Building Permits and Professional Relationships

Most of the projects that we are involved in require permits from the local Building Departments.  Although many cities have their own building departments, some cities rely on the County to review and process permits.  Other cities contract out the plan review process to specialty engineering and construction consulting firms.  Having a professional engineering submit your plans for approval is often helpful.

No matter who is in charge, having a professional engineering firm present your permit request and when necessary answering questions about your building plans can be extremely helpful.  More often than not, the person who will review and approve your building plan is also a professional engineer.  Based on our experience, we know what questions to expect and how to answer them for first-time right success in securing your building permit.  We won’t let you attempt to build something that we know will be problematic from the start and delay your project.

The purpose of the plan review and permit process is to verify that the proposed construction conforms to the planning, building, and public works requirements of the jurisdiction.  Most building departments follow the requirements of the International Building Code, with local modifications.  These requirements are typically updated every four years.  Having local knowledge can be important in securing your permit.

Helfrich-Associates submitted plans in more than 15jurisdictions throughout Southern California last year.  Each building department has their own process to receive and review plans.  Some building departments are entirely on-line now, and some are still reviewing paper plans like they have been doing for many years.

In addition to staying current on the changes to the Building Code, Helfrich-Associates must stay current with the building department procedures, which vary considerably between departments.  Some of the on-line submittal systems that are being used still have bugs in them.  For example, one recent submittal took about six weeks to complete, and the reviewer sent back an old version of the plans with the same comments that he had made on the prior submittal.

Positive aspects to the relatively new online systems are the reduction in the number of paper copies of the plans, calculations, and soils reports for each project.  Five years ago, a typical submittal consisted of four copies of the plans and three copies of calculations and soils reports.  Now, the submittal (in those building departments that are on-line) does not require any paper copies, except for the approved plans that are required to be onsite during construction.  We are also reducing the amount of travel time that it used to take to hand-deliver the plans to the building department.  Because we work in all Southern California Counties, travel time can be a significant factor.

The large number of projects being processed in Southern California might surprise you.   Last month, the number of building permit applications in a medium-sized City (population of about 350,000) was estimated by a plan check engineer to be about 100 new applications per day.  That means that several thousand permit applications each day are being processed in the Southern California region.  No wonder that many departments are taking several weeks to review and comment on our plan submittals.      

While anyone can attempt to secure a building permit, including the property or building owner, construction contractors, etc., having a professional engineering firm represent you generally speeds the process, eliminates the headaches and avoids delays.  Many times delays are expensive or cause other issues that you can avoid with a professional engineering firm on your side. Let Helfrich Associates help get you off to a fast start.

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