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How Do I Know If I Need A Building Permit?

Now that you’ve realized your project scope and drawn up the plans, you’re ready to start building. But is it really that simple? Before you hammer out your vision, a building permit is likely required to begin the work, which could seem like a complicated process. Permits are an essential part of the design process, and it is important to consider them in your project budget and timeline. Permits are required to ensure all completed work safely complies with local building codes. Depending on the local processes, it can take between a few days and up to 4-5 weeks to complete. The permit process can be complicated but working closely with a design professional can help keep things on schedule. Here are some things to know about the permit process to get you on your way to moving forward on your project:

What Are Building Permits?

Building permits cover all forms of built structures. There are typically four main categories of building permits:

  • Commercial

  • Mixed-Use

  • Multifamily (4 units or more)

  • Residential (under 3 units).

Permits are characteristically needed for anything other than cosmetic work or small repairs. They cover modifications to an exterior or interior of a structure, the site, doors and windows, egress pathways, fire alarms, and more. Some locales require permits for roofs, siding, fences, decks, patios, parking lots, outdoor tents (greater than 400 sq ft) —even if they are temporary in nature. New buildings and additions or alterations to existing buildings or sites that involve structural, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing work also require a permit. It is ultimately up to the local municipality to decide if you need a building permit. Almost all work that is planned requires review and permits to execute. New construction or modification to an existing building or space, and even changing the occupancy of an existing building will require a permit.

The Permitting Process

The permitting process begins by submitting an application along with plans to the local municipality. The plans are then reviewed and approved by various departments and once the permit is issued, work can begin.

In most cases, the final construction work must be performed by a licensed and registered contractor. If you have questions, contact the local building authority (sometimes referred to as the authority having jurisdiction, or AHJ) who presides over the property’s address early in the process.

A licensed professional will be able to assist, and you may be required to submit stamped drawings of the work for review by the local authority. This can be done through a licensed architect or a professional engineer who is familiar with the local permitting process. After the initial review, you may be required to submit more information or clarification and, in many cities, specific reviews depending on your project needs may be required such as zoning review, architectural review, historic review, or fire department approval. It is important to ask questions early in your project and include these necessary steps to help avoid inevitable changes to your project cost and schedule. While it may seem like your plan is passed through many hands before construction, it is important to know that this process will help engage the right people with technical expertise to ensure your project’s success.

Building without a permit could cost your project unforeseen fines and repairs, or worse, stop your project entirely. Any work already performed without a permit could be at risk of being rejected, in addition to penalties or fees. Following this important process to make necessary changes to your commercial or residential project will make certain that your project complies with local regulations and your project outcome is of good quality and above all—safe for use.

For more information on specific permit information as it relates to the City of Columbus and the City of Des Moines, click here (Columbus) and here (Des Moines).



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