Building Permits

Permits, inspections, regulations…oh my! It may seem a tad overwhelming. But after talking to Jim Donovan, Manager of Municipal Compliance for Halifax Regional Municipality, the process seems encouragingly straightforward. “I don’t think a homeowner has to worry about anything,” he laughs. In all seriousness, he adds that open communication with the building official should make the process run much more smoothly.

Generally speaking, you need to apply for construction permits for home building and renovation projects that exceed $5,000 or that involve any structural change. The purpose is to ensure your construction project is safe and structurally sound as directed by building code and other relevant regulations.

Once you have applied to your municipality’s appropriate building/development/inspection office, permits can be granted within 24 hours for small projects to several weeks for larger projects.

“It’s really a matter of making sure your application is complete,” shares Donovan, who usually sees permits issued within a week to 10 days.

What to include in a permit application depends on your municipality, but some general requirements include building/construction plans, site plans, a filled-out application form and appropriate fees. Other possible requirements, depending on the project, may deal with onsite sewage installation, access approval and other criteria.

“Detailed building plans are critically important,” says Donovan. “We’re going to look at what you’re going to do and see if it’s in general conformance with the rules. For instance, generally, is this building the right size for the lot in terms of the zoning regulations or generally can you build this using the Building Code?”

Additionally, the Building Code Act mandates seven inspections performed at various phases of the construction process, from the “footings in place” to the final building stage. “The law actually requires that you notify us for an inspection,” says Donovan. “It’s your obligation as an owner to get these inspections done.”

The only “common hiccup” Donovan has encountered is when homeowners and builders make changes to original plans without notifying the building official/inspector. “For example, you’ve said on your building plans you’re going to insulate this building with fibreglass batts, and the Building Official gets to the site and sees that it’s now spray-applied foam,” shares Donovan. “It’s not a matter of whether or not you’re allowed to do that. It’s a matter of what are the implications of having done that. Without informing the building official, you’ve made a substantial change that won’t allow that inspection stage to go smoothly.”

Donovan says it is a matter of picking up the phone and talking to the building official about proposed changes. “It’s really just about good communication because in my world, everything is okay for the most part,” says Donovan. “And if it isn’t, it really just takes that conversation to work it through. If you maintain communication with the building official, they’re really shouldn’t be any problems.”

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Michelle Brunet

Michelle Brunet

Michelle Brunet is a freelance writer based in her hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia. She has had the pleasure of contributing to various publications and websites, including Celtic Life International, Halifax Magazine, The Coast, Bedford Magazine, Resources Quarterly, Atlantic Books Today, up! magazine and My Destination Nova Scotia