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How Building Permits Work

Building Permit Inspections

The most stressful part of the building permit process is usually the inspections. To make sure that construction complies with building codes, municipalities send an inspector to the job site to examine what's been done. This inspector will visit your site -- likely more than once -- as the project progresses and ask things like: Does the work match the plans on which the permit is based? Does it use methods and materials that comply with the building codes? Holding up work while waiting for an inspector to arrive and enduring his critical examination can wear on the nerves of both the contractor and the homeowner.

Because later construction covers over earlier work, a major building project will require a number of inspections. It's up to the contractor -- or the homeowner, if it's a do-it-yourself project -- to schedule inspections when they're needed. The work has to be planned to allow for inspections. For example, you don't want a truckload of cement to arrive before the inspector has examined the footings.

If you pass inspection, you can continue work. If you fail, the inspector will tell you or your contractor how to correct the problem. For small matters, the problem can sometimes be corrected on the spot and approval given to continue.

A major building project, such as a new home or an addition, involves a series of inspections, depending on local regulations. Your inspection schedule may go like this one used by the city of Scranton, Penn. [source:]:

  1. Footing inspection. This takes place before the first concrete is poured. The inspector looks at the soil on which the building will rest, the forms for the footing, reinforcing rods and other factors that provide a solid base.
  2. Foundation. After the foundation is erected, the inspector assures that it has been built according to code and properly coated. He will check that the anchor bolts for the top plate are in place.
  3. Framing. Once the building is up and the basic plumbing, electrical and mechanical systems are in place, the inspector returns to look over all of this work.
  4. Fire Protection. The inspector looks at fire alarms and fire suppression systems.
  5. Final. When all the work is done, the inspector will return one last time. He will make sure the entire project complies with code. He might look at things like the grading, fire suppression systems, smoke detectors and the heating system. He'll verify that all work followed the original plan.

As nervous as you might be about inspections, there's one fear you can put behind you. The inspector will only be looking at work covered by your permit. He will not be nosing around your home looking for things that aren't "up to code." If you're remodeling a kitchen, for example, you don't need to upgrade features of a bathroom that may not meet current building codes.

When you've passed your final inspection, the building permit process is over. Usually, the inspector will issue you a certificate of occupancy which verifies that your project was finished in accordance with building codes.

Still have questions about the building permit process? We've got you covered on the next page.