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Where to Start? - a quick explanation of the building process

So you want to remodel or add on to your home, or maybe even build a new one – where do you start? Below is an explanation the process from beginning to end to help you get started.

Step 1. Talk to Your Building Department
Different building departments have different requirements. The first thing you need to do is verify in which jurisdiction your project will be, and what your building department will require from you. See the Building Department section below for more information and links to several building department web sites. Many building departments even have step-by-step guides to help you with their requirements.

Step 2. Get Your Plans Ready
Depending on how complicated your project is, you may be able to do some of the drawings yourself if you’re submitting the plans as “owner-builder”. Or you may need help from professionals. See the Plans section below for more information about what types of plans are required.

Step 3. Get Your Permits
Your drawings need to be submitted to the building department for review and approval. See the Permits section below for more information, as well as tips and advice to help you with the permitting and approval process.

Step 4. Build It
Depending on the size of the project, and your expertise, you may be able to do much of the work yourself, if you’ve submitted your project as “owner-builder”, or you may need help from professionals to construct your project.

Step 5. Get It Inspected
Depending on what is required for your project, you may have to go through several inspections during different phases of construction. See the Inspections section below for more information.

Step 6. You’re Done – Get your Certificate of Occupancy (CO)
When your project is complete and your final inspection is approved, the building department will issue a Certificate of Occupancy, indicating that the project is approved to be occupied.

Plans - what plans are needed for your project

A typical set of plans will include the items listed below. Check with your building departments for other plans and/or calculations required for your project (such as electrical load calculations, energy code analysis, etc.).

  • Architectural Plans
    • Cover Sheet – with critical project information such as address, location map, square footage of the structure, applicable codes, occupancy, etc.
    • Site/Plot Plan – showing the legal description of the plot or lot, any existing and proposed structures on the site, dimensions and required setback distances, etc.
    • Floor Plans – showing names of rooms and spaces with dimension, as well as sizes and types of doors and windows.
    • Roof Plans – showing the view of the roof from above, including roof slopes and roofing materials.
    • Reflected Ceiling Plans – (for complicated ceilings and soffits) showing what the ceilings look like, as if viewed by looking down at a mirror on the floor.
    • Exterior Elevations – showing what the building looks like from the outside, including openings, as well as wall and roof coverings and heights (elevations).
    • Sections – showing what the building would look like if sliced open, including heights, construction materials, fire-rated assemblies, etc.
    • Architectural Details – showing building sections, wall sections, waterproofing, fire proofing, etc.
  • Structural Plans and Calculations
    • Structural Notes – including material specifications and requirements for all structural elements.
    • Foundation Plans – showing all foundations and footings, sizes, thicknesses, locations, reinforcing, etc.
    • Floor and Roof Framing Plans – showing all structural members, sizes, attachments, etc.
    • Structural Details – showing details of all connections, interfaces, etc.
    • Structural Calculations – including calculations for members supporting gravity loads, lateral (wind and seismic) loads, and foundations. A structural calculation package is typically submitted along with the above-listed plans.
  • Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing (MEP)
    • Mechanical – showing duct layouts and sizes, locations of mechanical units, etc.
    • Electrical – showing the size and location of the main electrical service equipment and sub panels, as well as the location of all outlets, switches, light fixtures, smoke detectors and special outlets, including GFCI and AFCI protected outlets and fixtures.
    • Plumbing – showing points of connection to water and sewer lines, and call outs for each plumbing fixture.
  • Civil Plans (where required)
    • Grading Plans – showing existing and proposed elevations for grade changes, existing and proposed retaining and fence walls, basement walls, and other information affecting site drainage.
    • Civil Details – showing details with elevations of retaining walls, basement walls, etc.
  • Other Required Information
    • Geotechnical (Soils) Report – including site soil conditions, fill and grading requirements, and soil bearing pressure and other important soil information to be used by the structural engineer in designing the structure’s foundation. Soils reports are typically not required in the Las Vegas area for additions that are less than 600 square feet in area.
    • Truss Calculations – including the overall truss layout and individual truss calculations for the pre-manufactured trusses if used for the project. The truss calculations should be prepared after the structural drawings and are to be reviewed by the structural engineer, who will place a “shop-drawing-review stamp” on the truss calculation packages indicating that they have been reviewed before they are submitted to the building department.
Permits - the permitting process and tips to make it smoother

Obtaining permits from your building department can be a difficult process, especially if you’ve never been through it before. It can sometimes take several weeks for permits to be issued for large projects. The typical permitting process is as follows:

