By Chet Yarbrough

Making it Home-3

Not all renovation work requires a permit.  However, if you need a permit, not getting one may have negative consequences.  Not getting a permit can result in work being stopped, completed work being dismantled, added renovation cost, and time delay.  If improvements require re-framing, plumbing, mechanical, or electrical changes, a permit is required.  On the positive side, a permit protects the homeowner; i.e. it provides independent review of planned improvements and construction inspections for work compliance with local building codes that are designed to make your house safe.

If you have decided to use a General Contractor, the following information explains what the General Contractor must do before beginning work.  If you are your own Contractor, these are steps you will need to take before having any work done by sub-contractors.

Getting a building permit is time consuming.  It is tedious but it gives the homeowner better control and understanding of the work that is to be done.  Better control comes from independent building inspection of the improvements; understanding comes from inevitable conflicts that are resolved by City or County plan examiners and building inspectors that demand compliance with building codes.

Renovation begins with a dimensionally drawn layout of the house that shows planned changes.  A plumbing, mechanical, or electrical subcontractor may add his (or her) specifications to the plans when you explain what you want. If you are not using a subcontractor that can add detail specifications in their bid, you may have to contact a civil engineering company to add details to the plans, before sending them to subcontractors for bids.


For illustrative purpose, presume you plan to have plumbing changes made to your house.


If you intend to be your own “General Contractor”, contact at least 3 plumbers, with drawings in hand, to explain what you want.  You need 4 copies of your plans, 3 which will be given to competitive subcontractors bidding your work, and one to keep with you for any telephone questions about the plan.  Ask them if they have done similar work; ask for their subcontractor license number; and ask them if they can get the required permit (if they can get the permit for the work, then they know what drawings must be submitted for approval of the plans).  Once you have an acceptable bid, ask the selected subcontractor for references.   Before signing a work agreement, check the State Contractors Board’ web site (you can post the subcontractor’s license number on the Contractors Board’ web site to find any complaints that have been filed and how they were resolved) and call the references that were given to you by the subcontractor.  If you follow these steps, you have a better opportunity to get a good price and the quality of work you expect.


While prequalifying subcontractors, either you or the General Contractor can submit for permit.  If the General Contractor submits for permit, ask the Contractor to give you the plan review number that is assigned by the City or County so you can check on “plan review” progress.   The jurisdiction will have a website that will allow you to check progress by entering the assigned plan review number.

Every City or County will have their own submission requirements; i.e. the number of plan sets required (usually 2), the application form, and levels of plan certification (engineer or architect stamps) that may be required.  You can get plan submission information from the jurisdiction’s web site but you can also go to the building department of the respective jurisdiction and talk to a plans examiner before assembling or submitting for permit.

After plan review, the City or County will send you a notice that may stipulate plan corrections to be made before approval; or, they will allow you to pay the permit fee, pick up the approved permit and plans, and begin work.  The approved set of plans must always be available to an inspector when inspections are called.  The permitted set of plans will frequently be reviewed by subcontractors when they have questions about the work being done so approved plans should always be at the renovation site.

With a permit in hand, it is time for the General Contractor or owner to schedule the work.  Think big holes and little holes when scheduling; i.e. framers make the biggest holes in a renovation so framing subcontractors are first, plumbing and Heating, Ventilating,


and Air Conditioning (HVAC) subcontractors make the next biggest holes so they are scheduled second, and an electrician makes the smallest holes so he/she is scheduled last.


If you are managing subcontractors, make each subcontractor responsible for their own inspections.  By doing this, any corrections needed may be done at the time of inspection (subject to the inspector’s agreement) by the subcontractor.  In any case, plan to be at each inspection yourself because it is informative.  (If a General Contractor is used, it is generally unnecessary for the owner to attend inspections.)

The final post in this series will address unique features of this 1980s’ house renovation.

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10 thoughts on “MAKING IT HOME “3””

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