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How to get remodel permits in Portland

You’re ready to get to work on the next big home improvement project. You set aside some money, even had some plans drawn up for the work you want done. But now comes the step that everyone loves to hate: permits. But the truth is, getting remodel permits in Portland doesn’t need to be intimidating or complicated.

As a remodeler that performs home renovations across the Portland area, Lamont Bros knows how challenging permits can be. We’ll teach you what we know about permits so you can make sure the process goes smoothly for you. 

In this article, you’ll get to learn about the importance of construction permits and why they exist. We’ll also discuss the different types, costs, and challenges you might encounter when trying to get a permit for your project.

What are building permits?

Building permits are documents that grant authorization to build or remodel a structure. They are issued by municipal government offices, usually at the city or county level. The requirements for permits come from building codes, a set of laws that set the safety and structural standards of construction.

The building codes cover every aspect of construction. These include regulations on fire safety, how wide stair steps need to be, and what slope angle a roof should have.

Though collectively referred to as “building permits,” there are actually three different types of construction permits. 

Building Permits

We often use the phrase “building permits” to describe all three types of construction permits. However, the technical definition limits this type of permit to structural work within an actual residential or commercial building. 

Most work done on houses or apartment complexes would fall under this category. You need a building permit to remove a load-bearing wall, or add on an entirely new bedroom. 

Accessory Permits

When adding a detached structure separated from the primary dwelling unit, you would likely need an accessory permit. These types of permits tend not to have as strict of requirements as typical building permits. Accessory units are not part of the main structure, but building codes still require that they meet some safety standards.

ADUs, detached garages, and utility sheds fall under these types of permits. Accessory structures require a permit when the structure exceeds certain dimensional requirements, which in most jurisdictions is above 200 sq. ft.

Trade Permits

Changes to electrical, plumbing, or HVAC systems require the use of a trade permit. These types of permits are especially important because they ensure proper procedures and protocols for work that can be dangerous if not done correctly. 

Why do we need building permits, anyways?

Proper permits and inspection increases both the safety and longevity of your home.

Permits serve an important role in keeping our buildings safe and livable. Designed to ensure that construction and remodel projects follow building codes, they are almost always essential to conducting a safe, legal remodel. There are three main reasons as to why permits are important:

1. Permits protect the homeowner

Nobody likes it when an improperly installed drainage pipe ruptures and leaks sewage into your basement. Thankfully, building codes and regulations dictate how to properly install things like sewage pipes. Permits ensure that a builder follows these regulations. 

By making sure your builder obtains the proper permits, you protect the safety of your home, and by extension, yourself and your family, as well.

2. Permits protect the builder

Some contractors will cut corners on permits, or forego them entirely and hope that nothing goes wrong. The problem is, if something does go wrong, they can face serious legal recourse, such as fines or loss of their business terminated. 

Not only does taking out the proper permits prevent mishaps on a project; it also provides protection for a builder if something does go wrong. Legally speaking, the builder takes fewer risks when they properly permit their work and build it to code. 

In other words, if the builder does everything by the book and something still goes awry, it’s somebody else’s problem.

3. Permits protect our communities

Remember, building codes set the safety standards for construction. These laws apply to homes, office buildings, schools, hospitals, and supermarkets. Because permits are the main way to ensure that builders follow building codes, they play a crucial role in maintaining the standards of safety that protect us all, no matter what roof we are under.

How do I obtain permits?

If you want to get your hands on construction permits, you really have only two options: get them yourself or hire a contractor.

If you choose to get your permits on your own, you’ll need to call your local municipal development office to request a permit. Make sure you have all of your project drawings, designs, and plans ready to go before contacting a permitting authority. 

Some permitting offices also have online applications. Check with yours to see if applying online is an option. 

If you choose to have a contractor handle the process for you, you probably won’t have to do much. Just make sure the plans they have are the plans you want built, and they should take care of all the detail work. 

How much do construction permits cost?

Unfortunately, it is difficult to give an exact estimate of how much permits cost for any given project. All remodels are unique and require different permitting applications.

Permits for a home remodel can cost anywhere between $2,000-15,000. At Lamont Bros., the average permit cost for jobs we do tend to be around $4,000. 

The two factors that most greatly affect permit cost are jurisdiction and the total job value.

Jurisdiction

Permit pricing is decided by the city government in which the construction is to take place. If the project takes place outside the incorporated city limits, permits are then issued by the county government instead. 

In most cases, the contractor must get approval for any structural or trade work in a remodel. This almost always requires a different inspector to come out for each inspection. In other words, if you have both plumbing and electrical inspections, you’ll need a different inspector for each.

Inspections alone can cost anywhere from $120-300 depending on the type of inspection and valuation of the construction work. 

However, the City of Portland currently offers a Field Issuance Remodel (FIR), which is designed to make the process of obtaining permits much easier for remodel projects. 

 For contractors partnered with the program, the Bureau of Development Services assigns a senior inspector to oversee a project from start to finish. Unlike other permit programs, the same person serves as the plans examiner, electrical inspector, plumbing inspector, structural inspector, and any other inspection-related contact. For standard permitting procedures, each phase of a remodel may see a different inspector, which leaves a lot of room for miscommunication and project delays.

The FIR program is one of the most efficient permitting programs available, and costs $275 per inspection. Though the rate for inspections is higher than the standard inspection program, the inspector is cross-trained to inspect everything from structural to electrical changes. This means that if you time your inspections well and get as many of them done in the same site walk, you might actually save some money. 

Job Value

The cost of building permits is usually relative to the value of construction work. The cost of the permit is a percentage of the total project cost at fair market value.

Permits for structural changes to a home (removing a load-bearing wall, adding a bedroom, etc.) will usually cost between 1,500 and $2,000. Trade permits typically run at about $300 per trade, but the cost can go up depending on the scope of work. 

How long does it take to get a permit?

Remodel permits in the Portland area typically take 6-8 weeks, so long as no problems arise. However, avoiding permit delays is often easier said than done.

Building codes can often make it difficult to remodel a home, especially in a metropolitan area where there is already very little space. Here are a few of the challenges that you might encounter when trying to obtain a building permit for your remodel.

Trees

The City of Portland and Lake Oswego both have very robust tree protection policies. If there is a tree in the near vicinity of a proposed remodel project, the permitting office requires that the contractor hire an arborist. The arborist must then develop a protection plan for the tree before the city will issue a permit. 

This can range anywhere from laying bark chips around the root structure of the tree to building a fence around it.

Zoning Setbacks

A zoning setback describes the distance a structure must be from the property line, road, sidewalk, or another structure. Zoning regulations have changed throughout history and some homes are already in violation of zoning setback laws, because the laws were passed after the homes were already built.

In most cases, you shouldn’t have to do anything to rectify this, but it does mean that you can’t add onto a home past the setback line, even if it is already over. 

Engineering

With safety on the line, you can bet that permitting officials are very thorough when they inspect building plans. Because of this, plans occasionally get sent back for revision if they are unclear or incomplete. 

Making sure that the plans are comprehensive and clear is one of the most effective ways to keep a project’s permit from being delayed. 

Interested in working with a FIR-certified contractor?

Now that you know all about permitting costs in the Portland area, you can start planning how to obtain the proper permits for your home remodel. Ready to move forward with your renovation project? Learn more about the process of designing and building a home remodel with Lamont Bros on our website!

If you want to learn more about working with a FIR-certified contractor, contact us to see if Lamont Bros. is right for your remodel project. Click the “Schedule a Call” button below and we’ll get in touch with you by the end of the day.