Thomas & Co. - Home Renovation Contractors

Of Renovations and Additions - First Things
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Whig-Standard 1999

All too often, I get calls from people who have decided to renovate or build an addition but have not checked with the Building Department to see if current bylaws actually permit what they have in mind. In other words, will they be able to get a Building Permit? Sometimes they have invested literally weeks of planning time, paid for plans, and even arranged for a contractor before they apply for the permit and are turned down.

This should never happen. Put first things first. The first step when considering renovations or an addition is not to call an architect or a contractor, or a designer, but to get a general idea of what you’re proposing to build and present your ideas, in general terms, to a Building Inspector at City Hall to find out what sort of restrictions may apply.

For example, there are always minimum requirements for side yard and back yard clearances… You’re only allowed to cover a certain percentage of your lot… If you have a detached or attached garage, certain restrictions may apply… Very often basement rooms having ceiling heights under 7’ or walls less than 4’ above grade (ground level) may not be converted to bedrooms… There are always restrictions on commercial spaces… If you plan to extend your home towards the street there are probably restrictions about whether you can extend past your neighbour’s house. Window placement may be restricted by side yard clearance…

If you live in the city, your house may be an historically designated building and anything you propose to alter on the exterior is subject to review by LACAC . The Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Commission may not have the power to refuse a building permit, but its input is taken under close advisement by the Building Department.

If you live in the country, the situation may be even worse. If you plan to alter plumbing and you are on a septic system, the Building Department may require a permit from the Health Department before even considering a building permit. The Health Department may require a new septic system, even if you are merely adding a bedroom.

If you do find your plans in contravention of a bylaw, you can apply for a minor variance. This is an appeal to City Hall to grant an exception to the rule. But each application requires a fee of several hundred dollars, can take anywhere from several weeks to months to be processed, and is by no means guaranteed of success.

If all this sounds rather daunting, it can be, but in reality it’s usually not that big a deal. However, rather than do your planning and be frustrated later by all this red tape, it’s wise to make that initial call to City Hall first and be frustrated from square one.
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