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BPC-021 Residential Building Permit for Projects that Require Plans

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Version: 04/22/2020

Building permits for a new house, addition/remodel to an existing house, a new garage or other new residential accessory building(s) are issued by the Permit and Resource Management Department (Permit Sonoma) for any property located within the unincorporated areas of Sonoma County (outside the city limits of the nine cities).  If the property is located within a city, you should contact the appropriate city building or planning department for assistance.

Building permits may be issued to the owner of the property, a California licensed contractor, architect or engineer, or agent of the property owner who has signed a letter of authorization.  Building permits for minor work, such as a re-roof, new water heater, electric upgrade or other work that does not involve any structural modification, can be issued over the counter. For building contractors, these permits are also available online.  Building permits for new additions, extensive remodeling and new buildings require construction plans and plan review.  This handout provides information to help guide applicants through the building permit process for those projects that require construction plans.

The building permit process involves a number of steps that are required to ensure compliance with a variety of development regulations.  Some regulations may significantly impact the design, location or feasibility of a new building, or addition/remodel of an existing building. Therefore, it is very important to understand the applicable regulations in advance of designing building plans.

  1. Gather information before designing building plans.  Bring the property’s Assessor’s Parcel Number (APN) or street address to Permit Sonoma and consult with staff about the following in advance of designing building plans.
    1. Zoning.  A planner will identify the zoning of the property and explain the applicable zoning regulations such as required setbacks from property lines, building envelopes, building height, parking standards and if a zoning permit or other review is required.
    2. Building.  A building inspector or building plans examiner will answer questions about building codes, building plan requirements, and determine if a site evaluation is required.  (See Site Evaluation below).
    3. Public Sewer and Road Encroachment.  If the property is served by a public sewer system, (not a private septic system) engineering staff will determine if the system is within the County sewer system or a city sewer system, and whether a utility certificate is required.  A utility certificate is issued by the applicable city and must be submitted prior to the issuance of a building permit.  The applicant will also be advised of the amount of sewer fees that must be paid prior to the issuance of a building permit.
      • All work in the County road-right-of-way, such as paving a driveway entrance where it connects to a public road, requires an encroachment permit issued by Permit Sonoma.  Engineering staff will determine if an encroachment permit is required.
    4. Well and Septic.  If the property is served by a private sewage disposal system (septic system), a registered environmental health specialist will explain the septic regulations that will affect the design, location and feasibility of the project. Depending upon the scope of work, an addition/remodel to an existing residential structure may significantly impact the septic system.  Therefore, upgrades to residential structures may required varying levels of upgrade to the septic system.  In many cases, the extent of remodeling may be limited by the classification of the existing septic system. 
    5. Fire.  A fire inspector will explain fire sprinkler requirements and fire safe standards which for example may require that an existing or proposed driveway be widened, extended or paved or that an on-site water storage tank be installed.  All new houses in Sonoma County require the installation of fire sprinklers.
    6. Grading, Drainage, & Storm Water:  Staff will review the proposal to see if a Grading or Stormwater/Drainage permit is required.  To assist in determining whether the proposal requires a grading permit please review GRD-002 Grading Permit Questionnaire.  A Stormwater/Drainage permit is required prior to commencing any drainage improvement or related work, including preparatory site clearing and soil disturbance, except where exempted from permit requirements in the Sonoma County Code Section 11.06.010.
  2. Consider applying for a building site evaluation prior to finalizing the design of the proposed new building or addition to an existing building.  A building site evaluation is required for all new buildings and additions to existing buildings.   To minimize delays, it is often better to complete the site evaluation process before submitting building plans.  The purpose of the building site evaluation is to determine if there are site conditions that need further review.  These site conditions include, but are not limited to, flood zones, steep slopes, slides, soft or expansive soils, overhead power lines, wind exposure, seismic zones and areas of poor drainage.  The review is conducted by a Permit Sonoma building inspector in advance of the building plan review process.  An application for a building site evaluation is not required to be submitted in advance of submitting building plans, however, depending upon the scope of work and location of the building, it may be important to review the results of the site evaluation before designing the building or addition.
