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Navigate Permits Like a Pro: AE Drafting's Ultimate 10-Step Guide!

Updated: Jan 23

1. Research and Selection:

Initiating a project requires choosing a reputable drafting company or designer, a pivotal step in your project's success. Start by searching online, contacting potential companies, and seeking recommendations from friends or colleagues. For remodels or additions, many service providers offer consultations or upfront pricing. For instance, AE Drafting offers free 15-minute consultations on their website. Typically, drafting firms provide formal estimates for you to review and approve, or they might have package pricing available on their website. After careful consideration and selection of a suitable company, proceed to purchase the desired service package for your project.

2. Payment Structures and Options:

When acquiring a New Construction house or Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) with ready-made plans, you generally pay for the complete set upfront since the designs are already finished. Optional extras like Site Plan or Building Comments packages can also be purchased to tailor the base plans. For additions and remodels, a typical three-phase billing structure is common across the industry. Initially, you pay for the early design work, followed by a payment prior to the plan submission, and finally, a concluding payment upon completing the building comments. This upfront payment model ensures the designer's time is reserved and mitigates the risk of project cancellation after significant work has been done. Adopting a pay-as-you-go approach is often recommended for a secure and transparent transaction with your designer.

3. Communicating Design Preferences and Organizing a Site Visit (Excludes Premade Plans):

After selecting a custom package, compile and send all your design inspirations to the project manager. You can gather ideas from various sources, including photos, screenshots, Pinterest boards, or example PDFs, especially if your project demands detailed customization.

For remodels and additions, a site visit is typically necessary unless the homeowner is able to digitally scan their home using the free Canvas app on an iPhone. While some measurements may still need to be taken manually, a home scanner significantly reduces the need for physical measuring and is user-friendly for those with basic smartphone skills. AE Drafting offers site visits within certain coverage areas — check their site visit page to confirm availability in your area. Alternatively, some designers might visit your residence to take measurements personally. Once you've purchased the necessary package, arrange for a site visit, during which additional photos and videos of the space may be collected.

4. Developing the Floor Plan (Excludes Premade Plans):

The designer will draft an initial floor plan reflecting the ideas discussed during meetings and the examples you've provided. This draft is sent as a PDF via email, printable on standard 8.5"x11" paper. For feedback, you're encouraged to print and annotate the floor plan with any corrections or changes using a pen, then photograph and send it back to the designer. Alternatively, you might prefer making annotations using a PDF editor on your digital device. Whichever method you choose, the designer will accommodate.

Upon receiving your modifications, the designer will update the floor plan accordingly and resend it for your approval. This iterative process continues until you're satisfied with the result, mindful of the allotted changes in your agreement. Once you approve the final floor plan, be aware that any subsequent alterations, will incur additional costs as they fall under change orders.

In light of modern conveniences, most designers now facilitate meetings online through platforms like Zoom or Google Meet. These virtual meetings allow you to view the floor plan or 3D model in real-time and are typically more convenient and quicker than traditional methods. Given the shift towards remote communication, in-person meetings have become less common, with designers preferring to interact via phone, email, or online meetings.

5. Initiating the Exterior Design Phase (Excludes Premade Plans):

Upon your approval of the floor plan, your designer will commence the exterior design, taking into account any existing structural elements, discussions, provided examples, and insights from a site visit if one occurred. The initial exterior design will be shared with you through email screenshots for your review, feedback, and approval.

Like the floor plan stage, the designer can arrange an online meeting to present the exteriors in real-time, allowing you to guide the modifications directly. Most designers are equipped to offer at least one such interactive session for the exterior design phase. Alternatively, you may prefer to print the emailed images or PDFs and hand-write your suggestions before sending them back to the designer.

The process is collaborative and iterative; you and the designer will exchange ideas until you finalize and approve the exterior design. This is the optimal time to adjust window sizes, door placements, and other architectural features. Be mindful that once you've approved the exterior design, any subsequent modifications will be considered change orders, incurring additional costs. Therefore, it's essential to finalize all details during this phase to avoid future expenses.

6. Progressing to the Plan Set Phase:

Once you've given the green light to both the floor and exterior designs, the plan set phase commences. This crucial stage involves the designer assembling all necessary documents and detailed plans to be submitted for official review and approval by the building department. It's vital that the floor plan and exteriors are finalized beforehand, as any subsequent alterations could necessitate extensive revisions across the entire plan set, increasing the workload significantly. Your agreement should outline the expected timeframe for receiving the complete plan set after the initial approvals, though this timeline is typically approximate and subject to change.

During this phase, coordination with external parties, such as truss companies and engineers, may occur. Not all designs will require engineering; however, for structures exceeding the scope of standard residential codes—like those extending beyond two stories or needing specialized design elements—an engineer's expertise becomes essential. Your designer can usually predict the need for such services based on the project's complexity and during the initial consultation.

Truss design might be an integral part of your project, offering a prefabricated solution for roof and floor support. While trusses can prolong the construction timeline due to their detailed planning and installation process, they offer efficiency and cost savings in labor for the contractor once on-site. If trusses are included in your design, your designer will need to integrate the specific truss calculations into the plan set, occasionally requiring further review by an engineer.

