Tag Archives: pre-planning conference

Acquiring a Building Permit

Unless one has grown up on a foreign planet, they are probably familiar with Hertz® Rent-A-Car. My lovely bride and I rent lots of cars (usually for about 50% of the year), so we are intimately familiar with Hertz. Hertz is not only #1, they also are nearly everywhere on the face of the Earth.

One would think, regardless of the Hertz location, they would have this entire car renting thing down to an exact science. Maybe in most parts of the United States but not in locales such as Quito, Ecuador.

Hertz is the main international car rental agency in Quito (Ecuador’s capital with a population of nearly three million and over 9,000 feet above sea level). One can book online with Hertz and even prepay, however it is going to be expensive as well as more complicated than buying a house.

Among the ridiculous list of documents which will needed to be provided to rent from Hertz in Quito are (but not limited to): Passport, Valid Driving License, International driving permit, an exact replica of your credit card modelled out of indigenous mud and a photograph of your maternal grandmother eating an arepa. (Ok, I’m stretching it a bit).

Obviously most of us do not carry with us more than two or three of the above items, so we are rejected for renting a car from Hertz.

There are times when surviving the Planning and Building permit process for a new pole building can feel the same way – like we never have all of the right documentation.

Well, more and more county and city governments are trying to speed up the permitting process. Some have instituted online systems for applying, paying and checking on the status of your rental..

I’m hopeful these new technologies and processes will soon make their way to the entire country. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, there are ways to speed up the building permit process.

In the event you are considering building anything, and have not been in contact with your Planning Department, please do this now (it seriously will make your life so much easier):


Once through the gauntlet of Planning (Kind of like waiting in line at the Hertz counter), it’s on to the Building Department to verify Code and Load information:


With the above accomplished, it is time for serious business.

Building Department ChecklistMost jurisdictions will provide a checklist of items with which you must comply. Take the list and check it twice, because they will think you are naughty and not nice if the complete package of required information is not provided at time of submittal.

Meet with the staff to discuss your project at the earliest possible point.

Take advantage of any pre-submittal process (or pre-planning conference). In this meeting input is provided by all staff involved in the review process. Much better to find out about having to pour sidewalks, install a fire hydrant, or any other possible surprises early in the game.

Any chance of complex environmental issues? Schedule a meeting with the jurisdiction’s land use biologist or similar official.

Take advantage of any simultaneous review processes where site plan, environmental permit and building permit reviews take place concurrently.

Respond to staff building permit review comments in a timely manner. Always request comments to be specific and made in writing – and pass along the written list to your pole building provider, so they can share it with their engineers.

With some patience, the building permit acquisition process can be far easier than Hertz in Quito!

Building Department Checklist Part I

I Can Build, I Can Build!

building-checklistWhoa there Nellie…..before getting all carried away, there are 14 essential questions to have on your Building Department Checklist, in order to ensure the structural part of the new building process goes off without a hitch.  I will cover the first seven today, finishing up tomorrow, so you have a chance to take notes, start your own home file folder of “what to do before I build”.  Careful preparation is key to having a successful pole building outcome.

#1 What are the required setbacks from streets, property lines, existing structures, septic systems, etc.?

Seemingly every jurisdiction has its own set of rules when it comes to setbacks. Want to build closer to a property line or existing structure than the distance given? Ask about firewalls. If you construct a firewall, you can often build closer to a property line. Creating an unusable space between your new building and a property line is not very practical. Being able to minimize this space could easily offset the small cost of a firewall. As far as my experience, you cannot dump weather (rain or snow) off a roof onto any neighbor’s lot, or into an alleyway – so keep those factors in mind.

#2 What Building Code will be applicable to this building?

The Code is the Code, right? Except when it has a “residential” and also has a “building” version of the code, which do not entirely agree with each other. Also, every three years the Building Code gets a rewrite. One might not think there should be many changes. Surprise! As new research is done, even things which seem as simple as how snow loads are applied to roofs..changes. It is important to know not only which Code, but which version of the Code is being used.

#3 If the building will be in a location which receives snow, what is the GROUND snow load (abbreviated as Pg)?

Make sure you are clear in asking this question specific to “ground”. When you get to #4, you will see why.  Too many times we’ve had clients who asked their building official what the “snow load” is, and the B.O. replied using whichever value they are used to quoting.  Lost in the communication was being specific about “ground” or “roof” snow load.

As well, what is the snow exposure factor (Ce) where the building will be located? Put simply, will the roof be fully exposed to the wind from all directions, partially exposed to the wind, or sheltered by being located tight in among conifer trees which qualify as obstructions? This is a good time to stand on the building site and take pictures in all 4 directions, and then getting your BO to give their determination of the snow exposure factor.

#4 What is the Flat Roof Snow Load (Pf)?

Since 2000, the Building Codes themselves are written so as the flat roof snow load is to be calculated from the ground snow load. There is actually quite a science involved in this, and it takes into account a myriad of variables to arrive at a specific load for any given set of circumstances.

Unfortunately, some Building Departments have yet to come to grips with this, so they mandate the use of a specified flat roof snow load, ignoring the laws of physics.

Make certain to clearly understand the information provided by the Building Department in regards to snow loads. Failure to do so could result in an expensive lesson.

#5 What is the “three second gust” wind speed in miles per hour?

The lowest possible wind speed (85 miles per hour) is only applicable in three possible states – California, Oregon and Washington. Everywhere else has a minimum of 90 mph.  The highest required in the United States is 146.  Don’t assume if a friend of yours who lives in the same city has the same wind speed.  The City of Tacoma, WA has six different wind speeds within the city limits!

#6 What is the wind exposure (B, C or D)?

Take a few minutes to understand the differences. A Building Department can add hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars to the cost of a project, by trying to mandate an excessive wind exposure.  Again – this is a good place to take photographs in all 4 directions from your building site.  Some jurisdictions “assume” the worst case.  Meaning, your property could very well be protected on all 4 sides and easily “fit” the category B wind exposure requirements.  However, your jurisdiction may have their own requirement everyone in their area is wind exposure C, no matter what.  It’s their call.

#7 Are “wind rated” overhead doors required?

Usually this requirement is found in hurricane regions. My personal opinion – if buying an overhead door, invest the few extra dollars to get one which is rated for the design wind speed where the building is to be constructed. This is a “better safe, than sorry” type situation.

I’ve covered 7 of the most important questions for your Building Department Checklist, and they really weren’t so difficult, were they?  Come back tomorrow to find out the last 7!