The process of acquiring a building permit varies enormously from place to place.
Begin by calling your local building officials. For projects within a city, check with the city’s building inspection department, that may be under planning and zoning or the engineering department. In any case, find out which offices need to sign-off on your building. These may include fire departments, school districts, traffic departments, etc. Generally, these offices are all in one place, except in California where at least a dozen bureaus may be involved.
For projects outside city limits and under county jurisdiction, the rules may differ, but you will have a building department to deal with. Begin by getting the rules and procedures from your county’s building department. Usually, you will get two or three pages of requirements that must be followed. The good news is that you can often get these requirements by making a phone call.
When you call
Be sure to let them know you are getting ready to build and ask them to send a set of regulations and a fee chart. (In most places, fees are based on the project’s value, so this is not the place to brag about how much you’re spending. Certainly you don’t need to include the land and off-site costs. Stick with the cost of the project only.)
After you get the requirements
Continue asking questions. Often the sheet will not have all the information. Always ask if there is another department you must work with. Double check the cost of all fees.
Ask the following:
- Do the requirements I have include everything?
- After I bring you a full set of blueprints, how long will it take to get the building permit?
- What are the fees? Are all fees collected in your office?
- Must I have an architect or engineer stamp the plans? (This requires an engineer registered in that state to affix an engineer’s seal to the blueprints, for which there is a fee.)
- Will I need other signatures? (You may or may not need additional signatures.)
From the sublime to the ridiculous
That’s how acquiring a building permit varies. For instance if you are not within city limits in Texas, a building permit becomes mostly a registration. It usually costs $25 to $100, but there will also be a septic system permit and fee that has nothing to do with the blueprints or actual construction. In California, you will need to pay not only a standard building permit fee, but impact fees, school fees, traffic light fees, and on and on.
The building permit for a simple three bedroom home in California may run $40,000 or more. It is extremely important that you know what you are buying. Ask about the inspections. The inspections may be documented on a sheet of their own or be included with the permit requirements. Specifically, you want to know about onsite inspections.
If you are building in an unincorporated part of Texas, you will have no inspections, by anybody on anything, except the septic system. In California, you will need an inspector, that you are paying for, onsite, at all times, when you are placing concrete that is over 2000 psi in strength. This means the shell and the footing. In addition, local building inspectors will be checking at various stages throughout the project.
The requirements for building permits, fees and inspections vary between these extremes. In some states, they may be lenient in county areas but extremely stringent in the cities. And regulations may vary from city to city. Stringent jurisdictions may require the owner to have landscaping and decorating plans approved and money in escrow before a permit is issued.
Ask questions and avoid problems
Nothing fouls-up a building project like an inspector who shuts it down because of some bureaucratic problem that was not found in advance. In more bureaucratic areas, ask questions of current builders, the planning and zoning officials, as well as the building departments.
Be sure to get answers on how long it will take to get the approvals. Ask about payment for the design reviews. It is also a good idea to ask what happens if the plans are changed at the last minute. In some places, you must acquire a conditional use permit first and the building permit later. Be sure to check on fees for each item.
In addition to building permits, learn about fees for water and sewer hook-up. Water and sewer hook-up fees can vary from hundreds to thousands of dollars.
Check on other utility fees. Find out what it takes to get electricity to your site. Often requirements for getting electricity can take days, weeks, or months.
A final caution
Most building departments will not be very familiar with Monolithic Dome technology, but inspectors will be very interested. So start by asking your questions. If you begin by telling them about your “wonderful” Monolithic Dome, you may wind up spending most of your time explaining what you are doing. Inspectors can get tangled up in the uniqueness of the Monolithic Dome.
Get the requirements first; then decide the best way to present your plans. The Monolithic Dome will pass any and all building codes.
In most places, acquiring a permit is simple and straight forward. In a few places, it’s complicated. Either way, if you need help, just contact us at the Monolithic Dome Institute and we’ll do what we can to help.