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Construction Best Practices

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What are Best Practices?

Best practices include following the legal processes required for obtaining construction approval, customer relations, construction safety, scheduling, efficient design, and the actual building activity. Best practice related to building activity is typically divided into these major construction categories:

  • Building foundation, including site work and storm water runoff;
  • Framing;
  • Exterior finishes;
  • Insulation; and
  • Interior finishes.  

What is the Best Practice associated with a Building Permit?

A building permit is a license that grants legal permission to start construction of a building project. Permits allow enforcement of the codes that have been adopted as law by the State of California and they provide means for Code Officials to inspect construction to ensure that minimum standards are met and appropriate materials are used. You have an investment in the home or business you are about to build or remodel; when that home or business building does not comply with the codes, your investment could be reduced. Your local Building Department cannot design or prepare your documents for you. If you do not know how to prepare construction documents, then you should consider hiring a licensed contractor, designer, licensed architect, or licensed engineer.  

What do I need in order to obtain a permit?

In the State of California, building is a privilege, not a right. Much in the same way you need a driver license to drive a motor vehicle, you need a building permit to construct. In general, a project must be submitted with construction drawings and a completed building permit application. These construction drawings or plans must show all proposed work and details. 

What does a complete set of plans include for new buildings and additions?

In general, plans should include:

  • Site plan – showing setbacks from property lines
  • Foundation plan
  • Floor plan
  • Structural plan
  • Elevations (front, rear, and side views. Show existing grade and structure height.)
  • Cross-section of the building 

What are the most important Best Practice issues associated with the site and foundation work?

Construction job sites are major contributors to polluting waterways because they are especially prone to heavy erosion. Grading, excavation, and exposed soil combined with the normal trash, debris, and chemicals used during the homebuilding process result in a murky cocktail that can easily flow into storm drains after a rainstorm. To address this problem, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) to regulate storm water runoff from construction sites. The NPDES requires that builders obtain a permit before construction.  

As part of the permitting process, builders must develop a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan or SWPPP (pronounced “swip”). A SWPPP explains how the builder will keep soil and toxins from leaving the jobsite and flowing into waterways. Within the SWPPP are a series of Best Management Practices (BMPs), which are the specific steps the builder will take to reduce job site erosion and run-off. It’s important that builders understand the permitting process, but even more critical that they implement and maintain the BMPs on the jobsite. Failure to do so can result in lawsuits, fines, and work delays. 

Where can I get specific information on storm water Best Management Practices?

The CalTrans Division of Construction provides free manuals on BMPs for design and construction

For other information regarding storm water run-off, contact the State Water Resources Control Board

Also check with the Engineering & Public Works Department for any local requirements for storm water run-off.

I am working on a residential project and am looking for practical details and methods illustrating framing, exterior finishes, insulation, and interior finishes to help me get the job done right. What should I do?

The first step in any project is to check with the Building Department if a building permit is required. There are a number of publications and resources available on construction, including the Journal of Light Frame Construction Field Guide, Manual of Best Practices.

When may I start building?

The building codes, as empowered by the State of California Health & Safety Codes, are clear that no construction is allowed until the permit is issued. Once the permit application and accompanying plans have been submitted, the building department will review and process the plans. Following approval of the plan and payment of fees, a permit will be issued. 

What needs a building permit?

As required by the State of California Health & Safety Codes, the California Building Standards adopted by the California Building Standards Commission apply across the state. Those standards determine when a permit is required. In addition, local cities and counties are allowed to make local amendments to the “California Building Standards.”  

Who may apply for a building permit?

Property owners, licensed contractors, or authorized agents may apply for a building permit. Contractors must provide a Certificate of Workers Compensation Insurance. Property owners doing their own work are required by State law to sign an owner-builder verification stating that they are actually doing their own work and are exempt from the requirement of having Workers Compensation Insurance, or they will be required to provide a certificate of insurance. 

What are the responsibilities of the Planning Division and the local Building Department?

The Planning Department is responsible for regulating the type, scale, and design of land use that may be established at a given location. They must check to see if the proposal is:

  1. consistent with the General Plan,
  2. meets local zoning requirements, and
  3. meets the requirements of CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act).

The local Municipal Code, together with the official zoning map, establish zones to regulate land use for compatibility with surrounding uses. Development standards are included for density, height, yards and open space, parking requirements, landscaping and irrigation, etc. You always need to get Planning Department approval first. 

The Building Department is responsible for structural and life safety concerns in the construction, demolition, or alteration of buildings including, but not limited to, matters such as electrical, plumbing, and mechanical systems, energy conservation, and access for the disabled.

I have a permit for a custom home and I want to make some changes but keep the project on schedule. What is the best practice with respect to changes?

When design decisions or changes are made and you have a permit from a local Building Department, the right thing to do is to wait for the architect to revise the drawings, and then submit the revisions to the Building Department for approval. Not waiting for approved revisions from the local Building Department is always a recipe for inspection problems and more delays. 

I want to sell food. What do I need to do?

The first step is to make an appointment with Contra Costa Health Services for an Environmental Health Specialist (EHS) to do a health inspection. Contra Costa County Environmental Health can provide a copy of the laws, handouts, and materials to aid you in the application process. The EHS will explain the process for obtaining a Permit to operate retail food sales, including fees required and the inspection process. A food handler’s certification may also be required. 

After the initial consultation you need to submit a completed application for a Permit to Operate. You must also submit a detailed facility plan and obtain a building permit if there is to be any construction or remodeling. There are strict State standards and laws for building materials and equipment for food facilities. Please check with your health inspector first before investing in equipment, refrigerators, microwaves, dishwashers, hot water heaters, lighting fixtures, or building materials such as countertops, wall, ceiling, and floor materials. You should also be aware that many existing buildings were not constructed with food facilities in mind. There may be requirements for grease traps, dry food storage facilities, water, restrooms, and plumbing systems. There are also fees for plan review and an annual fee for your Permit to Operate. 

You should also contact the Planning Department and Building Department to see if you need a building permit or clearance for zoning issues. You will also need a business license. You will need clearance from Environmental Health before the other departments will issue you a business license. 

I am putting in an in-ground swimming pool. Do I need a permit?

Yes, you will need a building permit for your swimming pool and an electrical permit to run the appliances necessary to clean the pool or to have lights. 

I am putting up a sign for my business. Do I need a permit?

Yes, you will need a sign permit, a building permit, and an electrical permit if it is illuminated. 

I am tearing down an old house before starting my new one. Do I need a permit?

Yes, you will need a permit to demolish your old building.  

I am only changing my electrical service. Do I need a permit?

Yes, you will need to have this inspected before the power company will begin your service.

I am installing underground fuel tanks. Do I need a permit?

Yes. The required pressure on tanks and piping will require a plumbing permit, as well as an electrical permit for the pumps. A permit is also necessary for above ground tanks.