Lastly, ensure you are familiar with the scope of work outlined in your agreement. A comprehensive plan set might include site plans, floor plans, exterior elevations, building sections, foundation plans, detailed framing plans (AE Drafting provides framing plans for certain areas but they are an additional package), electrical location plans, plumbing and gas location plans, and any additional requirements specific to your location, such as Title 24 energy calculations in California. Understanding what is included—and what might be extra—will help you manage expectations and ensure all necessary components are prepared for successful project execution.

7. Conducting Owner Plan Review (Excludes Premade Plans):

In the owner plan review phase, you will typically receive a watermarked preliminary PDF of the plan set via email. This version is meant for proof of completion and may not include all the components required for final submission. It's not yet ready for official submission but serves as a draft for your perusal. You can review the plans on your digital device or opt to print them on 24"x36" regular bond paper at a local print shop for a more detailed examination.

Taking time to meticulously review the plans is crucial. Your attention to detail can identify any discrepancies or errors, potentially saving time and costs by preventing additional building department reviews or the need for reprints. While you don't need to understand every technical aspect, being vigilant for obvious mistakes is beneficial. If you're unsure about anything or spot potential issues, immediately consult your designer for clarification or corrections.

If helpful, consider involving a knowledgeable family member, friend, or colleague in the review process. Their fresh perspective might catch things you missed and provide additional insights to ensure the plans are accurate and comprehensive before proceeding to the final submission stage.

8. Finalizing with Plan Submission:

i) Final Billing: At this juncture, the plans are finalized and ready for submission to the building department, prompting the due date for your final payment to the designer. A watermarked copy of the final plans, paired with an invoice, is typically sent to you. Payment is often facilitated online for your convenience.

ii) Printing: The complete, unwatermarked plan set needs printing on 24”x36” bond paper in black & white at a local print house. Communication with the print house can be done via email or by delivering the plans on a USB flash drive. Remember to confirm the number of sets required by your building department as it varies. If using trusses, print the truss calculations, typically on standard 8.5”x11” paper, with the engineer's color wet stamp on the cover sheet as required by many building departments. Note that designers usually do not cover printing costs; this is the owner or contractor's responsibility. For online submissions, different arrangements might be available through your drafting service.

iii) Planning/Zoning Department Review: Initially, plans are often reviewed by the planning or zoning department, checking for compliance with local codes and completeness before proceeding to the building department. Any comments or required revisions will be communicated back to you and should be relayed to your designer for adjustments. Note that additional printing and trips may be necessary, particularly for in-person submissions. Online submissions might streamline this process and reduce costs.

iv) Permit Application: Complete and submit a permit application, typically found on the building department's website. This form usually requires information readily available on your plan set's cover sheet. Accurate and consistent details help smooth the submission process. Depending on the project type, different consent forms or signatures might be required.

v) Plan Check Fees: Every building department charges certain fees based on your project's specifics. It's wise to consult the department's website or contact them directly for an estimate of these fees.

vi) Building Department Submission: Whether submitting online or in-person, ensure you have all necessary documents: the plan set, truss and engineering calculations, permit application, and Title 24 energy calculations (if in California). If any preliminary comments arise, address them promptly with your designer. For tailored assistance, consider purchasing specific packages from your drafting service for seamless plan submission and coordination.


9: Building Department Comments:

i) Plan Check Comments: The initial review period can vary, after which the building department will return a list of necessary corrections. This list's length and complexity depend on the specific project and department. You'll need to forward these comments to your designer for amendments.

ii) Resubmitting the Plans: Depending on the submission method, you'll either resubmit the plans online or return to the building department with the updated set and a list of corrections. Some departments might allow only affected sheets to be replaced. Keep all original documents as they might be needed for further submissions. Typically, plans are corrected and accepted within the first few cycles, though more complex projects might require additional rounds.

In both phases, maintaining communication with your designer and the building department is key to a smooth and efficient plan approval process.

10. Completing the Permit Process:

i) Permit Pickup: Congratulations, your plans have been approved! Now is the time to collect your official field set of plans, stamped by the building department, along with your building permit. Remember, only the individual designated as the permit holder on your application can pick up these documents from the building department. Ensure the appropriate person is available to handle this task.

ii) Field Adjustments and Queries: Once construction is underway, should your contractor or inspector have any questions, or if unexpected field conditions arise, don't hesitate to get in touch with your designer for guidance. It's crucial for all measurements on the plans to be verified on-site before ordering any prefabricated elements, like trusses, to ensure compatibility. If modifications are necessary, communicate these back to the designer, including mark-ups and any relevant photos, for accurate updates to the plans. Be aware that most designers, including AE Drafting, typically charge for this kind of field support. Purchasing a Field Support package or similar service from your drafting company is advised, especially for those operating on a pay-as-you-go model, ensuring you only pay for the assistance you need while keeping overall costs manageable.


© 2024 AE Drafting LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of AE Drafting LLC, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” at the address of AE Drafting LLC.

AI Usage Disclaimer: For full transparency, please note that some of the content presented here on may be generated using artificial intelligence. Additionally, other parts of the content have been authored by Steve Tibbs and spell-checked with the assistance of AI. The images included are a mix of 3D models created by Steve Tibbs and others generated by AI technology. This blend of human creativity and AI capabilities aims to provide a unique and engaging experience.

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