Buildings Permits 3 - the How - to do it!

in #building6 years ago (edited)

The How Question - what you need to know.

Now that you understand the Who and the Why, the How of building permit acquisition is ready to launch.


For you to apply for a building permit you would need a licensed person, or “qualified designer” to prepare the documents, and that’s drawings and application forms. Depending on your project type, this can be either your cousin from drafting school, a qualified technologist with insurance, or a professional architect or engineer, or both.

I’m going to talk to Ontario, or at least Toronto. You will have to accommodate for where your at.

If it's your house you might be able to sign off on a liability form and do it yourself, or DIY.
This can be difficult, as houses are not easy, and you will need it all correctly drawn and made up. Admittedly Toronto is pickier than most. I hear in Texas this permit stuff is all silly talk, ya hear?

This takes some skills, but if you know a talented person, and own the land, you might get away with just signing off on their work. Keep in mind if anything goes wrong, your on your own without design insurance. The contractor doesn't have that. If you sell your house you would be responsible for any errors in design.

Even a simple garage or small porch can be complex, if it causes some harm to someone, someday.


Don’t make me talk about your local contractors working without a permit. Some may advise you may not need it. Don't trust this advice. It will cost you.


The best place for free advice is your local building department help desk. They can be very helpful in explaining what you will need, typically at your city hall.
Just walk in and ask the helpfull desk staff person. They are there to help you, even if they just say to hire an architect.
Their advice can only respond to what they see and know about your project, so It may not be entirely accurate when all is drawn and submitted.

A licensed technologist, or BCIN qualified designer, can execute building permits for small buildings, of 3 stories and under, and under 600 meters squared in the footprint area. They cannot design a place of assembly or a restaurant over 30 seats.


For complex things, an architect is required by the building code. Larger buildings, or places of assembly, are their forte. They can, of course, legally do anything else. This superpower comes at the cost of very long education and licensure, with membership in a professional association. It’s all very expensive today, and getting worse.

Additional qualifications may include LEED AP or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Associated Professional, giving you some green power. Project management credentials are useful, such as Project Management Professionals, or PMP’s. These letters require extra courses, an exam, and proven signed off experience for the designations.

That's it on who to hire.


Getting back to permits, the BLD, or architects part of the building permit is divided in 2 phases, done separately or together. First is always zoning, and the second the building code review.
For this example, I’ll do it in 2 phases for you.

Zoning review, is about use and occupancy, the site and building massing controlled by all the separate municipal zoning bylaws. Get ready for masters level english skills, as zoning bylaws use those logical if, then, and, or statements that analytical thinkers love. You can get very confused, unless your used to it.



Zoning bylaws are municipal, and can change without much notice at any time. Currently, the Toronto bylaws are in revision, the awkward time were two bylaws are in force, and you have to play the game of which holds dominance. It’s best to not stress it, but make a separate application with accurate but simpler drawings to sort out the real story. That's called a Zoning Certificate application (ZC), or Preliminary Project Review (PPR). When this is granted, you are not permitted to change the design, as you have a deal set in stone. You might get a re-review fee charged to update it.


When the zoning review is done, you may need to ask special permission to go beyond the bylaws in your municipality. Most zoning is like crude clothing, one size does not fit all. To tailor your zoning to your liking, you need to ask the city for variances. It's very common.

When you get your zoning review back, that’s the exact list of things you need to resolve, by designer revision or by “Committee of Adjustment’ variances. The typical variances can be, building uses, building setbacks, building height, height of a deck, or amount of soft landscaped area to hard surface. The variances may be permitted, as long as the change is minor, or small, and doesn’t bruise the intent of the zoning bylaws.

I have gone for bigger variances at times, and no-one has complained, so its in.


A Committee of Adjustment hearing (COA), is a little zoning court where you submit the large scale drawings and site plan for the committee’s review and comment, all in a public hearing. Your neighbours in a 60 meter radius get a reduced copy mailed to them for their information.

This is democracy in action! If they no like, there can be a confrontation in zoning court. That's why it's a good idea to be a good neighbor early. The committee is there to judge whether dissenters opinion is valid or not in granting your variance.


I suggest my clients approach their direct next door neighbors with cupcakes, and a personal delivered a copy of the design. You can explain it! Yes, you can.

