One of the responsibilities on being the owner builder of a new timber frame home is to ensure that the house complies with local codes, DHEC (environmental control), zoning, etc… This means working with your local building code office. This typically takes longer than one visit and there is a specific order for getting your permits. Start early in learning the process of acquiring your permits for your well, septic, power, etc. and you will rest easier at night and know your timber frame construction project will run smoother, thus saving you money. Many think of the building code offices around the country in a negative light but they do serve a good purpose and exist for a reason. They are there to make sure that your house is built properly to minimum standards and is safe not only for you, but any future owners. They have a defined book of standards that they operate from and while not as confusing as tax code; the building codes can be intimidating so make sure you find out which rules they follow, your local office will be more than happy to help you find the information you need. However, here are a few pointers to help you with the code office:
- Tell them about building a timber frame and whether you are using SIPS or not. The TF building process can change their standard inspection schedule and if they know ahead of time what you are working with, they can be more accommodating to what makes sense for your timber frame construction project.
- Be ready to have your timber frame plans and foundation plans engineered. In the primary code book used, the IRC, due to the fact that timber frames are considered unconventional buildings they require engineering by most local offices and will require a engineer to sign off on your drawings. While this is a extra step the long term value you will get by having engineer reviewing your plans is incredible.
- Be honest about your plans and try to be flexible and have patience. By showing them early on that you intend to do good work (and not just throw something together), they will be more helpful in the long run. I hate to say it but prior planning does prevent poor performance (the 5 P’s) when dealing with the building department.
- Please realize, they usually work with professional contractors who know the process so by doing your homework ahead of time, you will save time and frustration for all. Many departments have online resources that you can tap into to find out the right information before you apply for your permit. I usually search for the county and “building codes” in Google when I am looking for the various code offices. This usually gives me the links to the information I need fast.
I hope this eases your mind a little in dealing with your local building code office. My goal was to give you some tips to ease your pain and to make you realize that they are a part of your construction team, so make sure you take advantage of this resource.