The Building department reviews the technical construction aspects of a proposed project to help ensure that it provides fire and life safety, that it protects occupants' health, and that it maintains environmental separation between indoors and outdoors.
In my previous article PERMITS: Part 2, we looked at the Planning Department and the Development Permit process. Below, I break down the Building Permit process.
“The Building Bylaw requires the owner of any construction, alteration, or demolition to have a Building Permit. Work constructed without the required permits can be ordered brought into compliance or even removed or demolished -- forcibly if necessary.
Nearly every municipality has a Building By-law that sets out the requirements for construction activities, and it typically requires an owner of any construction, alteration (renovation or addition), or demolition to have a Building Permit. The project must comply with the Building Code and with the Fire Code, Plumbing Code, Electrical Safety Code, and often other codes or public health legislation such as the Food Safety Act or Public Health Act. The project must also satisfy the municipality's own technical requirements for municipal engineering of roads and sidewalks, municipal drainage (city sewers and storm sewers), and other utilities (natural gas, electricity, water).
In addition to the main Building Permit, specific individual permits are often required such as:
Plumbing Permit for all work that involves natural gas supply, water supply, sanitary sewer, or stormwater (rain) piping
Electrical Permit for all work to a building's electrical wiring
Sprinkler Permit for all work to automatic fire protection sprinkler systems
Demolition Permit for any structure to be demolished
Tree Removal Permit for any work that involves cutting down existing trees
Excavation Permit for diggin' a hole
Many other specialized permits exist for a wide variety of cases. Construction that is conducted without a permit can be ordered brought into compliance or even removed or demolished -- forcibly if necessary.
"The staff of the Building Department reviews the technical documentation of submitted applications for compliance and ultimately issues Building Permits to compliant projects."
The Building Department reviews the technical documentation of submitted applications for compliance. The department may go by such names as Permits & Licensing, Building Division or just Building. In contrast to Planning's evaluation, the Building Department's role is to review the TECHNICAL documentation in building permit applications and involves many disciplines in government, design, and construction. There are usually plan checkers/reviewers and often even subsidiary departments performing this review from several perspectives. The AHJ's building permit review does not guarantee or confirm that the project complies with all pertinent regulations, but it is a check by a fresh, objective set of eyes to help ensure the safety of the users of the building and the public at large. It always remains the property owner's responsibility to ensure that the project meets all applicable codes.
In some cities, the residential construction (houses, apartments) and commercial construction (offices, factories, retail stores, schools) will be reviewed and managed separately. Additionally, Vancouver as an example has two separate streams to process more quickly applications for very small, simple projects (i.e. TIPS and Field Review).
Typically, the Building Permit will not be released until all other permits have been approved. Where applicable, the Building Department will check with the Planning Department that the proposed project has an approved Development Permit before issuing a Building Permit. At this point, the proposal in its technically detailed state is reviewed again by the Planning Department to ensure that the use, form, and character have not changed from what was shown in the approved Development Permit package. If the AHJ is satisfied with the proposal's compliance, it ultimately issues a Building Permit.
Building Code Compliance
“The Building Code spells out the requirements for the worst possible building you're legally permitted to build.”
Debate of varying degrees between the project's applicant and the plan reviewer is common. What many people -- laypersons and professionals alike -- often forget is that the Building Code spells out the requirements for the WORST possible building that can legally be built. To learn more about what mysterious requirements are to be found in various building codes, please read my summary article PERMITS, Part 4: Building Codes. For the time being, just be aware that the Code's requirements aim to minimize the likelihood of injury or death and to set a minimum acceptable level of occupant health and comfort.
I've introduced a couple fictional characters named Johann and Eva in my post EVA AND JOHANN: MEET OUR HEROES to illustrate the permitting process with some relatable examples.
Much to her delight, Eva has received an email from the city staff that her application for a development permit has been approved. Though hiring the architect, Pete Tang, was a significant expense that she did not anticipate at the outset, the process so far has been only a minor challenge with minimal difficulty. Eva knows that the next step is to get a building permit, and she wants to handle it herself to save some money. Since the design is already done, she's confident that preparing the drawings will be pretty simple for the drafting company.
