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Frequently Asked Questions

Common Questions about Building Plans

Common Questions about Building Plans

At RS Home Design we are committed to providing excellent design and professional building plans. We realize this can be an overwhelming and confusing experience for our clients. We want you to feel confident about your choices and informed about the requirements of a building plan set. This section is a collection of answers based on the most frequently asked questions about building plans that we receive.

Do I Need Building Plans?


For most projects that effect the safety of the occupants or guests of a structure, California law requires that a set of building plans be submitted and approved before a building permit can be issued.

What a set of plans is for you:

  • A medium for exploring options.
  • A protection for you, your family and your guests from possible harm.
  • A means of protecting and increasing the value of your home.
  • A means of communication between building professionals.
  • A record of what is “behind the walls”.

Building plans make it clear to building officials that your project is allowed within the zoning law that governs your project site. It also conveys that everything you propose to do meets or exceeds current building codes. Building codes keep people safer and more comfortable. They help to keep houses from being damaged in storms and earthquakes.

How Much Do Plans Cost?


Small additions still require a complete set of plans. Even a very small remodel project with a construction budget of $20,000.00 to $40,000.00, could be as much as $2,000.00 -$4,000.00 for design and plans. In other words, roughly 10% of the construction cost.

For most medium sized typical projects-custom Plans are roughly 5-7% of the construction cost. For a $100,000 remodel the plans may be in the range of $5,000.00 to $7,000.00. Of course the variables that affect actual cost are many such as complexity of design and quality level of construction as well as the parameters of the existing home and so forth.

There is an economy of scale however for larger projects in that the plan requirements for a $500,000.00 remodel are not significantly more than the $100 K project. The design and building plans would typically be in the range of $10,000.00 to $15,000.00 depending on complexity. This is roughly only 2-3% of the construction cost.

All new homes and additions require energy engineering. This is typically a few hundred dollars. The plans can not be submitted for permit without an energy efficiency report.

All new construction and some additions require other engineering as well such as structural, soils, drainage etc. These costs can be hundreds to thousands of dollars. RS Home Design works with a network of reliable engineers. If your project does require engineering RS Home Design will coordinate with engineers and other professionals as needed.

How Long Will Plans Take?


While it is impossible to predict every obstacle that could slow down a project, here is a general guideline of the steps involved and their average time frames.

  1. Design/concept/gather info: 2-3 weeks
  2. Draw rough plans (ready for contractor input): 2-3 weeks
  3. Draw final plans: 1-2 weeks
  4. Structural engineering (if needed): 3-6 weeks
  5. Energy engineering (always needed): 1-2 weeks
  6. Plan check and revisions: 4-6 weeks
  7. Total average time-design to permit: 4-6 months

The key to a successful project is starting plans in the Fall with a view to starting construction in the Spring. Most people start in the Spring and find everyone in the industry, including the city departments, to be backed up. Their projects are not ready until the Winter and they have to wait until the ground is dry the following Spring to start.

What Options Do I Have?


Draw Your Own Plans

(California State Law allows anyone to draw building plans within certain guidelines.) see California Business and Professions Code #5537.

Advantages: You may save money. It can be a rewarding learning experience. Santa Rosa Junior College offers classes in both manual drafting and Computer Aided Drafting (CAD). Your local community development office can help. Most have guidelines for plan requirements on their web sites.

Disadvantages: The requirements for a complete set of plans can be staggering.

Buy Stock Plans

Advantages: You may save money. For a new custom home it is a great way to figure out what you like. Some like to pick out a plan free from a book and then have something of that style drawn to fit the lot.

Disadvantages: May not be acceptable in California as is. Will have to be updated to meet California Building Codes. Must be engineered for the lot. Not an option for additions and remodels. Some plans are copyright protected and cannot legally be altered by any one without written permission. Some companies that sell stock plans offer customization but may be difficult to work out long distance.

Hire an Architect

Advantages: Most commercial building plans are designed by licensed Architects. If you are adding on to a high-end custom home or want to build a high-end custom home then you may want to hire a licensed Architect as they are trained in engineering.

