SA Building & Remodeling
Getting to Know the Building Permit
Rudy Niño (December 21)
When you start a remodeling project, preparation and knowledge on your part is essential, and vital to this preparation should be the knowledge of building permits, codes, and fees. Permits allow the work to be inspected, and inspections are necessary to the progress of the project. To give you some basic information on building permits, let's answer some questions regarding these items.

A building permit is an official certificate or document issued by a municipality. This document is issued by a building official who authorizes the performance of a specific building activity and is posted at the job site. There are various inspections for different items -- such as plumbing, electrical, etc. -- performed by different inspectors, and each inspection gets its own documentation. Rules on permits, how they are enforced, and how the fees are set vary by locality.

Actually, any home owner can get a building permit; remodelers and subcontractors, however, must be licensed in order to take out a permit and work on your house. So, if a contractor asks you to get the permit, this should raise a red flag with you. This could mean the contractor is not licensed, or that the contractor is not allowed by building officials to work in that locality. Be wary if you are asked to get the permit yourself, and ask why you should perform this action. You should not wish for an unlicensed remodeler to work on your house. After all, you would not want an unlicensed surgeon to perform surgery on you, so why should you want an unlicensed contractor to perform surgery on your house?

Also, whoever takes out the building permit is held responsible -- and accepts the liability -- if the work performed does not meet local building codes. If you are hiring someone to do work on your house, you would most likely want them to be responsible for ensuring it meets the codes. To find out if a contractor is licensed, call the San Antonio Building Inspection Contractor's License Department at 207-8235.

The main reason the inspector is there is to ensure that the work meets local building codes. The inspector does not make sure you are happy with the work or that the contractor is meeting your expectations, only that the codes are met.

Inspectors are paid employees of the local building department, or -- in some localities -- they are employees of the police or fire departments, whichever government entity is in charge of inspecting projects and code compliance.

Building codes are published ordinances that regulate design loads, spans, materials, and so on. There are hundreds of them adopted from national codes books, and they are revised and updated every few years.

Ideally, any one who is performing the work should have adequate knowledge of the building codes so that the work can pass inspection. A licensed contractor and all the subcontractors should be aware of these codes, and definitely the building inspector will know all the codes.

Inspections will be made when called upon by the contractor, and there are several different types of inspections usually made depending upon the size and scope of the project. Typically, inspectors will perform their duties after foundation, framing, insulation, plumbing, electrical, etc.; and construction cannot proceed until each stage has passed inspection with a written approval from the inspector. If a stage of the work does not pass inspection then changes must be made to ensure that it does, and this may impact the completion date for the project. It's a good idea to keep track of the inspection schedule to make sure that construction is not delayed.

Fees associated with permits are there to offset the real cost of reviewing job plans and job site inspections for all departments. One way you can look at the costs associated with fees is that they are insurance the work will be done to code; the fees may seem like major obstacles, but they are there to provide minimum standards for the protection of life and property.

A building permit allows work to begin on your remodeling project, and it makes the work available for inspection for code compliance. It would be beneficial to you to make sure your contractor secures a building permit. This will not only prove that the contractor is licensed, but it will also hold that contractor liable for anything not meeting code. It is a way to protect yourself and the work being done on your biggest investment, your own home.

Call Rudy Niño for a quote at (210) 723-2616 or Request an Estimate online.
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