Permits and building codes

To build your own house, in virtually any jurisdiction in North America , you will be required to purchase various permits, and to follow strict codes.

I am sure this is also true in most of the developed world. In most areas, you will be allowed to do all or most of your own work as long as you have the proper permits. There may be some exceptions from concern for public safety.

Both Canada and the U.S. have national building codes, but permitting as well as enforcement is normally provided at a local level. There are also state, provincial and municipal codes that may be more specific regionally. Some developments, subdivisions, and historic districts may have their own requirements. These are sometimes as specific as the style of windows and doors and exterior finishes. Each project may have to be approved by a board established for that specific purpose, or by a development officer.

The first step required will likely be a development permit, which is issued by the municipality, when they are satisfied that your project fits within their land use by-laws. Land use by-laws are often published on a communities website. If your plans do not fit strictly within their rules, you may still be issued permits, if an exception is granted by the municipal planning commission, or the governing body. There may be an extra fee for dealing with exceptions. A detailed site plan and a project description will be the minimum requirements of the application, but other documentation may be required. In the case of a relaxation of by-laws, a period for appeal will be allowed, for persons claiming to be affected by the development. You will have several avenues of appeal yourself, if your permit application is not approved. Fees vary widely. In two municipalities that I know of the fee is 60 dollars, and 100 dollars for the basic development permit.

Other permits that may be required for residential construction, include building, electrical, plumbing, gas fitting, and private waste water. Your design and location determine which you need. Costs for these permits can run into the thousands, if your plan is for a large house. Prices are often determined by the expected cost of the home. The building permit application will require a copy of the development permit, and detailed drawings with floor plans, elevations, and construction details. Depending on the complexity, the other permits may require drawings and descriptions as well. These permits may be available directly from the municipality. In other cases, the service may be provided by one or more separate corporations,often on contract to the municipality.

Permits mean inspections

inspecting the framing

What you should expect for your money is a thorough review of your plans with suggestions. Also expect regular inspections as the project progresses. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Inspectors are usually very knowledgeable, and see ongoing builds every day. They are often very willing to share their expertise with you.

Building codes are primarily concerned with safety and health, but in recent years have gone considerably beyond that. They now legislate environmental concerns, and standards of good practice. Keep in mind, that most codes are to minimum requirements, and there may be good reason to build to higher standards. Most often, the codes make a lot of sense, but there are occasions when the logic escapes me. Codes change continually in response to changing conditions, and to technological advances. You must keep up to date to avoid costly corrections.

Like any set of rules, codes are open to interpretation. If you do not perfectly understand them, consult with the inspectors. They are the ones who has the final say, if you do not want to get involved in time consuming appeal processes.

Do not be tempted to start construction without the appropriate permits. Although the level of enforcement varies considerably, municipalities have the authority to issue stop work orders, and even to tear down a non conforming structure in some cases. Any action they take will likely be at your cost, and they do have the power to collect.

My own opinion of permitting, is that it is a good process that helps insure a better built home

Permits do not offer complete protection against shoddy workmanship or poor design. Your own diligence is still required.

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