Let’s assume you’ve already taken the necessary steps in finding the right pro to tackle your home renovation project, now it’s time to talk permits. I’m not going to discuss the “underground reno-trade business” here because that’s not how I roll, nor should you. I play by the rules, and take pride in the fact that my clients can trust me. “Cash renovators” won’t deal with the building department, permits, inspectors, and finally, closing the permit. Any good renovator will already include this service in their quote.
You don’t need to be afraid of City Hall when it comes to renovations. These rules were put in to place to protect you, your neighbours, the renovator, and the next person that may purchase your home. Besides, City Hall is a really great place to drop a joke or two. The next time you’re at City Hall and you have to address a person behind the glass (the one with the small vent hole you speak into), try saying something like this: “Can I have two tickets to New York City please.” You’ll get a laugh, a smile, and maybe even lighten the mood a bit.
One question that my clients always ask is “Do I need a permit?” Yes! You require a building permit when you demolish, construct, or alter any part of your home. I’m talking about a building permit, plumbing permit, mechanical permit, demolition permit, and/or, an electrical permit.
It’s important to walk into city hall with all of the necessary information on your proposed documents. A great starting point would be the original drawings of your home. Most building departments will only file drawings for homes as far back as nine years; after that, there is no guarantee that they will have your drawings on hand. Otherwise, there is a small fee you can pay to do a search for your drawings.
What if you don’t have the drawings? In this case, pull out the tape measure, a pad of paper, and a pencil. Draw everything that already exists; location of all windows and doors, location of the mechanical and electrical panels, the rough plumbing lines, fireplace, grade height, etc. You really can’t have too much information here. Try to make a floor plan and an elevation of your own, if possible.
The City needs to know what you want to change, so make sure all of the measurements are in the same increments. Building permit fees are determined by square footage and plumbing fixtures. Be accurate about these things, because you will be inspected for framing, insulation, plumbing, electrical, and the final product. Keep in mind that inspectors are going to see everything.
Once you submit the drawings, the City will require some time to approve or return your paperwork based on missing information. Depending on the time of year, this process could take anywhere from two to four weeks. The size of your renovation will also factor into the timeline. New builds are a different story. The City needs to know if you will build onto an existing foundation or completely knock it down and start from scratch.
Lastly, you need to physically return to City Hall to pick up your approved building permits. They will not mail it, nor scan it; nothing but physically hand it to you. Listen carefully to them because when you submit your drawing, they will mention when you should call back to inquire on the status of your permit.
Now that your permit is taken care of, you’re ready to build. The City will give you a breakdown of construction milestones and when you should call for an inspection. They’re really good with this, as are the inspectors. If you call first thing in the morning, they can usually have an inspector at your site the very next day.
Here’s a Pro Tip:
When the inspector arrives on your job site (at this stage it’s considered a job site, not a home), make sure you treat them the same way you’d like to be treated. There is no reason to dislike inspectors; they are there to make sure you are building correctly and up to code. I always make sure my job site is clean, accessible, and safe for everyone to walk around in. If they happen to find something that isn’t correct, they will inform you…there is no reason to get bent out of shape. So be nice, be polite, and express that you will take care of any issues right away. Mention that you will be calling in for another inspection as soon as everything has been reworked.
Don’t panic if you have to return to City Hall for revisions; things happen…things change. For example: a wall or opening can only be so long, or ‘the sink needs to be placed in another location’. You need to inform the city that things have changed so they can revise your permit. It’s easier to revise on paper then to demolish on site.
The renovation is complete and you are extremely proud of the work you did, what you designed, and the renovator you hired. We now have one last inspection; the final walk through. As mentioned before, let the inspector walk through the home, have key areas such as vanity sink cabinets opened for them, have any access panels opened for them, and let the inspectors sign off on your permit.
Just like any renovation, there are steps to the permit process. Chunk the entire process down into smaller steps and you won’t feel so overwhelmed. One very last thing…have fun when you renovate! That’s mandatory on any given permit application. Well it’s not really, but it is if you renovate Hardcore.