Whether you are constructing a new building or modifying an existing structure, the first steps are feasibility, design, and applying for a building permit.
Feasibility, typically performed by Design Professionals, General Contractors, or both, is the process of learning the client’s goals, understanding site limitations, and developing preliminary high-level designs. What all is included in a “feasibility study” varies based on the proposed structure, the site conditions, and the jurisdiction. At the end of the feasibility stage, you should have an understanding of what can or can’t be accomplished on your site and a high-level range of budget. It is also a good idea at this point to talk with your financial institution if you are financing the funds for the project. For example, some properties have height restrictions as to not block your neighbor’s view. Other properties may not have the proper soil to support a septic system. These are things you’ll want to know before purchasing a building lot.
The term design can cover many things, but in general, it is taking the proposed project from the feasibility stage and refining the design to include floor plans and elevations, structural requirements, site development requirements, energy requirements, utilities, and fire protection. The collection of these design documents is often referred to as the “construction documents”. With construction documents complete, a contractor can develop a much more refined bid with contingency (extra budget reserved for unexpected expenses), you can apply for a building permit, and in some instances use the plans to finalize financing.
Not all projects require a Structural Engineer. New construction homes may be designed to fit within relatively restrictive “prescriptive” requirements and not require engineering. However, other than the simplest homes, most buildings will require a structural design. A structural design must be completed by a Professional Engineer (within certain buildings size/type limitations in most states) or a Structural Engineer (no limitations). The design will include framing and foundation plans as well as structural specifications and construction details. The engineered drawings will be supported by a calculations package which demonstrates that the design complies with code requirements and utilizes accurate structural analysis and mechanics of materials principals. Some common “triggers” for requiring engineering in remodel construction are below:
Structural Engineers can also visit a site to verify and document if an element of the building is load bearing or if it may be removed without strengthening. If the element is load bearing, structural solutions can be provided.
Your project will need to have architectural plans (floor plans, elevations, energy requirements, fire protection requirements, etc.) from a designer or licensed Architect. Requirements vary between jurisdictions, but in general if a building is less than 4,000 square feet a licensed architect is not required (other restrictions may apply, so verify with your jurisdiction). Designers are a very cost-effective solution in place of an architect, especially in routine residential construction. If you are looking for a designer or architect for your project, please feel free to reach out to BSE for recommendations of local firms we frequently work with!
The need for a Civil Engineer varies drastically based on the jurisdiction and the kind of site you are on. In general, for a building site, a Civil Engineer would design solutions for managing roof water runoff, storm drainage systems, temporary erosion and sediment control, and in some cases the final topography of the site. For many residential sites, there are options to use prescriptive standards, however most commercial sites will require Civil Engineering. One of the biggest determining factors is the amount of “Impervious area” on a site. Impervious area is portions of the property that water could not pass through or would be very poor draining, some examples include the roofs of structures, parking lots, sidewalks, and driveways (including compacted gravel driveways). The higher the percentage of your site’s area that is considered impervious, the higher chance you will need a Civil Engineer (particularly if you are increasing the percentage of impervious area). If you think you might need a Civil Engineer, give us a call. We’d be happy to point you in the right direction!
For most commercial property you will most likely need a Geotechnical Engineer, most residential sites you will not. A Geotechnical Engineer evaluates the site’s soils to determine the pressure it can support from the weight of structures, the pressure it will impose on buried and retaining structures, the stability of slopes, or soil pressures that will develop from the weight of adjacent structures. A Structural Engineer can manage standard site conditions using prescriptive soil assumptions (which in some cases may be conservative), but slopped sites, sites with particularly poor soils, or commercial projects with heavier structures will typically require a Geotechnical Engineer. Depending on your project, even if a Geotechnical Engineer is not required, there may be some cost benefit in obtaining a Geotechnical Report to take full advantage of the strength of the soils on site. If you need a Geotechnical Engineer or want to discuss if a report is likely to save money on your site, please reach out to BSE and we will be happy to share our thoughts and provide recommendations for Geotechnical Engineers that we work with!
A building permit is an official document approved and issued by your local building department. Each jurisdiction has their own requirements for issuing permits, along with different codes and standards. Your permit allows your contractor to proceed with the construction of a building or remodel of an existing building on your property. Its purpose is to ensure that your project plans will comply with all the local codes for land use, zoning, and construction. These codes are intended to ensure your safety and the safety of any future occupants of the property. A building permit will also ensure that any square footage added to your home will be recording in official county records. Some specific issues that the building permit may address is the structural integrity of the building, zoning requirements, sanitation, water and sewer lines, fire protection, and electrical service.
Contact your local building department and describe your project. If a permit is required, they will provide you with the application and let you know if any additional documents are required. Most jurisdictions also have the permit applications online with some resources to determine the correct forms. Some projects will require multiple permits. For example, a major remodel might require a building permit, an electrical permit, a plumbing/mechanical permit, and potentially more.
Prepare your permit application(s) and start gathering your additional required documents – such as architectural drawings, structural engineering, drainage plans, septic designs, shop drawings etc. The permit process can be a little overwhelming if you don’t have construction experience, so we always recommend hiring a Design Professional or General Contractor to support the permit process.
These plans typically show the site’s existing condition, what is changing, and what the final layout will look like. The plans will also include Energy Code requirements, window and door schedules, and general construction requirements. Each jurisdiction has specific requirements on what needs to be included on the drawings. If you need someone to provide design services please give BSE a call, if we cannot handle the design in house, we frequently work with many people who can!
Once you get a permit, the General Contractor will typically “take the wheel” and manage the project through completion. Throughout your building process, you will need to have regular inspections to ensure the building is being constructed as specified in the drawings approved by the jurisdiction. Often there are surprises during a project that will require input from engineers or designers. At BSE, we stand behind all the work we provide from design through completed construction! We are available for design revisions, general questions/clarifications, and repair solutions. Once all inspections are completed and signed off, you will receive final approval and your project is complete!
This article is to serve as a general overview and guide of the design and development of a typical project and is not inclusive of all situations that may arise. As projects progress, you will need to rely on the Design Professionals and the General Contractor you hire, as well as information directly from your local jurisdiction. Projects can be challenging and are almost never without surprises to navigate. BSE and the professionals we partner with have many decades of combined experience to help you navigate the complex and everchanging process of building design and site development. Though BSE does not provide all the services listed above, we have the experience to know the steps to accomplish your project goals and the various disciplines you will need involved. We look forward to the opportunity to discuss your project and help in any way that we can!