The zoning certificate (ZC) fee is 25% of the permit cost up front, so there is no separate city review fee, in principle.
If you change things the city will levy a re-review fee of a few hundred dollars. The committee can be $1200 plus for the committee and about $900 for drawing revision and document preparation. You can hire me to explain things if you need. The lineup is for the committee is between 3 to 6 months long. This is going to stall your plans. Sorry.

Oh, by the way, did I mention that building permit and committee costs are doubled for those who have an Order to Comply (OTC)? If you have built without a permit, that's how it's going to cost you.


The designer should create a Letter of Explanation of Variances that highlights the changes to the bylaw requested, and the reasons cited for approval. Your professional would have to review all the bylaws and cross reference it to your zoning proposal. Lot’s of school required here.

I have some experience writing zoning bylaws, and that's sometimes helpful. There is a lot of planning lore in the provision of the smallest urban detail, for example a bike parking spot. Planners live in a virtual world of possibility, driven by their own professions legacy. Planning concepts are very well understood between western cities. The cites official masterplan is there for pros to source and refer for guidance in city building, one project at a time.

It helps to know it, and to have participated in the development of planning guidelines and bylaws. To get close to it, you would need to have worked in large international planning firms over many years in the designer position.

I’ll put one image here following, for a new restaurant in Parkdale as an example for you. It worked well. We got all the variances.

If all zoning items are approved, your on for Stage 2 - the building code review.


Caption: EA rendering of Restaurant with apartments over, C of A application.

Ok, now we're getting serious. Your committed to your general design, it's been approved, and now its time to transmit the architectural drawings for engineering input.

The wisdom of splitting the permit process in two, is that you don’t waste engineering time on the wrong design. Also, when you do cut a deal with zoning, they can't change it on you, nullifying your engineering efforts.
Zoning can change on a random schedule, unlike building codes.


The zoning didn’t talk much about the interiors.
The cladding, window and doors, and look of your building also isn’t yet settled, just its use and overall size and shape. The garage depth and garbage collection area can be an exception to that, as these can be municipal concerns.

When all is designed, drawn and approved, your going to be transmitting the design to your mechanical and structural engineers or technologists for their input. Landscape designers or arborists may be involved in the site development, trees, grading, soft and hard surfaces. Interior designers, if you have one, are important.

Interior designers are not typically part of the building permit process unless BCIN qualified. Interior decorator drawings can come after building permit issues. That's the finer point, when do building permit issues dominate, and what are they?

The quick answer is, permit issues are more or less everything, except finishes, fixtures and non-plumbing related cabinetry. You can change the exact location of that sink or washing machine, no problem, just don’t change fire rated doors or room partitions.

The general heights of counters and range hood heights may be code related, so they are shown in permit for approval.

Re-cladding a building can be done in some instances without a building permit.

The long list of what is a building code issue is listed on the city building permit info website. Google it.


The electrical permit is part of the contractor's work, not in the building permit stage. Your architect or technologist may be giving you some locations and types of electrical fixtures for building permit review.

The permit drawings are construction drawings too. They represent your plans for the contractor’s work as well as the city’s approval.

You can just change the building permit electrical outlets and details without any permit revision if you want to refine the lighting or outlet design for the contractor's use. This won’t include fire devices, like smoke alarms and exit signage. That needs to be located on the permit drawings.

I like to oversupply lighting power and data, and let the owner pick and choose what they want when the pricing comes in.

The electrical authority will negotiate with the electrician to resolve what is needed for your building. Of concern is the electrical supply, such as panels. These can be costly items, and its good to carry a budget contingency for it.

Your going to be getting a plan from your architect, called a reflected ceiling plan, or RCP. That is what the ceiling looks like if reflected on the floor. It will show the lights and bulkheads.

You will also get a floor plan with power and data outlets shown. They are general types and can be moved around if need be. There is likely a legend on the drawing sheet edge that tells you what the all the symbols mean.

In my drawings, in Revit, a 3d intelligent drawing program, objects tagged with a number are automatically put in a table, so you can count how many outlets are in the drawings, and what rooms they are in. Many schedules quantify drawing elements.


There is a lot of controversy over how much to draw.
Architect’s need to get into large-scale details of permit-related design issues, just to make sure they are represented, in standard scales with job-specific detail.
If your architect has construction responsibilities over permit, they may also be detailing every condition for construction.

