Who'll Do the Work, Building Codes and Permits

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Building codes usually allow a home owner to work on or add to every part of his or her own house, including the plumbing and electrical systems. Depending on the scope of the project, however, you may want to turn part or all of the work over to a professional contractor. And if you have to borrow money for the project, the lender may require certain parts of the lob to be completed professionally. Contact several lenders to determine their policies.

Building Codes

Construction that takes place in the basement is covered by the same building codes that apply to work anywhere else in the house. The codes are published in book form. The book (or books) may be available at your local building department. Those who don’t want to buy the books usually can find them in the reference section of the local library or the Internet.

Local Building Codes -- Not all of the U.S. is covered by the same building codes. Each state, county, city, and town can use whatever codes best suit local building conditions. References to the building codes in this guide correspond with the latest edition of the “One- and Two-Family Dwelling Code” published by The Council of American Building Officials (CABO). Though this is a widely recognized code, not all towns have adopted it, and those that have might use an earlier or later version. Before starting work check with local building officials to determine the specific codes used in your area.

Following Codes

Codes in your community might cover everything from the way your house is used to the materials you can use for building or remodeling it. In addition to building, electrical, and plumbing codes, your community also may have adopted some types of fire prevention codes, accessibility codes (requiring barrier- free access to buildings), or special construction codes (such as those requiring earthquake-resistance construction). Contact your local building department to determine the combination of codes that applies to your area.

Do I Need a Permit?

Permits and inspections enforce the building codes. A permit is essentially a license authorizing someone to do the work; an inspection verifies that the work has been done properly. Minor repairs and remodeling work usually don’t call for a permit, but if the job consists of extending the water supply and the drain, waste, vent system, or adding an electrical circuit, a permit may be necessary. A permit is almost always needed when converting a basement to living space. Most states allow a homeowner to work on his/her own house (electrical and plumbing work included) if a permit is obtained first.

Inspections -- Whenever a permit is required, it’s necessary to schedule a time for a city or county building inspector to visit your home and examine the work. He or she makes sure that the work meets or exceeds the building codes. When obtaining a permit ask about the inspection schedule. For smaller projects an inspector might come out for a final inspection only, but for a larger project, several intermediate inspections may be necessary before a final inspection is done. In any case, it’s your job to call for the inspection. It’s not the inspector’s job to figure out when you might be ready for one.
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Updated: Wednesday, August 10, 2011 5:38