Navigating the Permit Process for Your Dream Home

Building your dream home is an exciting endeavor that involves careful planning and execution. At Aspen Homes, we are always excited about the custom home projects we take on. However, apart from all the “fun” aspects of building a custom home – finding the right property, designing the house, selecting materials, diving into the details of interior design, working with your contractor, and watching your dream come to life – there is a crucial and pivotal step that needs to be addressed first: obtaining the necessary building permits. Successfully navigating the permit process is critical for ensuring a smooth journey toward that day when you can open the front door and enter your new home.


Why Do I Need a Building Permit?


Once upon a time, pioneers in America could find an empty plot of land, stake a claim, and start building, but those days are long gone. Even when you buy your plot of land, you must get a permit to build. Why?


Modern building regulations, from zoning to occupancy permits, are part of an overall land use system intended to ensure that building is orderly and safe. Even with the expense and shortcomings of these regulatory systems, they help homeowners by providing that the necessary infrastructure – water, sewer, police, firefighting, power, etc. – is available to service the home and that the building contractors you work with will build a home that is structurally sound and functional. 


Building permits issued by city or county authorities (depending on the location of your property) are required for new builds and major remodeling projects. Permit conditions relate to zoning, safety, environmental impacts, and other things. 


While only some home improvement projects require a building permit, new builds always do. Building codes can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and depend upon how your land is zoned. For example, earthquake- or flood-prone areas will have different building code provisions than areas that do not face these risks because different structural requirements will be needed to withstand these threats. Moreover, you may be able to build specific structures in an area zoned for rural use that you cannot in residential or commercial zones, and commercial buildings will need to meet different code requirements than residential buildings.


How Do I Get a Building Permit?


The building permit approval process varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The first step is to determine from which body you will need to obtain the permit, and that will depend on where your property is located. For example, if your property is in an incorporated area of a particular town, you will need to apply for a permit from that town’s planning commission, whereas if your property is in an unincorporated area, you will have to apply at county offices.


The second step is to find out what is permissible based on the zoning of your property. If you want to build something that does not conform with your property’s particular zoning designation, part of your permit process will include applying for a zoning change or a variance. 

Once you determine which municipal body regulates your property and which building codes apply, you can begin your application. As noted above, building permit processes vary, but the following are some basic steps you can expect:


  • Completing a permit application: This stage requires you to provide details about your project. Regulations will define the level of detail you need.
  • Preparing a site plan: For extensive projects, hiring professionals like architects may be necessary to create a detailed plan to satisfy the planning body that your project will meet applicable building and zoning codes.
  • Scheduling plan approval: Attend an “over-the-counter” review or await approval by the appropriate authorities, which may mean a city planning commission, city council, or county commission. This stage may take days or even weeks, and it may require that you go through a back-and-forth to accommodate requested revisions.
  • Getting the permit: While you may be able to do some site preparation on your property before obtaining the building permit, you may only commence construction on your property if you have your permit in hand. 
  • Scheduling inspections: Building permits are not “one and done” propositions. Inspectors will visit your property throughout the construction process to ensure that construction fully complies with all the permit conditions and applicable building codes. You or your contractor will be responsible for notifying the necessary bodies when your property is ready for inspection at specific stages, such as after you install rough plumbing, electrical, vents, ducts, insulation, and chimneys and before they are covered. 
  • Completing the project: Obtain final city approval upon project completion.


Who Arranges for the Building Permit?


If you’ve hired a general contractor, they commonly handle the permit application process. With their knowledge and relationships with city inspectors, contractors can streamline the procedure significantly. Pulling the permit yourself might be a cost-effective option if you’re comfortable with the paperwork and your project’s complexity.


What Happens If I Skip Getting a Building Permit?


Skipping the permit process can lead to significant consequences. Relevant authorities can impose hefty fines (often double or triple permitting fees) or even halt your project if they discover unauthorized construction. Unpermitted work may impact your home’s value and, during a sale, could result in costly corrections to bring it up to code or even prevent a sale from going through. In all cases, your best option is to protect your investment and ensure a smooth project journey by adhering to the necessary permitting procedures.

If you’re considering building your dream home in North Idaho, Aspen Homes is here to guide you through every step of the process. From concept to completion, including site selection and handling all necessary permitting tasks, we specialize in making dream homes a reality. Contact Aspen Homes today to embark on your journey to a custom-built home in this beautiful region.

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