  1. Plans are Submitted – All the required plans, calculations, etc. (the “construction documents”) must be turned in to the building department. Typically your architect or general contractor will handle plans submittals for you, unless you’re submitting the plans as “owner-builder”. You may be able to submit your plans online. A permit fee, or a portion of it, may be due when the construction documents are submitted.
  2. Plans are Reviewed – The construction documents will be reviewed by the various divisions of the building department (zoning, civil, architectural, structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, etc.) for compliance with current adopted building codes.
  3. Corrections Letters are Issued – If the plans checkers have questions or concerns about code compliance issues (which is extremely common), then letters will be issued outlining the concerns.
  4. Response Letters and Revised Plans are Submitted – The design professionals involved (and/or the homeowner for owner-builder projects) must then issue response letters addressing the concerns, along with corrected plans, calculations, etc. as necessary. These must then be submitted to the building department for further review.
  5. Wash, Rinse, Repeat – This process is repeated until all issues are resolved, and the plans are approved.
  6. Pay the Permit Fees and Pull the Permit – The permit fees (or any remaining portions of the fees) must be paid for the permit to be issued and the approved drawings to be released. Some building departments have specific requirements about payments (such as the company name on pre-printed company checks exactly matching the name on the contractor’s license), contact your building department.
    Typically residential permits may be obtained by the owner-builder or a general contractor. Commercial permits must be obtained by a licensed general contractor. A sub-contractor may be able to pull a permit for a project where only one trade is affected (i.e. mechanical, electrical, plumbing, drywall, etc.).

Permitting Tips

  • If your project is small (such as block walls, small home additions and remodels), your building departments may allow you to walk your plans through the review and approval process over the counter as a same-day service. However, keep in mind that it is very common for the building department to require revisions of one sort or another before plans are approved, so be prepared to have to make multiple trips to the building department before you get your permit.
  • Some jurisdictions may also allow online plans submittals and/or plans check tracking, which can save you the headache of multiple trips to the building department for corrections, and speed up processing by allowing multiple departments to review your plans as the same time.
Inspections - what to expect, and how to make it easier

Typically you will receive an inspection card or list of required inspections from your building department when you receive your permit. Contact your building departments with any questions about required permits. Required inspections may include the following, among others:

  • Pad grading (soil)
  • Footings
  • Underground electrical, mechanical and plumbing
  • Concrete slab on grade
  • Shear walls
  • Floor and roof sheathing
  • Electrical (rough and final)
  • Mechanical (rough and final)
  • Plumbing (rough and final)
  • Insulation (attic and walls)
  • Exterior lath/siding
  • Interior lath/drywall
  • Building final

Special Inspections (Third-Party Inspections)

In addition to the standard inspections performed by the building department, “special inspections” may be required to be performed by a third-party inspector or quality assurance agency (QAA) for certain types of work. Ask your building department to find out if special inspections are required for your project. Some types of work that may require special inspections include:

  • Steel construction and welding
  • Epoxying (such as adding anchor bolts and holdown anchors to existing concrete slabs and footings)
  • Seismic Force Resisting Systems (SFRS), which may include shear walls, roof and floor sheathing, straps, holdowns, etc.
  • Masonry construction
  • Concrete footings (in certain circumstances)

Inspection Tips

  •  Make Sure Everything Is “Per Plan” – This may seem like a simple concept, but problems with inspections are typically due to the construction not matching what is required on the plans.
  • Be Ready For The Inspector – Have all of the required plans, permit application form, inspection job card, etc. available on the job site and ready for the inspector.
  • Don’t Cover Anything Up – Make sure you don’t cover up anything until it has been properly inspected and signed off. If you pour footings before the reinforcing is inspected or put up drywall before the framing has been inspected, you may find yourself having to redo a lot of work.
  • Take Pictures – If there are disputes with inspectors or problems with paperwork, pictures can help resolve issues and save you a lot of time.
  • Schedule Your Inspections – Don’t forget that YOU (or your contractor) have to schedule the inspections when the work is ready to be inspected. Many building departments allow you to schedule inspections online. See our Building Departments section for inspection links.
Building Department - links for contacting your building department

If you live in Clark County, Nevada, you can use the county’s Jurisdiction Locator to find out in which jurisdiction your project is located. Simply put in the address and hit “Enter.”

You can also get a lot of useful information using Clark County’s Open Web Info Mapper. Simply type in the address and hit enter, then click on the property.

Links to the building departments for the jurisdictions in Clark County and the surrounding area are located in the table below, along with links to helpful information on their websites.

Building Department Guides & Checklists Standard Designs Online Plans Submittals Plans Review Status Permits Inspections Records
Clark County How To Guides , Forms/Checklists Standard Designs Online Plans Submittal Plans Review Status Permits Inspections Records
Las Vegas Guides and Checklists Standard Designs none Plans Review Status Permits Inspections Records Request Form
North Las Vegas Guides and Standard Designs Guides and Standard Designs none Plans Review Status Permits Inspections Records
Henderson Checklists Standard Designs none Plans Review Status Permits Inspections Records
Boulder City Room Addition Guide , Checklist Form See SNBO Standard Designs none none FAQs FAQs none
Mesquite Permit Info Standard Designs none Plans Review Status Permits Inspections Records Request Form
Pahrump (Nye County) none none none none none none none

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