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Four Keys to Easier Permitting
in the Evolving Residential Market

Jeffrey Hershberger                                                                                                                                                          January 2020

The evolution of residential permitting requirements throughout North America can lead to a plethora of questions as building professionals try to anticipate the path toward approval.  This is especially pertinent for system-built manufactures with large distribution regions and tight profit margins.  The goal of the International Code Council (ICC) to create a uniform procedure for building design approval throughout United States with the IRC has been constrained by unique state amendments and varying regional enforcement.  Here are a handful of hurdles that can trip companies up on the path toward an approved building permit. 

Communicate with the Jurisdiction

Pick up the phone and communicate! Talk to the building official standing between you and the approval of your construction documents to determine the complete list of design professionals that will be required.  Will the plans need to be reviewed and stamped by a Structural Engineer? Does the site require a Geotechnical review or a site survey with a scaled plan stamp by a Civil Engineer?  Don’t pull any punches. Be as forthcoming as possible.  Simply asking if engineering is required on a new residence to get a favorable answer only compounds the expense of retroactively tackling these requirements. 

For example, code requires a structural engineering review on all projects built using non-prescriptive building methods.  So, where a conventional framed residence might not require engineering, a similar home constructed with logs, timber or SIPs might. Enforcement of the code also varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.  The same plan might require a professional engineer stamp in one building department, but no such review in another.  There is often some consistency of code implementation within individual states, but like all enforcement, the specifics can be somewhat subjective.           

Contract to Match the Project Commitment

In today’s evolving permitting requirements, manufacturers should be wary of taking on additional design responsibility beyond their specific product.  For instance, it would be unrealistic to ask a truss manufacturer to design the foundation for a project, but it is not uncommon for a component manufacturer to jump at such an opportunity to bolster the sales pitch.  Absorbing this responsibility extends beyond just the additional drafting labor, as deviations from the permitted construction documents can lead to headaches that can cost significant sums of time and money to mend retroactively. 

The take-away here is to make sure to account for all the project managing labor required to fulfill a clearly defined scope of work.  Taking on extra responsibility beyond the sales component can create an attractive sales pitch over the competition.  But understanding the true costs of doing so through construction completion and site inspection is paramount for a successful project. 

The addition of terms such as “designed by others” to plans typically is a good indication of scope gap within the design team.  Fighting the urge to include these types of comments, while communicating the need for the specification to the overall project manager, will help resolve issues and liability concerns during construction.  More and more plan reviewers are also restricting these notations, so limiting them will also remove an additional risk of plans being kicked back with review comments. 

Avoid "Design by Others"
Stamped Construction Documents are Final

Follow the official construction documents used for permitting!  Modifications to the official construction documents should take place before any dirt or sawdust flies. Postponing review or assuming changes can easily be made on the spot is a recipe for lost profit.

The days of the residential permit design set are numbered, if all but dead.  In the past, rushing to create a design for permitting only to let it continually evolve in the shop or on the job site was commonplace.  But this mindset in the current environment can be extremely expensive and time consuming, as official stamped construction documents are used for the site inspection.  In stricter jurisdictions, deviations from these official documents often require approval from the stamping engineer, typically with a stamped letter, prior to proceeding with the project.  Unfortunately, changes or omissions of structural specifications often create costly retrofits, not to mention additional professional fees.     

Conclusion

Ultimately, the adjustments in residential permitting and building enforcement are forcing those within the industry to reevaluate their design procedures.  The extent of the changes varies throughout North America, but it should be a safe assumption that the process will continue to slide toward the restrictive as more and more state legislatures align with current IRC standards.  Professionals that embrace these changes and evolve project flow to acknowledge the growing list of requirements will be better positioned for the future market both close to home and across state lines.   

Jeffrey Hershberger, E.I.

 After a decade of designing and building traditional timber frames as a contractor and business owner, Jeff headed back to school to study civil engineering, broadening his understanding of structural analysis and material science.  He continued his career as a drafter and engineering intern, prior to joining Tamarack Grove Engineering as a project manager in October 2016.  Jeff relies heavily on his practical experience to work with clients to produce structurally efficient and elegant designs, while remaining focused on the initial priorities of the project. Jeff holds a bachelor of science in geology from Bates College and a bachelor of science in civil engineering from the University of North Dakota.