How to get a building permit

How to get a building permit

You’ll need more than a drawing on the back of a napkin to get a permit


If you’re extensively remodelling or renovating your home, you’ll need a building permit (for a cheat sheet on when you’ll need a permit go here). But getting permits—and closing permits (the process of successfully passing all inspections)—can be a frustrating process.

Here’s a few tips to help:

→ You will need more than one permit

To renovate you will need to demolish, and this requires a permit. Then you’ll need another permit for the new construction. You’ll also have to obtain separate permits for all plumbing and electrical work and you may be required to obtain arborist reports, heating/ventilation plans, among other items.

So it’s best to talk to the planning department as soon as possible. For instance, if you plan on tearing out your old bathroom and closet and rebuilding to create a spa-like master ensuite, you’ll end up paying for at least four separate permits: demolition, new construction, electrical and plumbing. If you’re adding an addition to your home, tack on arborist and structural engineer reports, all of which are a necessity if you want to get a permit for the work.

→ You will pay. And pay some more

There is a fee for each permit and these fees vary depending on the type of work being done and the amount of work or the square footage involved.

For instance, in Scarborough you a can apply for a remodel permit that costs roughly $2.15 per square metre, but only if the renovated area is less than 1,000 square feet. If the area is larger than that, you will have to pay for a new build permit that costs about $4.15 per square metre.

→  Inspectors require time

Building inspectors review projects during key stages of construction to ensure the work complies with the building code and the approved plans you submitted (in order to get your permit). Inspectors rarely visit just once and, depending on the project, they may visit half-a-dozen or even a dozen times.

Inspectors require a minimum of 48 hours’ notice to book an inspection, sometimes longer. For instance, the City of Toronto Planning Department states it only requires five days notice to have an electrical inspection but in early 2015, inspectors were so booked up that homeowners were waiting three weeks or longer for a site inspection.

Even if your inspection is days or weeks away, resist the temptation to keep working. That’s because inspectors need to see the work being done, so and they need to be able to see what’s been done (not the finished product).

→  Consider it an eduction

Always schedule to be on-site when your inspector comes—their hands-on experience can often prove invaluable.

It’s also good to be on-site in case you don’t pass an inspection. More than a few contractors have fought an inspector who arbitrarily decided that the building code isn’t sufficient. The key is to know the building code and to challenge the decision, not the person. In the end, it’s not personal, so keep it professional.

What you’ll need to get that permit

Every renovation and remodel is different, so what may be required to get permits may be different. But to give you an idea let’s assume you’re building a small addition on your home. To get a permit you’ll need the following:

Site plan: A site plan is a drawing showing the property and it’s surroundings and most closely resembles a survey (the same document you would receive if you recently bought a home).  The site plan should identify all the structures on the property, as well the property boundaries. It should include an arrow indicating where north is, the lot lines and their dimensions, the distance between the structures and the lot lines, and any proposed changes to the existing grade.

Floor plan: A floor plan is a drawing of a house as it would look if it were cut horizontally, while staring a few feet above the floor. For that reason, you will need a floor plan for every storey or level of the house affected by the new construction. Each page of the floor plan should show the interior layout of that particular floor-level, and should provide information on the size, type and location of exterior and interior walls as well as partitions.

Elevation: Elevation drawings show the exterior view of each side of the house. Each elevation is identified according to the direction it faces (north, south, east, west) and indicates the extent of new and existing construction along with items such as roof overhangs, roof shape and eavestroughs.

Section details: Section detail drawings provide a view of a house as it would look if it were cut through vertically at a particular location. It illustrates construction details such as footings, foundations, walls, floors and roof.

Regardless of the type, each drawing must be accurate and drawn in ink, and must show existing and proposed constructions, along with elevations and dimensions.

For homeowners, most cities offer a Fast Track Service—an over-the-counter, while-you-wait residential building permit application that can be used when you’re working on small building projects and minor alterations. If you’re eligible for Fast Track Service, you may also submit your permit request as a DVD (meaning all plans would be files burnt to a readable disc). Whether you submit electronically or on paper, you will need the following information:

  1. Application for Construction and/or demolish (Downloadable from the city)
  2. Proof of ownership (Land transfer documentation)
  3. Plans for our renovations (These are drawings detailed above)
  4. Owner exemption form for BCIN (A BCIN is an architectural number, but home owners can submit drawings without a BCIN by filling out this form. In Toronto it’s known as Schedule 1. Just ask your Planning Department in your city.)
  5. Plumbing data sheet (Downloadable from the city)

This Fast Track Service should be available at all civic centres. For more information on this service, contact the municipal office for the area in which your property is located.

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