a favor and put in many more outlets than you think you will need; retrofitting could be unsightly. Also, plan on twice as many light fixtures than a standard home – wood sucks up light like a sponge. While you are at it, it helps to include your cable wires, phone wires and CAT5 in every room, even though you may not think you’ll need it. Once you move into the house, you may change a room’s usage from your original conception – we did, and regretted our shortsightedness.
SIGNED, SEALED PLUMBING PERMIT APPLICATION: This is another set of drawings that will not come from the log home manufacturer. You and the plumber must figure out where the fixtures are going, and if you live in the country remember that the plumbing needs to hook into your septic. (This permit is separate from the septic design permit).