    1. It is very important to follow the procedures for a building site evaluation (see form CNI‑002).  The building inspector must be able to locate the property and the area on the property where the new building or addition to existing building will be constructed.  Therefore, the address must be posted at the road, visible from both directions, at any forks in the road and at the site.  The area of proposed new construction must be staked out.  If the building inspector cannot locate the property and the area of new construction, an additional fee will be charged for the inspector to re-visit the property and the building project may be delayed.   After the site evaluation is completed, the building inspector will determine whether additional reports or studies are required (i.e., a soils investigation) and notify the applicant of the results in writing.  The building site evaluation is valid for one year.
    2. See Technical Bulletin B-28 When is a Soils Investigation Required?
  3. Prepare the site and building plans for the proposed building or addition.  It may not be necessary to hire a professional to design and draw building plans.  However, unless the property owner is familiar with the preparation of house plans and development regulations, consider hiring a qualified person to assist with the design and development of the project (see form BPC-022 for an example of the required elements of typical building plans).  Plans must be neat, legible and drawn to a common, commercially available scale.
    1. See Technical Bulletin B-36 for Plans Requiring Design by Licensed Architect or Engineer.
    2. See Technical Bulletin B-37 for Building Permit Applicant Stamp and Signature Requirements.
    3. All new residential buildings and additions and alterations that create additional conditioned/heated space are subject to CALGreen which are the green measures of the code.  The application is required to have a CALGreen checklist completed by a CALGreen Special Inspection Agency at the time of submittal.  The measures of the checklist are required to be incorporated into the plan details.  Applicants or owners are responsible for contracting with an approved CALGreen Special Inspection Agency for these services.  See CALGreen webpage for checklists, list of CALGreen Special Inspection Agencies, and additional information.
    4. See Policy 4-0-9 for Factory Built Housing Permits and 4-0-10 for Placement of Manufactured Homes on Private Property.
  4. Submit the application for a building permit.  Applications for building permits that require plans are accepted online via Permits Online.  The application package must be complete or it will not be accepted. Documents must be in electronic (PDF) format. More about the Electronic Plans Requirement.
    The following materials must be included:
    1. The completed building permit application signed by either the property owner of record, a licensed building contractor or other licensed professional.  Permit Sonoma staff will verify that a contractor has a valid license and proof of insurance prior to issuing a building permit to a contractor.  Other individuals may submit the application on behalf of the property owner if a letter of authorization signed by the property owner is attached.
    2. One Complete set of building plans in electronic (PDF) format that must include the following:
      • Site plan (see form CSS‑019 Minimum Standard Site Plan)  NOTE:  Must include contours.
      • Floor plan (electrical, plumbing and mechanical)
      • Foundation plan (footing details)
      • Elevations
      • Framing plan
      • Cross sections
      • Structural details
      • Signature of plan preparer (must be stamped by engineer if plans are engineered)
      • Photovoltaic system plans (typically required for all new construction with conditioned space). See Policy 4-1-1 for required submittal documents.

      One set of the following in electronic (PDF) format:

      • Title 24 energy analysis calculations (signed)
      • Engineering calculations (if engineered) (signed and stamped)
      • Geotechnical report (if required) (signed and stamped)
      • CalGreen checklists completed by CALGreen Special Inspection Agency
      • Installation Manuals for manufactured homes

      Other items (in electronic (PDF) format) that may be required during the course of plancheck:

      • Geotechnical plan review letter
      • Truss calculations and layout (2 signed, stamped sets)
      • Flood elevation certificate
      • Special inspection form
  5. Complete the Grading Permit Questionnaire. A completed Grading Permit Questionnaire (Form GRD‑002) is required to assist in determining if a separate grading permit is required.  That determination is based in part on the amount of grading work required for the proposed new building or addition.  If a grading permit is required, grading plans need to be submitted for review.  This is an important step in this process because the building permit cannot be issued until the required grading permit is issued.   If a grading permit is not required, engineering staff will discuss any potential drainage issues that may exist. 
  6. Meet with a permit technician to start the building permit application.  A permit technician will review the application materials to verify that the submittal package is complete.  If the submittal package is complete, the permit technician will initiate the building permit process by assigning a building permit number and verifying the address.  Often times, a new address or an address correction is necessary.  The address assignment or address correction will be accomplished in conjunction with the permit process.

