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Niche Publications

Senior Editor for Niche Publications of the Billings Gazette

Looking forward to springtime home improvement projects? Not so fast, some jobs require a building permit from the City of Billings Building and Safety Division before you can move ahead.

Start planning now so that you can send in your request and gain approval before the weather improves.

Safety first

Without a building permit, your work may be a wash.

Ronda Vurkasin, administrative support for the City of Billings Building and Safety Division, says homeowners caught doing work without a permit receive a red tag from an inspector. The red tag requires them to immediately stop work and obtain a permit, she said.

“There is a $45 fee associated with the red tag, which is added to the permit cost,” she said.

The division’s website states that permit prices vary by job and are based on the project’s estimated cost.

“While many people, especially homeowners, do not like or appreciate the hassle of obtaining permits, we are required by state law to enforce the building codes and the permit and inspection process is how we achieve this,” Vukasin said. “Instead of regarding the building division as yet another regulatory government entity, we believe it should be viewed as an agency to ensure public safety.”

Vukasin says because people spend most of their lives in buildings, “ensuring buildings are built and maintained in a safe manner protects lives of current and future occupants, possessions and property values.”

In 2017, the building division approved 547 permit requests for residential remodels and additions; 1,664 permit requests were approved for residential fences, roofing and pools. According to the division’s website, permits are granted on a first-come, first-served basis.

Detailed information is required on the permit request. Vukasin defines detailed as, “detailed enough so that any moderately-skilled craftsperson could complete the project with the information on the plans.”

“The most common missing information is structural, including roof and floor truss drawings, header sizes, code review, wind and snow load, and supporting documentation such as soil reports or structural calculations,” she said.

Plan ahead

Building plans embedded – and often required – in the permit request are beneficial for many reasons.

Plans are used to ensure the project meets or exceeds code requirements, and inspectors can refer to them when conducting the inspection, said Vukasin.

“For the contractor, they clearly show the scope of work and should include details on materials and construction. Complete plans lead to more accurate bids or cost estimates and likely a better-quality finished product,” she said. “For the homeowner, accurate plans lead to a smoother bidding process if hiring a contractor.”

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The division’s website states that re-roofing and re-siding projects do not require a building plan. Vukasin adds that building plans for small non-structural interior remodels like removing a non-load-bearing wall or relocating a doorway in a non-structural wall are not necessarily required. Window and door replacement projects generally do not require drawings and neither do residential storage sheds, free-standing decks or shade structures less than 200 square feet that do not have electricity, plumbing or heat, she said.

“Free-standing decks must also be under 30-inches high to forgo a permit,” Vukasin said. “However, those structures should still meet minimum code requirements and lot line set back requirements per the zoning ordinance.”

Vukasin says the building division recommends homeowners call the office to discuss permit submittal requirements.

“Many times, homeowners will not know if a particular wall is load-bearing, in which case we require them to consult with a structural engineer to verify the structural implications of the proposed construction,” she said.

Billings-based Eggart Engineering and Construction president Quentin Eggart says his company assesses about 200 homes a year for foundation or other structural issues. They are usually booked about a week out, as they cater to areas as far as North Dakota and Wyoming.

Fees are typically about $500 for an inspection and report for serious issues, and $200 for a simple one, he said.

“We look at a lot of foundation settlement issues, but also inspect damage due to fires, high winds – like the Baker tornado – and simple things, like if a wall is load-bearing and what can be done to redirect the loads as necessary in order to take out a wall,” said Eggart.

Vukasin says issued permits are valid for six months; permits are extended another six months once an inspection is completed.

“Additionally, the building division can grant one six-month extension for extenuating circumstances if it requested in writing prior to the permit expiration,” she said.

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