It is most common that new home owners or expanding families wish to enhance their home and make it more functional. Many older homes where designed with out-dated floor plans and around the baby boomer ideals or early 2oth century workers’ housing goals. Now that they have endured the rigors of weather, age and changing social needs these humbles domiciles are being re-caste into mini-mansions and luxury abodes following the styles of the rich and famous. Certainly the steady flow of home and garden network shows muse the creative spirit of many a proud home owner. It is not hard to imagine the improve efficiency and quality of life one can obtain by pushing out a wall or adding a master bed and bath to the back. In some cases professional architects are employed to do the designing for them or a one finds a designer with such skills. Though architects are licensed to handle the structural aspects of the changes, designers and building contractors are not. This is where building permits come in.
Building permits are issued by the local governing authority, be it the city or in the case of an unincorporated area, the county. One finds the “Department of Building and Safety” whose job is to protect its citizens from dangerous construction. One does not have to look to the distant past to find head lines of tragic injuries and death caused by poor design or construction of buildings. The department does 2 things for you, check the plans against current building codes and insure the construction is inspected before being covered up.
When getting or “pulling” a permit, which his usually done by the contractor, the city will check that the he has a valid contractor’s license and workman’s compensation insurance. The latter is important. It protects the homeowner from being sued if a workman is injured while working on your property. It is not cheap for the contractor but better in the long run as the work can be dangerous.
The permit can also be pulled by the homeowner and hire a contractor without insurance. The obvious difference is that now the homeowner is responsible for the workers and one should check his insurance policy before going this route. To check to see if you contractor has his insurance and is current one can check the Consumers Affairs at;
Now if you are changing the structure you will most likely need engineered plans. This is to ensure the changes or additions will not fall on the occupants or cause them to fall and be injured. Though it is possible to do some construction without an engineer (or architects experienced in structural) most will require calculations and details by an engineer showing the structure is strong enough for many years and will not fail in an earthquake. There do exist a set of rules that map out the procedure for a home owner to build without an engineer called the “Prescriptive Plans”. These are in a document that pretty clearly tells you how to build a small house without an engineer for the do-it-your- selfer.
I have found that it is hard to stick to these guide lines and often need an engineer to stamp the plans before the city will accept them. This is where I come it. I can make sure the plans pass the plan check approval step and are ready for the contractor to pull the permit. Often times I can work out a cost effective design saving money in the construction phase. The plans can be passed out to a number of contractors for bidding. Some people will speak to the contractor first and the engineer, often working for the contractor which limits your advantage of price comparison. I have 20 years experience in construction and work well with contractors to minimize the effort of building process itself without compromising the structural integrity of the buildings.
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Mark Acciani PE
I am a local Civil Engineer with 20 years experience in residential construction in the Los Angeles area.