ARCHITECTURE   |   Carolyn Feinstein   |   May 05, 2020

ARCHITECTURE   |   Carolyn Feinstein

May 05, 2020

I can't even tell you how many SOS calls we get from homeowners, developers, and builders looking for help getting their plans approved by the Austin Permit Office. Often times, plans have been kicked back for errors or omissions, or a project has been red flagged for unpermitted work.

The skinny on the permit process for Austin; Know your stuff and have detailed plans. The issues we see, and often correct, have to do with unfamiliarity with local code, plans with little to no detail, or a lack of plans entirely. There is no need to go around and around with the inspectors if you are prepared in the first place. In the end, the client spends more money to correct the problems and answer the permit office's questions than they would have if they had provided them the required information upfront.

Fair grounds with an old style English Victorian carousel or merry-go-round, signifying that you should provide the answers necessary in your plans.

Image Credit: Harpal Singh

A five-page set of plans for a ground up house probably won't fly for permitting (nor should it). It's unrealistic and unfair to the reviewers to think one page per floor with some canned details about the wall build is sufficient. I'd grab my big red marker and kick that back with a bunch of questions too. It doesn't matter that your crew has built this house 12 times before. Claiming your dude will "figure it out in the field" doesn't tell the reviewer it complies with code. (Ugh, "figure it out in field" - there's a major pet peeve of mine, but that deserves its own post.) And quit trying to do projects without proper plans! You may be able to slide it past the permit office a few times, but what happens when that one nosy neighbor calls in a complaint? The damage to your business' reputation has a much greater impact than the fine you have to pay for unpermitted work.

Historically, my plan sets for a ground up in Austin proper have been in excess of 50 pages. For anyone thinking that's crazy, consider these factors:

  • Austin stills requires 11x17 sheets. Archaic yes, but to prep these documents, your customary 24x36 sheets are split up, creating a slew of extra pages. Don't be barbaric and scale down the plans. Actually create the drawings to be readable on a smaller page.
  • Schedule F specifications need to be clearly communicated to the reviewers, so add on a few pages within the McMansion areas of town.
  • Make sure all of the questions the reviewer may have are answered in the first submission. They might come back with a few, and you will be able to tell them what page to look at instead of fixing the plans, printing three sets, and moving to the back of the line.
Detailed 3D map of buildings and homes with location markers, signifying that providing all information & detail upfront will save you in the long run

Image Credit: Thor Alvis

I'm not trying to overwhelm the inspectors with extraneous information. My goal is to ensure their questions don't require phone calls, emails, edited plans, and nagging headaches. It's all there. Read the plans.

If you approach a project submission with well thought out, detailed, and easy to read plans, there is a solid chance you will get a favorable result from the permit office. If you submit something your buddy drew up on free trial software, you're just gumming up the gears for the rest of us.