Danville Express

Cover Story - November 9, 2007

It's a plan

Danville building department makes sure home improvements go smoothly

by Jordan M. Doronila

Plan to remodel your home or get a new roof? Remember to get a building permit.

Danville residents need a permit to alter their plumbing and electrical wiring or to remodel or make additions.

"This all does require a building permit," said Jim Wood, Danville Design Review Board member and owner of R&J Construction.

"It's not the easiest process to go through for someone who's not used to it," he added. "The planning process has evolved so much."

Permits are based on state and national codes adopted by the Town of Danville to protect residential property. Also, fire and liability insurance damages may not be paid in some cases where permits were not obtained and improvements do not meet uniform building code requirements.

Wood said residents who plan on making home improvements can go to the building department themselves at the Danville Town Offices at 510 La Gonda Way to request a permit. They also have the option of hiring a contractor to do all the work for them, and the contractor would take care of the permits.

Wood used a Danville family - one of his current clients - to explain how the planning and building process works. The family is currently remodeling their kitchen, family room and guest bathroom. Wood said he first met with them and asked about their goals and needs. He then measured their house and weighed in all the factors, which were shared in the initial meeting, and formed a proposal.

"I develop a plan that meets their goals," Wood said.

He created floor plans - an overall sketch of what his clients wanted to achieve with their remodeling. His first proposal contained drawings, which detailed the kitchen's interior. Wood gave them homework, suggesting they look at tile and floor surfaces, to find some that suited their tastes.

"They experience themselves through their kitchen," Wood said. "It's more of a piece of art."

When the family approved the plans, Wood fleshed out the details and wrote a scope of the project. Soon they worked out a price. His clients agreed with the package.

The planning stages may take two months, he said.

He then produced a set of plans to apply for town building permits.

"It's a multiple step process," he said.

Wood noted that homes built before 1995 have simpler structures, which are easier to change. But modern houses tend to be a handful for contractors because they have post tension slabs, which are cables in concrete stretched under a high tension. This makes it difficult to put in plumbing. Additionally, structures today must be able to withstand earthquakes, he said.

"We are building houses so much stronger than 20 years ago," he said. "It's an evolution of housing built today."

Before beginning construction, residents may have to consult with their homeowners' association regarding any changes to their house. Some residents sign legal agreements with the associations when they move into neighborhoods so must follow its regulations.

If the homeowners group gives residents the OK, they still have to make sure their changes do not encroach on the easements that are part of the Central Contra Costa Sanitary District. When they get clearance, they have to submit their application to the Danville building department. Town officials and a third party review the application, and it might take several to six weeks to award a permit.

Once the clients received the permit, Wood demolished the areas that needed remodeling. He said this is a fun process.

"Oh, yeah," he said. "At the end of the day you see something accomplished."

During the construction period, there is a series of five inspections: rough frame, insulation, drywall, interior and final. Rough frame deals with electrical, drywall and framing. Drywall covers everything. Interior - in this client's project - dealt with putting in a shower pan, a wall lath and a tile shower. And the final phases involved having everything properly in place.

The inspector examines each of the phases before the project continues going forward, Wood said.

There are currently three town building inspectors plus chief inspector Mike Leontiades with the Town of Danville. They have a briefing with town staff every morning to make sure they are on the same page, town officials said.

In the past, some residents complained about communication with the town's building inspectors. Danville resident Don Reed expressed his frustration when an inspector failed his remodeled home several years ago because it didn't have a shower pole in his spare bathroom.

Steve Lake, town services director, said he has not heard any complaints.

"Nobody has called me," he said. "Building inspection is an enforcement procedure. Not everyone is going to like what they hear."

Fred Korbmacher, town development coordinator, said residents have called town officials and thanked them for giving them truthful information that made their homes better.

"They (inspectors) want to confirm the information is correct," he said.

Once the family finishes all the inspection phases, the remodeling can be completed. Wood noted he can now put in the flooring, countertops, appliances and other items. The entire building process takes approximately 50 working days. The family is currently in the final phase of its remodeling.

"We try to make it seamless for them," Wood said, about the building process.

Homeowners looking for contractors should check to see if they have a state license and are in good standing, Wood said, noting that he gets his clients through word of mouth, with 50 percent repeat customers.

See if the contractors have received any complaints, he suggested. Talk to referrals who have been involved with them on similar jobs. Also, homeowners can speak to local suppliers and find out if they pay their bills.

When working with contractors, residents should have a written contract with start and finish states. They should pay an amount for the work that going to be done at the moment. Do not shell out large sums of money upfront, he said.

Wood urged all residents to follow building codes. Homeowners are required to disclose work done on their home without a permit if they decide to sell, which may affect their home's salability. Also, the homeowner who remodels without a permit may be liable if the changes cause injury.

"It's not worth doing the work without getting the permit," Wood said.

Know the permit rules

Sometimes residents do things in reverse, say members of the Danville Planning Commission: They make their home improvements then check out if they've followed the rules.

The Town of Danville has building codes, adopted after careful consideration, to protect people's property. In some cases, if permits were not obtained and improvements do not meet building code requirements, fire and liability insurance damages will not be paid. Also, if a construction project does not comply with Danville codes, the value of a home or business could be affected.

Permit fees are based on the valuation of the project and the number of inspections needed for the project. Rough estimates are, for a permit for a new roof on a 2,200-square-foot home, about $275; a new water heater tank, $150; and a 12-foot-by-12-foot kitchen remodel, $950, including plumbing, electrical and mechanical.

Legal property owners or licensed contractors may obtain a building permit. Tenants of commercial or private properties can obtain permits with written authorization from the property owner; forms are available at the front counter of the Town Offices, 510 La Gonda Way. To obtain information about a potential contractor, call the Contractor State License Board at (800) 321-2752 or visit www.cslb.ca.gov. A project must be inspected within 180 days of the issuance of the permit; if work hasn't begun, the permit will be declared null and void.

When a code official provides documentation that construction is completed and in compliance with building codes, home or business owners can enjoy their investments, knowing the work was done according to the community's safety standards.

When permits are usually required

* New buildings

* Additions (bedrooms, bathrooms, family rooms, etc.)

* Residential work (decks, garages, fences, fireplaces, pools, water heaters, etc.)

* Renovations (garage conversions, basement furnishings, kitchen expansions, re-roofing, etc.)

* Electrical systems

* Plumbing systems

* Heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems

The permitting process

1. Talk to your local code official. Outline your plans and receive the information needed for code compliance and an application.

2. Submit application. This will document the specifics of the jobs and include sketches or plans of the work.

3. Review process with a code official to make sure plans are in compliance with codes.

4. Receive permit, which gives legal permission to start construction.

5. On-site inspections will make certain the work conforms to the permit.

6. Final approval will be given by the code official after a final inspection.

Permits issued over the counter

* Re-roofing

* Water heater replacement

* Electrical service upgrade

* Furnace/air conditioning replacement

* Bathroom remodels

* Kitchen remodels

* Window replacement

* Skylights

* Gas line

* Pool

Information from the Town of Danville


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