Building Permits, the necessary evil
Since the mid to late 60’s depending on the area you live in home renovations and additions that involved any structural changes to the home have required building permits. As well, electrical permits and later plumbing permits were added to the paperwork list involved before beginning a project. Now in many areas like ours ie, Orillia, Gravenhurst and throughout Muskoka Ontario, permits are being required even for a garden shed. For just as many years as there have been permits there have been people building and renovating without them. There are many reasons I have heard as to why: I can’t afford it, I hate paying taxes and it is just a tax, the builders buy off the inspectors with a case of beer anyway so why should I go through the trouble when they don’t?. Frankly, in my forty years of construction and renovation in Gravenhurst, Bracebridge, and Muskoka I have heard those among many, over and over.
It may seem like a tax grab when the building inspector simply drives by and waves as they delivered the final inspection all filled out prior to getting there, and I have seen that happen. On occasion builders and inspectors were known to have shared a beer or two and that made the day go easier for everyone, that too happened more often than you would like to believe. I will often hear people in Gravenhurst ,like those in the rest of Muskoka, still say the permit process is too expensive and they can’t afford it on top of the renovation. During my home, cottage, and commercial inspections I run into buildings of all types that I believe have had work done in the past without permits. While it is not up to a home inspector to determine if there were permits and inspections done (Most municipal offices will give that information out only to an owner or a party with an accepted offer of purchase due to the privacy act. My clients are always advised to check for permits for any additions or renovations and to ask for copies of the final inspection as well.) a good home inspector will look carefully for evidence of poor work and then for failure to follow good building practices as clues.
As a home cottage and commercial inspector the question is how do I tell if there was a permit, did it get inspected properly, and what goes in the report. As a home inspector rather than a building code inspector my report is far more general on many more systems and parts of the home than is a building code inspectors report. For instance a municipal home building code report whether from Gravenhurst, Bracebridge, or anywhere else in Ontario is very
specific on footings, foundations, framing, insulation, it will now include plumbing rough in and it includes the roofing as well. Each segment is a step in the inspection process and each must meet minimum standards for the step. Heating and air conditioning systems are installed buy licensed trades who are responsible to the licensing commission not the local building department. Electrical systems are inspected at rough in and at final by trained electrical permit inspectors. The local building code inspectors final inspection is a walk through to confirm finishes are in place and the home is complete with heating and water and ready for occupation. Knowing this gives me the key to understanding whether or not, in most cases, there was a permit for the changes or additions I come across.
If I see a stairway that is too steep or narrow on a home built after 1970 or so, I get suspicious. If I see a vaulted ceiling that doesn’t match the homes original style but I see no collar ties or ceiling joists I get suspicious. If I see a 3 in plumbing pipe that has been reduced to a 2 in flowing downstream I get suspicious. If I see an addition with any sign the foundation is not right I get suspicious. If I see electrical work that seems sloppy or in any way outside the norm I get suspicious. If I see, well you get the idea, I get suspicious for many reasons and then I get extra careful in looking for more signs of what I consider amateurish or hasty work. It is true that many contractors do hasty work and some even bad work, but, for the most part I find they may do it poorly but it is usually done in the correct steps just not well. A contractor may install a dormer and frame it up correctly but then do a sloppy insulation and drywalling job. When I look at the outside of the home I see the roof covering has no humps, the window has the proper trim, flashings are installed correctly, everything’s right about the basic structure. When I get inside I may see window trim that does not seal properly and I may feel a draft and know the insulation is poorly installed. I may also see uneven joints, nail pops, or seams that show through in the drywall. It could have been a framing contractor that built the home and for fill in work they finished it. It may also have been a shell package erected by a contractor for a homeowner to finish out. The structure may be sound and although the finish work may not be very good, the components are there and functioning. It is likely that a permit and local building inspection took place.