Permit at last


I don’t know how much time you spend thinking about Hammond Forever House. Have you been wondering why you haven’t seen photos of the foundation being poured and the house lowered to rest on it?

The house was lifted on August 21st. The old foundation was dug out on August 24th and 25th. We were moving along at a good pace. All that work, however, was deconstruction or preparation for construction. We did not have permission from the City of Maple Ridge to construct anything until this past Thursday, September 24th.

Essentially, the house was suspended above a pit for a month with no work done. It was incredibly frustrating. We had some freakish weather which threatened to fill the pit with water (it didn’t). We also squandered the time I had free in the summer along with all that warmer weather. The UBC Environmental Studies 400 students’ project timeline may be affected. Our hopes of being back in the house for Christmas dinner have dimmed.

On Thursday, we received our Building Permit. It should have been a happy day, but mostly I feel exhausted.

The permit, the plans and a bill for $1642.75
The permit, the plans and a bill for $1642.75

I know what you’re probably thinking because everyone I tell this to seems to have the same reaction. You may be shaking your head and muttering how much of a pain in the neck building permits are and how slow the processes at the City are.

That wasn’t it.

When I have a little more time I will tell you the whole story. I want to be fair to everyone involved so it will take a little time to craft a post.

Everyone at the Building desk is friendly and helpful, but I was exhausted.
Everyone at the Building desk is friendly and helpful, but I was exhausted.

However, I can’t leave you with the impression that we waited three months (the original building permit application was submitted mid-June) because the City is a bureaucratic nightmare. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a popular myth. In fact, from the moment the City received all of the paperwork necessary to approve our permit, it took a week. Of course, by that point the staff were thoroughly aware of the details of the project and rushed it through–don’t expect such a fast turn-around for your project!

I can tell you that once the paperwork is submitted, it takes a while for a plan checker to look at it. Then, the first thing they do, apparently, is check if all the required forms and drawings are there. If they are not, they don’t waste any more time on it and let you know politely what is missing. Once they have everything they need, they will look in more detail to make sure the plans are consistent with the most recent BC building codes, etc. Your designer should be aware of the codes and this shouldn’t cause any delays. If you do the drawings yourself, the city staff will explain any problems, but you may find that you save a lot of time hiring a designer or a contractor who has their own designer.

In our case, we had already had our drawings approved for a Heritage Alteration Permit and so the Building Permit drawings could not differ significantly from those without raising a red flag.

When you get the permit, your drawings may have meticulous notes added so that everyone understands what is required and you don’t have to re-do any work because the building inspector notices something is wrong. I believe they still tell applicants to expect 4-6 weeks for a permit to be issued. With this kind of detail, that doesn’t seem like such a very long time to me.

An example of notes added to the official Building Permit plans by the City of Maple Ridge staff. This is the new upstairs dormer. The shaded area will have a sloped roof. We are collecting pennies to make a copper floor in the bathroom!

Nor do I want you to think anyone was being dishonest. I would sum up my lesson thus:

Even when all the players in the game–City staff, contractors, engineers, surveyors, designers, etc.–have the best interests of the homeowner in mind, mistakes can be made. If you have any gut feeling that things are not proceeding as they should, check into it and don’t be satisfied until you have a full understanding. Most homeowners, like us, are not builders or engineers and it’s natural for professionals to try to reassure by telling us not to worry. If your instincts are strong, don’t stay on the sidelines.

I’m not interested in assigning blame, but I do want to help others in our position avoid pitfalls. I remain committed to telling the full story so that, if improvements are needed in addressing the urgent need to reduce the carbon footprint of our existing buildings, we can find solutions together.

Meanwhile, a freak hail storm buffets the floating house while it waits for Monday and work to begin.
Meanwhile, a freak hail storm buffets the floating house while it waits for Monday and work to begin.

Published by

James Rowley

James lives in Maple Ridge, BC, Canada with his amazing partner, Leanne Koehn, and their two amazing kids in their beautiful house. He studied Science and English Literature at the University of British Columbia where he met Leanne. He also studied acting for a while at Studio 58 in Vancouver. He works as a teacher of English and curriculum writer for new Canadians.

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