Once decided what kind of addition you are planning (master bedroom addition, kitchen addition, living room addition, etc), the next step is to visit your local Planning and Building departments. These departments are usually branch out at your City Hall and/or County Building.
What to ask to your Planning Department
Prior to your visit, is a good idea to sketch a Site Plan of your property and locate the existing house’ structure along with the new addition and setback distances from all four sides. If you don’t know what a setback distance is, don’t worry, is not a “brainer”. A setback is nothing but the distance from the property line to the structure of the house in all four sides (or as many there may be). Is very important to know these distances (setbacks) because one of the requirements that your local planning department will ask is not to invade by means of new construction, the setbacks that they regulate for the zoning in which your property falls into. If you don’t know the setbacks for your property those should be the first pieces of information to get from your planning department.
There are other pieces of information that you must get from your local planning department and I can’t tell you with certainty what those are since they vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, most times are pretty much the same, such as the maximum square footage to add, the number of copies of Site Plan required, time-frame for approval, etc. With this in mind, the best piece of advice I can give you is to ask the million-dollar question: “what will you need from me to get my Site Plan approved and move on to deal with the next department (Building)?” Generally speaking, your goal is to generate an approved Site Plan of your project to move on to deal with your building department.
What to ask to your Building Department
Let’s say that you’re adding one of the most common additions made in the United States: a Master Bedroom addition. Then, apply the same procedure as you did with your planning department and draw in a piece of paper your Existing Floor Plan and Proposed Floor Plan together; Existing Floor Plan being the existing configuration of your home and Proposed Floor Plan being the proposed configuration for the addition. For now, and for the sake of simplicity, all you have to do is to show to your Plans Examiner (Building Department representative) what you have in mind. The purpose of this is to get as much as information possible from him/her to generate a complete set of approved plans for construction. Again, ask the million-dollar question: “what will you need from me to get my Plans approved and start building?”
On the contrary to the Planning Department, the Building Department asks for more design sheets. Whereas the Planning Department just asks for the Site Plan of your project, the Building Department will ask for a Floor Plan (with Existing and Proposed areas), Exterior Elevations (at least two and sometimes even three or four), Foundation Plan including Footing Details, Framing Plan including Lateral Bracing Details, Roof Details and if required, Engineering Calculations (those can be outsourced without cost by mostly any lumber yard), and finally, a Cross Section Detail. Don’t be intimidated by these design sheets, ask your plans examiner for samples if you don’t know how they look and what they are.
Remember, building plans and permits for single-story home additions are easy to obtain if you are committed to spend a few days of your own time and a couple hundred dollars. You don’t need to be a license architect, home designer or contractor to generate them if your addition doesn’t exceed four thousand square feet. If you generate plans and expedite permits yourself, you will definitely save thousands of dollars that could be used towards the construction of your project.
A final piece of advice is to always maintain a humble attitude when dealing with city officials at these departments. Don’t ever try to outsmart them. Keep in mind that they know what you don’t and can either make things easier or harder for you. So, maintaining a positive attitude is a “must” when dealing with them. Send them the message that you know nothing and that you are in need of help and absorb as much as you can.