Reading Coquitlam's online articles on applying for permits, she reads the overview of the Building Permit process. Eva finds the Building Permit application and checklist worksheet on the website but is surprised at how many documents she needs to submit -- roughly a dozen different documents on top of at least a dozen drawings. While researching how to obtain and complete the required material, Eva discovers the Building Bylaw. Reading the first few sections, she is surprised to learn that she as the owner of the property is responsible for ensuring that the building meets "all applicable building codes, bylaws, regulations, and enactments". Until now, she thought that building codes were the responsibility of either architects or builders. Eva contacts Blue-It and asks if they've done renovations before; she is concerned that it might be more technically complicated than building a new house. They assure her that they have, and that she need not worry. Eva looks online for a construction company with good reviews. One such builder -- Gitterdunn Reno -- has plenty of reviews saying that they are quick and inexpensive. When she calls, they tell her to send her drawings so they can prepare a quote. Eva sends Gitterdunn and Blue-It a copy of her Development Permit drawings.
Gitterdunn sends Eva a very reasonable quote. It does list a separate cost for a structural engineer to design the foundations, walls, and roof; but she has been expecting to have to hire an engineer at some point anyway. Gitterdunn's project manager Jess assures Eva that they will handle the rest. Jess also suggests EIFS on the exterior; he tells her it will cost a few thousand dollars more than traditional stucco but that she will have a higher-quality exterior wall that keeps the expansion warmer and will save her probably thousands of dollars in energy costs over the coming years. Eva has heard many stories about the Leaky Condo Crisis and shares her concern with Jess. Depending on who has been telling her, the problem was one of low-quality materials, poor detailing, shoddy workmanship, incompetent architects, blind city inspectors, or more likely an unfortunate combination of all of the above. Jess boasts that Gitterdunn takes pride in its superior construction. She asks what will happen if there ever is a leak -- maybe ten years down the road. Jess assures her that nothing will happen. One good rainy season, and any problems would show up and could be fixed. Gitterdunn offers a free, one-year warranty instead of charging for it, as others do. Any leaks that show up in the first year would be fixed for free. Eva presses Jess for an answer of what will happen if anything DOES happen after the first year, but ultimately Gitterdunn can't make any promise. "Buildings just wear down over time and eventually have to be replaced or heavily renovated."
She agrees and carries on. Remembering the help she got with preparing the Development Permit drawings, Eva emails Pete and informs him of the approval. "I finally got my Development Permit! Thank you so much for your help." Pete congratulates her and asks if there's anything else he can do for her. She tells him that she's hired a drafting company to prepare the drawings and a builder to do the work. Eva assures him that the builder she's hired has great reviews, that they're going with a more advanced wall using 'eefiss' and that there's an engineer designing the walls. Pete cautions, "Chances are that your structural engineer won't have the skill-set for designing the building envelope nor the professional liability insurance." Eva is a little surprised to hear this, but having Gitterdunn's warranty, she dismisses Pete's warning and returns to her adventure of filling out the pile of strange Building Permit documents.
Johann's making far better progress. Following the notice that his DP was approved, he got right to work modifying the structure of his deck. A day into the re-work, the outer section of railing has been temporarily removed and the deck cut back to the new structural supports. Don the building inspector stops by again. Once Johann explains that he had to shorten the deck, Don offers his condolences for what was admittedly a commendable piece of construction having to be butchered. Johann isn't happy about the requirement but is happy to have his approved Development Permit, which he proudly shows to the inspector. Don eyes the approved drawings and nods approvingly. Leafing through the documents, he asks Johann where the corresponding Building Permit is. Johann asks if Don is pulling his leg, but Don tells Johann sympathetically that a Building Permit is also required. Wanting to help the matter rather than just create endless difficulties for Johann, the inspector walks him through the design giving it a cursory technical review. Putting a measuring tape to the remaining railings, Don says that the guard isn't tall enough. The railings need to be at least another 6" taller. Grimacing a little, Don explains that he has to write up a stop-work order to Johann until the Building Permit has been applied for, reviewed, and approved. What this means, he continues, is that Johann isn't permitted to do any more construction work on the deck and has to make an application for a Building Permit within 30 days.
Johann hires a friend to prepare some new drawings, and he submits the requisite forms with the associated application fee. A few weeks later, he receives feedback requesting either signed and sealed engineering drawings for the support detail or a revision to the detail to meet the specifics shown in Supplementary Standard SB-7 of the National Building Code. Half an hour on Google, and John digs up a copy of the supplementary standard that includes many construction details. He picks the relevant details and gets his friend to revise the drawings to include them.
It's another several weeks before Johann hears again from the City, but his permit is finally approved.
The information above is correct to the best of my understanding, hopefully eliminates some mystery, reduces confusion, and piques your interest. However, the information is provided as mainly entertainment and should not be relied upon as legal reference. Please consult with the authorities, registered professionals, and legislation in your area, as I will not be liable for any differences you may encounter.