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How To Get A Building Permit Submittal Approved

Updated: Mar 14

Why Getting an Approved Building Permit Is More Than 'Just A Plan'


What we will cover in this post:

  1. Why getting a permit is more than 'just a plan'

  2. What a typical project looks like, phase by phase

  3. Design Plans vs. Construction Plans

  4. What a typical Building Department submittal looks like

  5. Planning Department Permits


'Just A Plan'

A conceptual site plan for client review is schematic and visual, very different from a permit submittal set.
Example of a conceptual site plan. This would be developed for client approval and a more technical version of the plan produced where required for submittal for permitting.

I think the most common sentence we hear when we answer our phone goes something like "I just talked to the city/county/contractor and they said I need a plan before I can start my project, can you draw up a plan for me, I just need a plan?" Honestly, there is no response to this question that is easy to hear - a building permit almost always requires significantly more than 'just a plan'. Whether you are adding on a bedroom, building a whole new building (residential or commercial), remodeling or building out a commercial tenant space (tenant improvement), or just enclosing an existing patio, each of these projects will require an entire 'permit package' that will contain a number of drawings and documents, potentially by a number of different design professionals.


Getting a building permit is typically not an elusive, mysterious process. The process is largely laid out and governed by the state-adopted building codes and our local plan reviewing agencies (referred to as an Authority Having Jurisdiction or AHJ for short - this would be your city or county building department) follow that state-dictated process as closely as they are able. The building code lists what must be illustrated in a drawing set and when a building permit is required. To take a look at the CA Residential Code Section on permits to see an example for yourself, here is a link. Some parts of the process vary widely by AHJ like the fees charged, how long the review cycles last, and the level of detail or completeness each AHJ requires. You can always reach out to your local AHJ to ask for any submittal 'checklists' they may offer - here is a quick reference link to the City of Redding's webpage for checklists and applications as an example.


What a typical project looks like

So, now that we know there are a number of items that must be shown in a set of Construction Documents to get a building permit, we first have to ask how we came to have a design for which those construction documents can be produced. For that, we need a design phase - where we work with the client to nail down exactly what this project will look like in plan, elevation, and 3D. We break this out in our proposals as Phase 1 because Phase 2 (Construction Documents) cannot proceed and any required consultants cannot put together proposals until we have a client-approved and signed-off design. Putting it all together, as an example of what goes into a typical project for us (one with the goal of an approved building permit and construction), we've listed out the phases and tasks that are most common on a new construction residential project. When we put together a proposal and contract, we include a very similar list, tailored to your project, with the hours we anticipate each task taking so you know exactly how our fee is calculated.

Phase 1: Design

(Architect + Client)

Document Existing Conditions

Research Applicable Codes, Ordinances & CC&Rs

Digital 3D Model

Schematic Design:

Floor Plans

Site Plan

Exterior Renderings

Interior Renderings

Design Revisions

Phase Deliverable: Client Approved Floor Plans, Interior and Exterior Renderings


Phase 2: Construction Documents:

(Architect + Consultants)

Architectural:

Assessor’s Plan & Plot Plan

Title Sheet

Code Analysis & Notes

Site Plan

Floor / Dimension Plan

Door and Window Details & Schedule

Ceiling Plans

Roof Plan & Ventilation Calculations

Exterior Elevations

Interior Elevations (Select)

Building Sections

Exterior Details

Interior Details

Electrical & Plumbing:

Notes & Schedules

Power Plan

Lighting Plan

Plumbing Fixture Location Plan

Details

Structural Design:

Notes

Foundation & Floor Plans

Roof Framing Plan

Braced Wall Plan

Details

Calculations

Energy Analysis:

Performance Energy Modeling

State Required Calculations

Duct Layout

Preliminary Equipment Selections

Coordination:

Structural Engineer

(if a separate company & contract)

Energy Consultant

(if a separate company & contract)

Truss Mfg.