One of the things that architects are entrusted with are the building envelope. Most cladding systems have to be a rainscreen, with a minimum 10 mm or 1/2 inch drainage space flashed and drained, the cladding supported beyond.

This is such a big issue that we are instructed by our liability insurer to quit a job, and cause a virtual shutdown, if a contractor substitutes a non rain screen design instead. Please don’t EFIS.


What is the evil EFIS?

A foam "Exterior Finish Insulation System" was once popular and cheap. It retained water and sometimes self-destructed, causing many insurance claims. Wet soggy foam sloughed off buildings, like a festering skin disorder.
These systems have just a thin layer of exterior plastic facia wrapping foam panels.

They are not the usual exterior foam insulation, with brick or stucco cladding, a typical wall design.

These EFIS methods are not professionally insurable. Still, being so cheap, they still exist out there.

Some contractors like to substitute the technology when we are not required to review the work, as it saves money. New design standards have been created by the EFIS industry to try and resolve the many water issues relating to rain screen design. Be warned.


Once engineering drawings are produced, a part of our work is to make sure conflicts are taken care of. This is interference or clash control.
Revit is a 3d program, and can help in making obvious interference issues disappear. A duct run will likely create a bulkhead drop in a place you won’t like. In the past this bulkhead would just appear, as the HVAC contractor would just do what he had to when he had to. Ceilings can be a surprise.

Designers can predict and plan where ducts and plumbing go in your structure. It's called engineering coordination.


Now that everybody’s happy with all the drawings and specs, it's time to finally apply for a building permit. There are 3 kinds, a BLD, HVA, and PLB. By now you should be able to guess what these are for. It’s going to be on the exam.

If I’m applying, I can respond and reply fast, helping the process execute quickly. I will, of course, be getting your written owner’s approval before any submission goes in.

I can also apply as the owner's agent, relieving you from having to deal with all the correspondence, with a one page agency agreement.


As permits have gone paperless in most big cities, no expensive paper prints and deliveries may be required for your application. This makes it easier for everyone to handle your drawings. Now they exist as only .pdf images on their computer screen, ready for efficient electronic comment and stamping.

This vast improvement has some bugs in it. City staff are inundated with files. Their folder system tries to keep them in order, but that is a massive job, and they can be buried in digital chaos. They have timeframes they need to abide by in processing your permit or revision. This may lead to mistakes, and late approvals.


One municipality in Toronto has tried a system of browser based permit submissions called E-plans. This system requires your drawing sets are split into separate sheets, and uploaded into folders. I create these folders online in a password protected browser interface. I’m doing the cities work for them. Tax money saved!

The examiners then mark the drawing sheets up and comment on a report table, well tracked, and by discipline. This is an organized system.

I see the E-plans spreading to resolve the digital chaos of the email and folder based system. Unfortunately, face to face or even voice contact is very limited, so applicants need to be very technically literate. Even though the normal face to face service is disappearing, it may mean lower taxes, happier city employees and improved service in the long run. You may need to pay a computer literate engineer or architect project manager to handle the online paperwork.


Build it. Do it!

But only after I’ve checked it out first.

The city has a stamping system, that may relieve them of reviewing the design in detail. These stamps, in colour on the black and white drawings, specify typical building code requirements. As a service to my clients, I need to check these stamps with your intentions, as an error check.

The stamping system allows the city inspections of the construction to deal with what goes on directly by observation.

The City of Toronto has increasingly made the submission of professionally sealed and insured drawings a preferred requirement.

That offsets some responsibility from the city to all professionals, to execute the design and review it.

In the past when the city inspections were occasionally in error, they were liable to pay very large costs. It’s understandable the city would like to reduce this exposure. Ensuring the designers are qualified and insured helps offset some of the cities risk of error. No one knows the design in detail more than the designer.

It’s not the cities responsibility to educate owners as to zoning and building code requirements. Owners are to hire professionals, trust them, and respond to their advice. City desk guidance is just a help, not a solution.

As the owners may not understand all the design details, it may be hard for professionals to execute and get compensated for specialized services few people understand. This may be as simple as a fire rating, a labeled door, or a ceiling height. Things get complicated.

The owners tend to rely on the city and their inspectors to set the bar, as they see them as the authority. Here is the conflict. We designers are responsible, the city is the authority.


