Construction permits differ from state to state, and even from county to county. Keep in mind that everywhere has its own quirks, and, more than likely, it’s own unexpected fees that can cost several thousand additional dollars.
For construction permits, you will need to get a building permit from the city (and you may also need a site plan if you’re doing any work, including signage, on the outside of the building). From there, you’ll require trade permits for each type of work being done: electrical, plumbing, and mechanical (which will be for the HVAC work).
Time and Money to Get Your Permits
Planning for your planning department is not just fun to say out loud, it’s also unpredictable. The time that it takes to get approval from your development or planning department can vary from 1 week to 6 months. It can range in price from between $3,000 – $15,000. A lot of the things that will affect your cost and your timeline are specific to your region, making it hard to generalize in this post about what you’ll encounter.
Get Estimates from Professionals in Your Area
The best way to determine ahead of time how much permits will cost is to get a sense of your local building climate. Calling your building planning department and interviewing your candidates for general contractors and draftspeople will give you the best idea of what to expect. We tell people to estimate between $7-8k for permits, and if it ends up costing you less, you have something to be happy about.
Cost of Drafting Plans
Getting all of your floor plans drafted up comes with its own cost as well. This can range from between $2,500 to $25,000 depending on your choice of draftsperson or architect. Professionals will not only make sure that your plans are done to your building department’s specifications, they’ll advise you on your layout plans based on their own experience and help you avoid potential issues.
Unless you are purchasing your building, or you’re planning on building out an exceptionally large space, a draftsperson is probably your best bet. Your general contractor will have someone who they can recommend. Architects can get quite expensive, depending on their qualifications and reputation.
Submitting Plans for Your Permits
As with the cost, the actual process for submitting your plans differs from region to region. In some places, plans need to be submitted in person, while other counties will only accept applications by mail.
Whatever your process is, it will be made easier by having professionals to help you through. Find out before hiring them whether the draftsperson or general contractor will be taking responsibility for getting the plans approved. It helps if they have gone through the process many times before and developed a relationship with the team at the permit office.
Your main plan submission may include:
- Building plans
- Site Map
- Demolition plans
- ADA Specifications
- Plumbing plans
- Electrical plans
- Ventilation plans
If you are doing any serious work to load bearing parts of your building, or to the roof, you will likely need to contract a structural engineer to draw up those portions in detail and to sign off on your plans.
You may also be pulling a special ‘structural’ permit for this type of work.
Claiming Your Permits
In some areas, you’ll need a licensed general contractor to pull your general building permits. In other areas, you can pull them yourself, and even serve as your own general contractor (although we don’t recommend it unless you have a robust construction background).
Your mechanical, electrical, and plumbing permits are usually pulled by the contractors in charge of those areas. This just means that they get the active permits for the job that they’re doing – the overall plumbing plans still need to be submitted along with your application. Most likely, you’ll need a licensed contractor to pull each of your trade permits.
Note: At Float On we drafted our floor plans ourselves, and we submitted all of our own plans to the building department. In Oregon, as the leaseholders, we were able to act as our own general contractor. Like so many other things that we did ourselves, we don’t recommend it, but it did give us an intimate, first-hand understanding of the process.
Parts of the Permitting Process to Watch Out For
The above outlines a lot of generalities for permits. Since things vary so much, contacting the department in charge of your building permits and meeting with your general contractor early will help you understand what things are like in your area.
Your contractor and draftsperson will help you be aware of (and where possible, avoid) unnecessary costs and fees. Here are some of the things that you can run up against:
ADA Upgrades: As discussed in the ADA section of our construction packet, upgrading pre-existing facilities to be ADA compliant can be a fair amount of your budget. Plan on bundling these in with the demolition and rebuilding work you’re already planning.
Seismic Upgrades: As with ADA upgrades, in some areas the burden of upgrading a structure for seismic stability is placed on anyone doing upgrades to the building. Spending above a certain amount on construction can trigger a mandatory seismic upgrade requirement (which is often quite costly, and so worthwhile to avoid if at all possible).
Sprinkler Systems: In many places, if you have a large enough space, you can trigger a mandatory sprinkler system requirement. This can happen when the distance is too great from your furthest point in your space, through the hallways, to the exit. Like seismic upgrades, sprinklers come with a substantial cost and so should be avoided if you can.
Miscellaneous Fees: As we mention elsewhere, be prepared for some unexpected fees to crop up during the process. This might be in plumbing, or in electrical, or in your general building plans.
In Portland, OR, we paid a large and unforeseen fee to the Bureau of Environmental Safety for hooking up new water fixtures.
Last Tips on the Permitting Process
Don’t Put Float Tanks into Your Building Plans (probably)
Most float tanks are free-standing pieces of equipment, and shouldn’t be included in your building plans. On our plans, we labelled the rooms as ‘float tank rooms,’ but we didn’t include our float tanks (even our large Ocean Float Rooms) in our drawings.
The exception to this is if the float tank is electrically hardwired into your building (as opposed to plugged in) or if the tank is somehow permanently connected to framing of your room (which is only very likely in a room style tank, and even then it is uncommon).
Make Friends, and Create a Good Name for the Industry
This is good advice wherever you go, but is worthwhile to note here. Making sure that the people you interact with in the permitting department understand what you do, and getting them interested and invested in your success, is never a bad idea.
You can offer them free floats (and certainly, get your draftsperson and general contractor in the tank), but government officials usually can’t accept gifts, since they look kind of like bribes to the outside world. Still, after pushing our plans through, we had at least 4 people from our permit office come in later as customers.