    In addition to building plan check, building plans must be reviewed by other Permit Sonoma sections such as zoning, well and septic, fire, grading and drainage, public sewer and encroachment.  The permit technician will provide a checklist of the Permit Sonoma sections that must approve the building plans and issuance of the building permit.  When the building plans are submitted, the applicant will be directed to the different sections where staff will review the building plans and discuss any requirements that may need to be completed prior receiving a particular approval.  Approvals from all sections are required prior to issuance of the building permit.  It is important to meet with the staff of each section in order to know what requirements must be met in order for the building permit to be issued.

    The applicant will be provided an estimate of all building permit fees.  These fees include, but are not limited to, building plan check, permit, traffic, park, affordable housing and school fees.  All fees, except school fees, are paid directly to Permit Sonoma.  School fees are paid to the applicable school district.  A school fee form is provided when the building plans are submitted.  This form is taken to the school district office where the fees will be paid.  Verification of payment is required before the building permit can be issued.  Building plan review fees are paid at this time.  This initial payment is only a portion of the total building permit fees.  The remaining balance is paid when the building permit is issued.
  7. Building site evaluation and plan review.  Unless a building site evaluation was completed in advance of submitting building plans, (See number 2 above), Permit Sonoma staff  will conduct a site evaluation of the property within approximately 15 days after the building plans are submitted.  After the building site evaluation has been completed, Permit Sonoma staff will begin the building plan review process.  During this process, the applicant will be advised in writing of any necessary corrections that need to be made for the plan to meet the requirements of California and Sonoma County building codes.  It is very important that the applicant or design professional respond promptly so that the building plan review process is not delayed.  When the building plans have been approved by the building plans examiner, the plans will be routed back to a permit technician for processing.

    NOTE:  Building permit applications are valid for one (1) year.  If the building permit is not issued within that one year time period, the application will expire.  The expired building permit application can be renewed one time for a cost of 25% of the building plan review fees.  The renewed application is valid for one more year.
  8. Issuance of the building permit.  After building plan review approval, a permit technician will review the application and building plans to verify that all required Permit Sonoma approvals from other sections have been made (e.g. Well & Septic, Zoning, etc.).  The applicant will be contacted by the permit technician and advised that either the building permit is ready to be issued, or there are outstanding approvals required before the building permit can be issued.  The applicant will also be reminded to bring verification that school fees have been paid.  If the building permit is ready to be issued, the applicant will pay the remaining building permit and development fees.  Permit fees may be paid by check or credit card (a processing fee is charged for credit cards).  The applicant then receives the building permit, one set of building plans to be maintained on the job site for use by the Permit Sonoma building inspector, a field inspection record card and instructions detailing Permit Sonoma’s automated inspection system.
  9. Complete the work in stages and call for inspections.  All work must be inspected by Permit Sonoma inspection staff throughout the course of construction (see form CNI‑004 Building Inspection Procedures).  Be sure to call for an inspection before concealing any work, (e. g., call for inspection prior to pouring concrete for the foundation.)  If the building inspector identifies work that needs to be corrected, a correction notice  detailing necessary corrections will be issued.  After corrections are made, be sure to call for an inspection so that the corrected work can be inspected.  Building permits are valid for three (3) years from the date of issuance.  If the work is not completed, including a final inspection, within that three year period, a new building permit is required to finish the work started under the original building permit.  Building permit fees are pro-rated based upon the amount of work completed and inspected before the original permit expired.  A certificate of occupancy cannot be issued unless the building permit is finaled.