Disadvantages: Can be very expensive. Your project may not require engineering. If it does, an engineer can be hired to calculate the structural details and can stamp the plans.

Design-Build Contractors

Some contractors do their own design and then also do the construction. Some have in house staff architects, engineers and or designers. Some coordinate the design phase but contract out the design work.

Advantages: If you know and trust the contractor the project can be simpler and easier.

Disadvantages: You may be locked in to one contractor. May not get the best price or the best builder for your money. Some may offer the design phase at no charge. This is mis-leading. All business people have to charge for their time somehow. Likely the costs of design will be hidden in the building cost.

Hire a Home Designer

Many find this to be the ideal choice.

Advantages: Much easier than drawing your own plans. May be less expensive than an Architect, more focused than a contractor and more flexible than stock plans.

Disadvantages: A designer is limited by California State Law and is not allowed to go beyond standard construction parameters. In many cases a project has elements that are beyond “standard construction.” A designer will send the plans to a licensed structural engineer to address those elements. The plan set for permit bears the stamp of the engineer and is then acceptable for permit request.

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Frequently Asked Questions about Permits

Frequently Asked Permit Questions

Do I Need a Permit?


California Building Code 106.1 states:

“No building or structure regulated by this code shall be erected, constructed, enlarged, altered, repaired, moved, improved, removed, converted or demolished unless a separate permit for each building or structure has been obtained from the building official.”

A few exceptions are:

  • Wallpapering, Painting and similar finish work.
  • Fences not over 6 feet high.
  • Driveways, walkways and platforms not more than 30″ above the ground.
  • Detached buildings such as a storage shed that does not exceed 120 square feet in size, (including roof overhang), and does not have electrical, plumbing or a permanent foundation.

How Do I Get a Permit?


Some permits, for very small projects, can be obtained on-line or by visiting your local Community Development Department. For larger projects a set of Building Plans will be required.

A homeowner may draw their own plans or hire someone to draw plans for them. A homeowner may submit the plans and apply for a permit if they are acting as their own contractor.

In most cases, a contractor will submit the plans and apply for a permit. The contractor will be required to verify a current contracting license and will have to have proof of Worker’s Compensation Insurance for any persons hired to work on the project.

How Long Will it Take to Get a Permit?


Many planning departments are offering online permits for small projects. You can check the website for your agency of jurisdiction to see if you can get an online permit for your project. Or for some small projects that do not require building plans you may get a permit the same day by going to your planning department.

For larger projects, where building plans are required, some agencies will approve basic additions and minor remodels over the counter if the building plans are complete. Not all offer this so it is best to call and ask before assuming this is the case.

The average plan check for a basic addition or major remodel is 3-4 weeks. If the planning department is unusually busy or if your project is quite complicated, has serious site issues or existing condition issues it could take much longer for the first plan check. Usually there are some revisions needed to the building plans. The plans will be returned for correction and are then re-submitted for a second plan check. The second plan check is usually 2-3 weeks. Normally plans do not require a third plan check.

How Much Does it Cost to Get a Permit?


Samples below are estimates only and will vary depending on location. Other fees will have to also be calculated and paid for before you can receive your building permit. All examples are subject to change without notice. A few examples are:

Description Size Plan Check Permit Plan Revision
New Residence: Single Family 1,500 sq. ft. $1,642.00 $3,104.00 $102.00/hr.
New Two Car Garage 576 sq. ft. $369.00 $652.00
Addition $100,000 ~$1,500.00
New Two Car Garage 576 sq. ft. $369.00 $652.00

Will I Have to Pay Other Fees?


Each planning department has a different schedule for additional fees beyond the permit, plan check, and inspection fees. They include fees for schools, public works and the environment. They are subject to change without notice.

It is important to find out what additional fees you can expect as it may change the size or scope of your project. These fees can be quite large and need to be part of your project budget.

Or call your local planning department or visit their website for more information on whether or not your project will require a permit.

Agency of Jurisdiction (Not sure? Check your property tax bill to see which jurisdiction your project is in.)

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