Phase Deliverable: Coordinated Construction Documents for Permit Submittal


Phase 3: Plan Review & Construction

(Architect + AHJ + Contractor)

Permit Application

Printing & Packaging of permit application set(s)

Submittal to Local Agency or Agencies

Plan Review and Responses

Construction Administration (answering questions during construction)

Phase Deliverable: Approved Permit



Design Plans vs. Construction Plans

The two plans at left demonstrate the difference between a plan that we would produce as a 'Conceptual' or 'Schematic' floor plan for client approval, compared to a plan for the same house that would be submitted for plan review as part of a permit package. The two plans are the same, but the information contained in the second details everything from wall types to window sizes and where to find additional views of specific areas or elevations. The first plan would be similar to what we would produce for your approval in Phase 1 of a project, and the second would be produced in Phase 2 and submitted to the AHJ with a complete set of construction documents.



What a Building Department Submittal Looks Like

From the list of project tasks above, the following items are all submitted to the building department for Plan Review:


General:

Assessor’s Plan

Plot Plan

Title Sheet

Code Analysis & Notes


Architectural:

Site Plan w/ Stormwater Calculations

Floor / Dimension Plan

Demolition Plan (if applicable)

Door and Window Details & Schedule

Ceiling Plans

Roof Plan w/ Ventilation Calculations

Exterior Elevations

Interior Elevations (Select)

Building Sections

Exterior Details

Interior Details


Electrical & Plumbing:

Notes & Schedules

Power Plan

Lighting Plan

Plumbing Fixture Location Plan

Fixture Schedules

Details


Structural Design:

Notes

Foundation & Floor Plans

Roof Framing Plan

Braced Wall Plan

Details

Calculations


Energy Calculations:

State Required Calculations

Duct Layout


Truss Calculations (if applicable):

Cover Sheet & Letter

Signed and Stamped Calculations and Profiles

Truss Layout








Planning Permits...

It is worth noting that the same cannot necessarily be said about a Planning Department permit/approval - this is typically a somewhat elusive and frustrating process. While Building Permits are governed by the state building codes, planning permits or approvals are governed by local ordinances (municipal codes). They can be tricky to navigate and take significantly longer than building permits. If you have a project that is not allowed 'By Right' in the local municipal code, be prepared to be patient and flexible in how you get from idea to approval and always get your planning approvals (at least preliminary) before proceeding with the construction drawings or building permit process.



Links:

Shasta County's Permit Process Webpage - https://www.shastacounty.gov/building/page/permit-process


Terms:

AHJ - Authority Having Jurisdiction - the government agency or building department that will issue your building permit

Building Permit - Approval document stating that the construction documents have been reviewed by your AHJ and have been found to be in conformance with applicable state and local codes.

Conceptual or Schematic Design - The initial phase of a project where the client and the design professional work together to develop a design concept for the project. This may include plans, elevations, and 3D renderings and is an essential first step before construction documents can be developed or submitted for permitting.

Construction Documents - A coordinated set of drawings, calculations, and other documents that may include the work of architectural, structural, energy, civil, landscape, and many more design professionals. These are the drawings and documents that will be used by the contractor to build your project.

Permit Package - The construction document package (above) plus any forms and applications required by the AHJ.

Plan Review / Plan Check - The process of submitting the permit package to the AHJ, the AHJ's review of all drawings and documents submitted, and returning questions and comments back to the design team, followed by the design team's response and revisions as required. This may take several cycles depending on the complexity of the project.

Planning Permit - A separate approval that is required by the planning department (not the building department) to verify that your project is compliant with the local municipal or zoning code. Municipal codes contain requirements like approved uses in each zone of the city, minimum parking counts, and parking lot sizing. If your project does not meet these requirements 'by right' (meaning they are specifically listed as acceptable), you may require a planning permit for a variance from these requirements. Discuss any planning concerns with your planning department immediately, before proceeding with any design exercises at the risk of wasting time and money on a project that your AHJ will not allow.


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