The professional's insurance may restrict what we can do, beyond the cities interests.

Our professional association is very rigorous in constantly updating our educational and professional qualifications to support a well controlled built product. This is done through licensing and mandatory continuing education.

Contractors and clients, in their profit seeking, may not understand the necessity of professional practices that they don’t see the city directly requesting. These practices are usually requirements of the profession.

Architects and engineers are stuck in the middle. All they can do is warn the owners of their professions requirements. The warning is done by my firm in a standard "Duty to Warn" letter. This will be a letter with list of possible worrisome impacts of not complying with our requests. The letter, for some, seems like the warnings on drug labels, worthy of ignoring. And here we are.

My advice is to take these warnings seriously. They are standard issue, and will save us all money, time and trouble in the end.


Now that your happily building away, the government wants us to look at what your doing and report on its compliance with what you have promised to build.

Its called a General Review. The city “inspects,” and we “review,” technically. These days, in some municipalities, the general review reports need to be sent in before the city may even come out to the site. This protects them from wasted time. Inspectors don't like coming when things aren't ready.

You had promised to hire professional engineers and architects to be retained until the job is complete, by the way. This promise is made on a special form, called a “Commitment to General Review by Architect and Engineer” form. You signed it. So do I and the engineers. It's part of your building permit.

That way, the city knows the job is going well. We can show up unannounced, and you can’t keep us out. It's our permit too, after all. I did mention the construction standards are rather high here.

Barring professionals is not a good idea, and may get a professional walking off the job. Then you have to hire another, and that's very hard to get. They will be charging you all over again for all that risk.

Moral: Comply with professionals general review site visits and reports.

When do you call these general reviewer’s in?

On your commitment form, there is a space for the coordinator of consultants to be named, called "Coordinator of the work of all consutants". This is typically the architect. This role is important, as the coordinator calls in the various pros to review upon the contractor's request.

If someone drops the ball on fee payments, or generally doesn't want to care or comply with the process, the coordinator of consultants may have to quit, as they may feel they can’t do their job. We then have the duty to cite the contractor or owner as coordinator in our stead, and that will be done with a permit revision letter to the chief building official, or CBO.

A major problem appears when the owner wants to get back the deposit. They feel the job is over when the permit application is in. This is not true.
The deposit secures us for the general review, and all that coordination time. They may not understand or care about the general review process, as they see the city inspectors as the main authority.
Here is what can happen.


If the city allows city inspections without a professional review, they may go all the way till the final fire inspection, then ask for a final review report by professionals. Remember we had to quit the coordinator role as you wanted your security deposit back early. What was it, a few hundred dollars? Now that’s going to cost a lot.

Unfortunately, you may have covered up all the structure and HVAC, and didn’t take pictures.

I have to ask you to open it all up. Its called uncovering.
You may understandably refuse, as it's all nicely finished now, demanding “just a letter”. All the pros may not be able to do their review of the work without taking off drywall, or worse, uncovering footings.

At this point, without the final review, you may not get permission for occupancy. If the pros quit you will have to hire others at the last minute. You won’t likely be able to. Pros dislike covering for other pros work.

Eventually, the contractor may have to demo what you have done and fix any deficiencies. You will have to pay pros to review, up front. They are not supposed to take much financial risk. The city is spooked by all the papers flying around to the chief building official. People get nervous.

Houses, as small buildings, are not reviewed by architects, typically, but only by the engineers. To make it more efficient you might consider putting the contractor's name as coordinator of consultants, and get the structure, HVAC, and plumbing reviewed when visible and completed. Don’t wait till the end.


You’ve negotiated the maze of a building permit, and now get to put in all the fancy finishes and technology people really care about. It's now about the tiles, painting, carpeting, wallpaper, big screen TV’s, and matt black faucets. The visible commodification of architecture.

Now your aware what underlays all that vital surface function.




A mistake in my essay. The coordinator of consultants has to be a professional engineer or architect and is only needed if there is more than one pro required. Owners and contractors can't do it.

A typo here, it should be EIFS, not EFIS. (Exterior Insulation Finish Systems). Now there is a HOW TO EIFS detail document put out by a legitimate authority EIFS Council of Canada. Be warned, you still need to design it to shed water, but the Ontario Building Code regulates it now.
No longer uninsurable. I checked with ProDemnity, our insurer.

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