Why You're Stuck in Permitting (and how to get out!)

You have won the bid, the contracts are signed, the job is yours.  However, this is just the beginning. Looking ahead, you know the road to achieving your CO (certificate of occupancy) is long, you hope it will not be treacherous.  Achieving the CO is the main goal.  It is the light at the end of your tunnel, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  Just getting there is not enough.  Getting there on-time and in budget makes all the difference between success and failure.

But, right now you are stuck in the building department equivalent of purgatory, permitting and review. Most building/fire plan review departments allow up to 10 days for the review to happen (this is quick by many standards).  If your submittal is correct in all points and meets all federal, state, and local code requirements, then your plan will most likely be approved (taking up only the 10 days ou have allotted for this activity).  But, lack of required information, or failure to comply with local ordinances and AHJ requirements will keep your plans locked up and you paying for and submitting endless revisions and resubmittals.

Here are the top 12 reasons why your plans will be disapproved (in no particular order):

  1. Incomplete, missing, or incorrect listing of code references and editions used.
  2. Lack of sprinkler/alarm calculations (hydraulic/battery).
  3. Insufficient remoteness of exits.
  4. Lack of compliance with egress requirements.
  5. Point of service (for fire systems) not clearly shown.
  6. Incorrect spacing of fire sprinkler heads.
  7. Incorrect spacing/installation of fire alarm devices.
  8. Incorrect or missing door rating in fire-rated assemblies.
  9. Incorrect locking devices on doors.
  10. No detail of fire-rated walls.
  11. Missing or incorrect stair details.
  12. Missing fire penetration protective details.

To ensure a smooth travel into and out of permitting here are a few things to consider, and some steps to take.  

  • Remember that every state adopts different codes (ICC, NFPA), and different editions (2014 may be the latest, but the state your working in has only adopted the 2009 edition).  
  • Each jurisdiction may have its own, more stringent, ordinances.
  • Consult with the AHJ (building and fire) to determine what codes are currently being utilized, what local changes are in effect, and what that particular code official wants to see. This 1 hour, to-the-point meeting, could save you days of resubmittals, as well as, help to establish rapport with the building official, and increase his knowledge of your intended product.  He will now be someone that is in your corner, a partner on your project, rather than someone who is trying to figure out what you are doing, and not getting the clear answers he needs from your plans.
  • Consult the applicable codes and standards, as they often include a list of required documents for plan submittal:
    • NFPA 13:23 - Fire Sprinkler Plans and Calculations
    • NFPA 72:7 - Fire Alarm Minimum Required Documentation
  • Consider the use of a third-party review.  These plan review/code experts will do all the leg work to ensure that your plans are to code and everything is ready for submittal.  Since they are a neutral party, they will be willing to offer advice and alternative code provisions for the structure that you envision.

I hope these quick tips will keep your next project moving through the process so you can come in on time and under budget!

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