Building Department

Before purchasing a lot or drawing up your plans, you should visit your local building department. This is the municipal authority for approving any building permits within their jurisdiction.

Many municipalities now have web sites that you can visit for preliminary information. It is always best, however, to visit the building department in person. Web sites are not always current and it is much easier to ask questions and get direct answers when you are speaking to an individual.

Inform the person at the counter that you are an owner builder and plan to build your own home. Ask for information to insure that you comply with all rules and regulations within the jurisdiction.

Questions to Ask

Ask for a zoning map if there is one available. This will help you determine whether or not a property is able to be developed.

Ask about required setbacks for homebuilding.

What is the availability for utilities and city services, including fire and ambulance?

Are there areas that are zoned residential currently but are being considered for re-zoning or vice-versa?

It would be a shame to buy property to build your own home and have it re-zoned to light commercial before you broke ground.

Is there a copy of the local building codes?

Secure one if possible. Be sure to get any additions or modifications that are not in the main copy.

What is required for plans submission?

Must they be drawn or stamped by an architect?

If there are construction elements that require engineering, it is often required that an architect or engineer sign off on the plans. This is to show that any engineer calculations were either done by or checked by a professional.

Are stock plans acceptable?

Stock blueprints can be purchased online to build your own home. Normally they will required approvals from the local building department. However, if the home is built on a level lot and does not have any major changes, an architect's signature is probably not required.

Are plans drawn by the owner builder acceptable for submission and approval?

In many cases, even if an architect is not necessary for plan approval, the plan must be submitted by a licensed CAD designer.

Is it necessary to have engineered truss drawing when the plan is submitted for approval?

Does the building department require that the elevation be approved as well? What are specific guidelines that must be followed?

If the building is built in a historic district, does it have to follow an architectural style?

Is there any written information for builders or owner builders that will assist in plans submittal?

Are there any local or state incentives for energy efficient building and/or are there incentives offered by local utilities?

Is there information or a website that has information concerning these programs?

How long does it usually take to approve plans once they have been formally submitted?

Will I be notified by the building department if they are denied early on so I can make corrections?

How many sets of plans and truss calculations are required for submission and approval?

Does the building department require a presubmittal site down conference? What does it entail and how can I prepare?

Is a list of sub-contractors necessary when plans are submitted?

Is it possible to provide a list at a later date when all bids have been awarded? Building Inspections are a continuous opportunities to work with the building department.

Heads Up!

Be aware that some municipalities do not like owner builders and will try to discourage you. Ask what is required by the building department to assure your permit as an owner builder.

In some cases, you may have to submit plans to multiple jurisdictions. If this is necessary, be sure to comply. Noncompliance results in project delays, discouragement, and additional costs.

If you have a good idea about the size of your home and specifics like the number of bathrooms, you should be able to get the approximate cost of the building permit and impact fees. Do not be surprised if this much more than you anticipated. Use the estimate recieved for your budgeting.

Good plannig is a major component to a successful project.