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Remodeling 101 - Building Permits

Since my last post when I shared the news about my planning approval, I have been very busy putting together everything needed to get a building permit. The whole process took nearly five months. This could have easily been cut to three months with a little more experience and advance work, but we're also in the middle of a pandemic that's put everything on hold! I'll share what I learned so you can avoid similar delays.



First off, a critical criterion in the permitting phase is coordination amongst your architect, structural engineer, civil engineer, soil engineer, and truss manufacturer (in the event roof trusses are used for the remodel, which is true for almost all projects where there is a major addition of the square footage). I found myself becoming the project coordinator since none of the other parties were ready or willing to fill this role. Had I not jumped in, the permit package would have been further delayed.


Below is a list of the activities and documents that had to be completed prior to submitting our permit package:


Architectural Plans

The architectural plans are updated with more details such as demolition, electrical, plumbing, mechanical (HVAC), and Title 24 calculations (for energy needs and energy conservation). This is also a good time to do all internal floor plan changes. Changes past the permit stage get progressively more expensive.


Structural Plans

Once the architectural plans are completed, the architect forwards an AutoCAD file to the structural engineer, whom you should have already selected by now. I selected my structural engineer after receiving a few bids and meeting each one of them in person. Your structural engineer and architect need to collaborate to come up with a cohesive building plan.


Civil Plans

All civil plans have to be updated to include grading, drainage, and stormwater management. A civil engineer needs to work with the structural engineer in case the area of square foot expansion requires grading or other civil improvements.


Soil Engineering

Geotechnical and soil reports are required for most square footage additions. These may take a while to schedule. Additionally, the soil engineer has to review civil and structural plans and issue a letter certifying that all plans are in conformance with geotechnical requirements.


Roof Truss Design

When we started this project, our understanding was that due to the complexity of our roof and the addition of new roof structure, we were forced to go with “stick framing” of the roof. For those not familiar with the terminology, stick framing is the traditional method of framing the roof at the construction site. In Truss framing, the frames (trusses) are prefabricated in a shop and delivered to the site for assembly at the appropriate time. Stick framing is much more labor-intensive and hence very expensive, especially in the Bay Area where labor costs are very high. At some point, we realized that our entire roof could be built using trusses, and we started searching for manufacturers. It took a while to select one, and they still had to collaborate with the structural engineer on design work. This added nearly two months to the project timeline.


My takeaway: Line up your truss manufacturer very early in the project planning.


Here is a sample truss design from our project:

Additional Documentation

Once the permit package was submitted, the city had a list of additional documents and requirements that needed to be fulfilled and submitted before the building department would issue the final permit.


School District Construction Fee

Any new homes or home additions trigger a fee to the local school district to offset potential increases in capacity needs.


Sanitation District Certificate and Fee

This comes into play if you're adding new bathrooms.


Bay Area Air Quality Management District Dee

You'll also need to get a “J” number, which may mean asbestos and other hazardous material testing.


As always, if you have any questions please do not hesitate to ask!

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