The Permitting Process

Here we will cover cover the general processes that go on when getting a building permit for a new building or remodel. While every jurisdiction will have their own specific ways of permitting, there are many similarities that seem to span across many different places.

Zoning Review

Most jurisdictions have zoning rules. Some areas will have their own separate zoning/ planning department, and some will be combined with building and other departments.

There isn’t really a national standard for zoning like there is for building and fire codes. Localities write into their local ordinances/ laws what they want their community to act and feel like. Zoning usually covers topic like the use (what kind of business, residential, or industrial etc), parking requirements, building areas and heights, building setbacks, and signage requirements. Sometimes they will even have rules about material and exterior color usage.

You may have to get a separate zoning permit before going for building permit, or it may be intertwined with the building permit submittal. But, generally, it is something that is always addressed early on.

Fire Department Reviews

This is usually a separate department/ organization from the building department, and usually a separate review, but sometimes the reviewers are coordinated and review under one roof.

Be aware that fire districts often do not align with other jurisdictions. For instance, two different buildings a few blocks from one another might both in the same town and be under the same building department review, but may be in separate fire districts and subject to different fire reviews.

Fire department will be concerned with many similar things that building department is, primarily safety of life and making sure your building doesn’t burn down or collapse. There, may be some overlap between reviews. Fire generally focuses on items such as flammability of the materials and usage within the building, fire rated walls, sprinkler systems, fire alarms, portable extinguishers, egress, exit signs, etc.

Building Department Review

These reviewers will make sure your building is in compliance with the International Building Code, Plumbing codes, electrical codes, mechanical codes, etc, and any local code amendments if applicable. There may be separate reviewers for each trade, or you might have one person reviewing all the trades (usually the case in smaller jurisdictions)

The building review will cover all aspects of the IBC as they apply to your project. A code analysis will explain to them much of what they need to see, which will cover allowable areas, construction types, proper insulation, & egress to name a few. They’ll check to make sure you have the right number of bathrooms for the number of occupants in your building.

Plumbing will check for things like pipe sizing, proper venting, etc. Mechanical will make sure there is enough ventilation per code. Electrical will make sure your panel isn’t overloaded and things of that nature.

Other Departments

Depending on where you are there may be several other reviews needed, possibly with outside organizations that the building department might want to see proof of their approval. This may include subjects like : water supply districts, sanitation (sewer), forestry departments, department of transportation, health departments, etc.

Overall Process

It may seem like a cumbersome and frustrating process, but keep persevering and you’ll get it through!

Often, reviewers will have some comments to your drawings. This is normal. While some comments and processes may seem annoying, it is best to stay professional throughout the process. Usually, the authorities are often just doing their job and trying to make sure the building is safe. Hopefully they are not out to get you. If you create an adversarial relationship, it is often hard to back out of it, so best to avoid that!


Permitting fees can range from 100’s to 10’s of thousands, and is usually dependent on the value of your project. So, plan accordingly and check with your local jurisdiction on their fee schedules!

Drawings & Administration

Many places are going digital and accept drawings/ applications online or over email. I personally think this is a great time-saver. Some communities will still want paper submittals, often drawings on 24×36 large format “blueprints”. Check with your local authorities on their preferred method of correspondence and document transmittal.

Many jurisdictions also now have online systems where you can check on the status of reviews, who the reviewer is, comments, etc. This is a helpful too to be aware of if they have it.

Check to see if there are certain drawing standards that they want to see. Generally the departments will at least have requirements for drawings to be to scale, and to be stamped by a design professional. Some might have more specific requirements such as minimum text size, and minimum drawing types ( site plans, elevations, etc).

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