Permitting & Your Home Improvement Project: What You Need to Know

Posted in: design blog

James Moylan

Saturday, January 02, 2021

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Whether you’re looking at a remodel or a new build, permitting is almost always a big challenge for a home improvement project. Permitting was an issue before COVID-19, and it can be an even bigger hurdle in our current landscape.

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Here’s a brief overview of what you need to know as a homeowner to help ensure the permitting process is as smooth as possible.

How Permitting Has Changed in Washington, DC

Over the last few years, the Washington, DC, permitting system has been undergoing wholesale changes. They have been moving everything to an online system, transitioning away from the in-person, face-to-face way business was done.

(Want a high-level overview of these changes? Check out a brief timeline here.)

What does this mean for design and build firms like Design Builders? All those relationships we’d established with the permitting office through the years are really no longer in play. Whereas we used to be able to secure a permit in one day, it can now easily take us a month to get that same permit.

The move to an online system will eventually help with streamlining and expediting the process, but the transition period has caused some big delays. Even before the pandemic, employees had to get trained on the new software system, and that’s always a difficult and time-consuming undertaking. Then COVID-19 hit, and suddenly an already-struggling department had to work with fewer staff members and deal with the learning curve of their remaining employees working from home.

Couple all that with the design and build industry absolutely taking off in 2020—learn more about the industry changes we expect in 2021—and it’s the perfect storm for permitting delays.

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What Do Permitting Delays Mean for the Homeowner?

Plans Are More Important Than Ever

With these potential permitting delays, it puts tremendous importance on the plans you create for your home improvement project. You simply can’t risk a set of plans getting kicked back because that would start the whole waiting process all over again.

Plans need to be clean, clear, and done professionally.

Choose a Contractor Who Takes Plans Seriously

To avoid costly (and annoying) delays with your project, make sure to ask any potential contractor what his or her process is for creating plans. (Remember, a sloppy set of plans can set your project back months!)

At Design Builders, we have multiple people working on every set of plans to ensure accuracy and compliance. We also have a structural engineer review every single set of plans. (This isn’t an industry standard practice. It’s an internal process we put in place to ensure our customers don’t have to needlessly wait around for permits.)

Choose a company that takes these building plans seriously, and you’ll have more peace of mind as it relates to your permitting. 

Be Especially Picky about Your Contractor for Custom Work

If you’re putting in a project that requires standard boilerplate plans, you can be somewhat less discerning about the contractor you choose. If, however, your project is going to be custom in any manner, it’s doubly important to have the eye of that structural engineer look over your plans.

At Designer Builders, we’re always focused on the distinctive feel of a room. We love to create openness in our designs, and that often includes larger windows or expanses without columns or supports, and the expertise of a structural engineer helps ensure—from the very beginning of a project—that the design ideal is logistically and structurally sound.

Getting a permit in the DMV area has always been a challenge—Design Builders works in nineteen separate jurisdictions, each with slightly different regulations, processes, and rules!—but it’s an even bigger challenge in our current landscape. To avoid delays, extra cost, and a lot of headache, make sure your next home improvement project is with a firm that understands these challenges and knows how to navigate the system.

Questions? Want to learn more about how recent permitting changes could affect you and your next project? Reach out, or leave a comment below. We’re happy to answer any questions you have!Download your FREE deck building checklist