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Building officials: Friends or foes?

“Nailing It Down”
By Dave Murnen
and Pat Beaty

In this column for the last two weeks we’ve talked about remodeling your home, including how to select a contractor.
Now is a good time to talk about some of the other important players in a successful project. Let’s start with the role of your local building official and building codes.

Benefits of building codes
Codes were created because public safety is a top priority for government agencies. Building any structure in a uniform manner assures you, as well as future owners or contractors working on it, that certain conditions will exist. Building up to today’s code may even help lower your insurance rates.
One of the earliest known building codes was simple. If the house you built fell down and killed the homeowner, you were killed. Simple! Today’s codes are a little more complex and can seem about as ever changing as the tax laws! That is one of the areas where your local building official can really help you.

Officials can be good resource
Some people think of building officials as adversarial and hard-to-please -- so many rules and so little tolerance for creative building practices. Actually, they can be one of your best pre-design resources – especially if you plan to do the work yourself.
For one thing, they are certified building code experts and have full authority to interpret and enforce the Uniform Building Code in their jurisdiction.
It’s the building official’s job to know the ins and outs of this code. A building inspector’s code interpretations are based on the local conditions and necessities of the project site.
For example, building in a high wind zone or in a known flood area has specific requirements. It is important to design your project around any prevailing code conditions. After all, the codes are there to protect you.
It is much easier and smarter to find this information first than to risk doing something over. So ask your local building officials lots of questions before you plan your design, but don’t expect them to design your project.
Your local building department can also be a great resource for specific written “how-to” field drawings, common material “sizing and usage” charts, as well as numerous other associated handouts.
While they’re usually very busy, building officials are generally eager to answer your questions and may even give some advice, such as when you need to consult an architect, designer or engineer, but they won’t tell you which one to choose.

Do you need a building permit?
Some remodeling or additions seem so minor that people don’t think to ask if they need a building permit. That can be a big mistake.
It pays to ask. If you’ve built something without a permit when required, the building official can not only make you pay double for the cost of the permit, but also may require you to tear down all or part of what you’ve done, even if only to see if it’s up to code.
Painting, installing a new sink or faucet or even paving your driveway does not require a building permit. But requirements can change from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
For instance, if you’re putting on a new roof in Aberdeen or Hoquiam you need to have a building permit. However, if you’re in the rural county, re-roofing doesn’t require a permit unless you have to replace the rafters or install plywood sheathing. Ask first, then nail it.
Once you know you need a building permit, you submit your application and completed plan. Several public works departments will review the information before issuing a permit.
The building inspector will check for code issues; the engineering department for structural issues; the electrical department for electrical issues; the fire department for safety concerns; the sewer department for sewer connections and the planning department for zoning issues.
Remember the point is to make sure that our homes are safe, sound and standardized – as well as good looking. Presumably, that is the goal you are striving for, too.

So, are you about ready to begin your project?

ANHS -- another resource
Remember, if you’re having trouble converting your housing dream into reality, we at Aberdeen Neighborhood Housing Services are also here to help.
We can help you sort through the maze and set you in the right direction. In addition, we offer reasonably priced construction oversight services and work regularly with building officials. We also have a variety of contractors in our approved pool.

Dave Murnen is the construction manager and Pat Beaty is a construction specialist at Aberdeen Neighborhood Housing Services, a non-profit organization committed to creating safe and affordable housing for all residents of Grays Harbor County. Do you have questions about home repair, remodeling or becoming a homeowner or a member of our contractor pool? Call 533-7828 or visit us at 710 E. Market St. in Aberdeen.

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