“I’d like to know what the absolute minimum requirements of licensed professionals would be to get a permit”

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“Dear PoPville,

I want to put an addition on my row house. I know popups aren’t popular these days, but I’ve wanted one for 15 years and never had the money. I want to do it before the regulations get any tighter, so I’m trying to move quickly, but my cash is tight. I have a background in construction and want to do all of the work myself. I’d like to know what the absolute minimum requirements of licensed professionals would be in order for a homeowner to get a permit to build an addition. For example does a licensed architect need to approve the plans? A structural engineer? What requirements are lessened for a homeowner working on his own property?”

15 Comment

  • Pablo Raw

    I suggest you sketch what you want and go to DCRA’s homeowner’s center on the 2nd floor and he’ll tell you what you need. From what you are saying, I think you’ll be required at least certified plans by a Structural Engineer.

    • Yes, plans will need to be stamped by a structural engineer licensed in DC.

    • Yes check in with DCRA homeowner center.
      Suggest whatever plans you submit to DCRA are strictly within current zoning regulations for your lot so that a permit can be issued as a “matter-of-right”.
      With the current anti-popup hysteria in DC, anything that requires a variance or special exception, anything that is not 100% “matter-of-right” is likely to draw opposition from neighbors and ANC.
      Good luck and please keep PoPville informed of your progress.

    • The plumbing and electrical work required for an addition will also definitely fall under the category of work that needs a full permit (not a postcard) and requires a licensed plumber and electrician.

      • I read up on this in the context of electrical before, and I am fairly certain that an unlicensed homeowner can do electrical work if they are only working on their own property.

        • HaileUnlikely

          Mostly correct. Only a licensed master electrician can apply for and receive a heavy up permit. Regular homeowners can get permits to add outlets and receptacles and stuff. If you need to add new circuits but do not require a heavy up, I’m not sure whether a regular homeowner can get that permit or whether it requires an electrician.

          • Any change to the breaker box requires an electrical permit/master electrician. Basically, you can add extra outlets or receptacles (or remove or move them) if they can be put on existing circuits with just a postcard, otherwise, you need a master electrician. I wanted to add an outlet in my hallway (using the existing wiring for an outlet in my bedroom on the other side of the wall), but that would have put the circuit over the load. To add the extra circuit, I would have needed a full permit and master electrician. To route from the bathroom (where I had load to spare) would have been a chore. I’m talking with my (non-master) electrician about how much convincing I’d need to do with the permit office to lose one of the bedroom outlets and “relocate” it to the hallway (I have *5* outlets in the bedroom…I can afford to lose one so that I have power conveniently in the hallway). Right now we’re leaning towards postcard to remove one in the bedroom, then a new postcard to add it back in the hallway.

          • And, yes, there’s more than the outlets on that circuit (ceiling fan and lighting, most notably). However, 6 outlets on a single circuit *can* be a problem. I remember (takes out pipe, puts on smoking jacket, and pats the couch next to me :)) in my first rental in DC, where half the outlets were on the same circuit. Oh, there were only 5 or 6 on that circuit, but I couldn’t run my microwave and plasma TV…you remember plasma TV’s, oh, the olden days!…at the same time, or I’d trip the breaker! Guffaw! Those old days!
            Erm…so, basically, the codes have to assume you’re blasting every outlet and receptacle for all it’s worth. Since I have to be able to run 10 hair dryers, a ceiling fan on high, and 4 high-watt incandescent lightbulbs all at the same time on that circuit, I’m not allowed to add two more hair dryers – er, a dual outlet! – to it as it exists today. Code don’t care that all that’s currently on the circuit is 7 low-watt CFLs (which are never run simultaneously), a ceiling fan (okay, sometimes on high), a cell phone charger, an iClock knock-off with the screen brightness at zero, and occasionally a vacuum cleaner.

          • HaileUnlikely

            I think whether the resulting work complies with the electric code is more important than what permit you get (my point is not that unpermitted work is cool, my point is that a meaningless postcard permit won’t help much if your work is inspected and the inspector flags something for not complying with the code. The requirement for number and spacing of outlets along walls and in relation to doorways are kind of silly, but they do in fact exist. I’m not sure how getting a postcard permit changes the fact that the end result isn’t up to [a dumb part of the] code.
            Honestly, in your situation, I’d be strongly inclined to go ahead with it, and if selling the house in the future, then replace the receptacle in the hall with a blank cover plate and put the receptacle back in the bedroom where it used to be. There – complies with code again, and future owner can worry about power in the hall if they want.

  • Getting permits out of DCRA is becoming increasingly difficult. I am finishing up a renovation to my house, I did the drawings and sized all the beams myself (Masters in Architecture but not licensed). Actually nearly got all the way through DCRA until I got to structural, there I had two reviewers that mad me change some minor details but were going to let me slip through on my own drawings with no stamps, but then when I came back with my revisions I got a less experienced/tenured reviewer who told me I would need an engineer to stamp it. Fortunately, through my work in construction I was able to quickly get an engineer to give my drawings a once over and stamp them for me. Anyway the gist of the comment is that it is getting harder to get things through DCRA and the DCRA homeowners center will tell you that your project will need to go through the normal path if it is a big project like an addition or a pop-up. At the very least you will need an engineers stamp.

  • Unfortunately, you might be a little late if you are worried that the requirements will get more stringent – DCRA just started enforcing the latest building code in a major way. They are asking for a lot more information even for fairly simple projects (additions fall into this category). An addition (even a small one) is considered a relatively complex project by DCRA standards, so they will want to really examine the drawings – I think they are trying to prevent some of the developer mishaps that we have seen happening around town. Any projects for additions are now also required to be filed as a PDF and reviewed online, which means that the reviews will take some time (a few months) and might be a little complicated if you are not planning on hiring someone to draft up drawings. The requirements are not any different whether you are the homeowner or an architect, although I have seen them be a little more lenient with owners in small ways (helping to get you set up with exactly what you will need) to get their permits. You don’t need an architect’s stamp for residential work, but you will most likely (90% chance) need a structural engineer’s stamp if you are building an addition (it is a requirement, but, depending on how complicated your design is and which reviewer you get, you may be able to get by without one). If you run into problems with the permitting, you can generally hire some younger architects that work for a lower rate and would be able to draft and stamp your drawings. It might be a little more than you want to spend, but it will be less of a hassle than a stop work order. This link may help to give you a better idea of what will be required to get your project permitted: http://dcra.dc.gov/node/513822 . I hope this helps, and good luck!!

  • Any addition home will require the stamp of a PE or RA. Have you verified that your pop-up meets the zoning requirements? Are you in an historic district? Also, keep in mind that you will need licensed elec, plumb, HVAC to pull your supplemental permits in addition to the building permit. Good luck!

    Contact [email protected] if you are looking for design professionals.

  • A permit lasts only 2 years. Unless you think you can complete all the work in that time there’s no use in getting one unless your ready to start the work. Also, the review can take a lot longer than you expect i.e. 3-6 months.

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