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Tale of a Home Renovation: Permits and Inspections

​The following is a special post from US Inspect inspector, Gordon Glidden who has shared his very own renovation adventures with us, documenting a recent and quite large home remodel project.

We never talked about permits and inspections. The contractor has been working on rough plumbing, rough heating, rough electrical and rough building. This part of the work is hidden behind the finished walls, so it won't be visible. But it has to be done right.

Building PermitsThe work is ready for the “rough” inspections. What do I mean by “rough” inspections? Let's back up a bit and review all required municipal inspections. Here in SE Michigan we have a number of different municipal inspections to ensure the work is performed to state building code. At the beginning of the work, the contractor pays for and receives a building permit. This may include posting a bond, or some other type of equity for work performance. Depending upon the work, the contractor may need a site plan and/or soil erosion control plan. I did not need either plan because all of the work was interior. Sometimes, there are sign permits and dumpster permits (I have both). After the building permit is received, the contractor may start the work.

The first part of the work is the rough work, as described above. After the rough work is complete, it must be inspected. The trades complete their work in the ceilings, walls and floors. The municipal heating, cooling, plumbing and electrical inspectors look at their work and usually approve it with minor modifications. After getting those rough inspections, the contractor installs the insulation. When the insulation work is complete we have an insulation inspection. After the insulation is approved, the contractor begins the finish process by closing up the ceilings, walls & floors.

We have received our rough inspections, installed the insulation, received the insulation inspection. The contractor has installed the drywall and is finishing it. When the finishes are complete, the municipal heating, cooling, plumbing and electrical inspectors do their final inspections. Once those are complete then the contractor applies for final building inspection and/or the certificate of occupancy.

A municipal inspection is different than a house inspection. A house inspection is a snap shot in time representing the current conditions of a house. Municipal inspectors require training and testing in the building code, or the heating, cooling, plumbing and electrical codes. Codes are occasionally updated, and the municipal inspectors must keep up. In Michigan, there is a state building code, municipalities can only strengthen the code, they cannot weaken it. Remember one thing about building codes, all building codes. They are minimum standards. Here in Michigan, the builders are resistant to building code changes unless they are cost neutral.

You think the contractor is working for you? Of course the contractor is, you're paying the bills. In reality, the contractor is working for the municipality. It is the municipality that performs the inspections, and enforces the codes. At times, the contractor is pleasing the municipality as much, if not more, than the homeowner. Lots of contractors disappear after getting the final inspection or certificate of occupancy. Note to my contractor, I know you won't disappear after obtaining the final inspection.

I had a visit from the Oakland County tax assessors office. How did you find out about this project? We go around to the municipalities and see who has gotten building permits and go from there. Lovely. Instead of my basement being partially finished, it is totally finished. The closet off of the basement room where my entertainment center will be makes that room a bedroom. In the tax assessor's eyes my formally 1,700 SF three bedroom two bath house has now grown to 2,700 SF four bedroom two and half bathroom house. I am not looking forward to next year's tax bill.