The process of obtaining building permits and receiving HOA approval can vary depending on your city, county, and HOA, but here is a step-by-step plan to facilitate this process based on our experience. This process is the same for new homes, additions, and remodels if building permit permission is required by your area for any/each of these. Checking with the building permit office for your locality and with the HOA (if applicable) before beginning your designs is time well spent. Requesting information from each source for what is required, blank permit forms to be completed, and any general information that they can give is very helpful for tailoring the plans to meet any criteria that is unique to your job site location and building situation.

Here is the process that we typically follow. Any item can be added as needed (please see our Services Page for a list of services we provide) and further clarification can be provided by us for any step that seems vague.

The Design Process

1. After the scope of work has been determined and a contract is signed, we start with a payment of half down for the designs,

2. I begin with preliminary drawings based on what you, the owner, or the builder have provided. Any needs or concerns raised by either the HOA or the city/county during an initial meeting (before any plans have been submitted) should be conveyed to me at this time. Two common issues that we keep in mind throughout the design process are the required setbacks from property lines and overall building heights. Building heights can be noted on the preliminary elevations (Step 3) while the plot plan is part of the structural design process.

3. Next, I draw the elevations. An elevation is a straight-on view of each side of the house.

4. Once you are satisfied with the preliminary drawings you pay the second payment and I draw the structural drawings.

5. If a Structural Engineer is needed or required, I obtain a price and contract from my structural engineer and forward it to you. Every effort is made to obtain the pricing and contract from the engineer before the design process is started. This may vary depending on the job site as sometimes engineering requirements are not identified early on in the design phase or the county/city may require it after viewing the drawings because of something unique to your home such as an atypical home construction type or specifics to your job site (Please see Geotechnical Analysis/Civil Engineering in Step 7.) I send the structural drawings for your project to the engineer, and you contact the engineer directly and make the payment.

6. The Structural Engineer reviews the plans, makes notes, and provides calculations. Then I update the drawings based on his engineering notes. The engineer then provides his stamp on the drawings to verify that they have passed the structural engineering review.

7. If Geotechnical Analysis is needed or required, the drawings are sent to a Civil Engineer to obtain a price and contract. A civil engineer near the job site needs to be contracted for this service because site visit(s) and on-site digging must be done to determine the scope of engineering needed. This step often involves hiring a backhoe to dig test holes on the job site and meeting the engineer on the site. There are two ways to handle this – the owner or builder can meet the engineer and excavator on site, or I can handle this stage if needed and it usually entails a job site visit fee which can be added to the design contract. If the job site is beyond my area the owner or local builder handles this job site visit.

8. The owner pays the Civil Engineer directly. The site visit and digging is completed. The Civil Engineer sends me his/her report, notes, and recommendations, I update the plans accordingly and the engineer applies their stamp to the drawings.

9. Once the drawings have completed the engineering phase and are updated, you as the homeowner or the builder send the drawings with the engineering notes to the HOA and city/county for permitting approval.

10. The city/county and HOA will either approve your plans or they will supply a list of things which they want to be clarified, modified, adjusted, etc.

11. You forward me this information and I will make the updates. This process could take a few times back and forth with the HOA or city/county. It just depends. If you are the one applying for the permits as the owner/builder, it is best for you to deal directly with them so there is no confusion. If you are contracting with a general contractor, they usually handle this. If you contract with me as the general contractor or project manager, then I will handle this stage.

12. The building permits are then issued, and HOA approval is gained. Usually, the HOA approval is obtained through a letter from the HOA Architectural Review board.

Every city is slightly different. Larger cities like Bozeman, Montana are continually changing and updating their requirements. Sometimes in-person meetings with the Planning and Development office is necessary to gather all the required information for obtaining the building permits. From my experience, it can be more difficult to determine exactly what the municipality is requiring than it is to update the drawings accordingly. Typically, rural counties are less complicated to obtain approval from than cities. So, planning ahead and visiting with the city planner ahead of time is a wise investment of time. Then we can a design project with the requirements in hand from the beginning.

Most commonly I place the drawings on 24″ x 36″ blueprint size pages, but I can also place the information on smaller size pages if the city/county, HOA, or builder would prefer. Having things arranged on the 8.5 x 11 sheets can be useful especially for door and window schedules. Then these can be printed off easily and provided to suppliers for pricing.

Planning ahead and gathering HOA and city/county information is smart. Asking for information packs is wise. If you are just referred to a website, you probably will want to visit the planning office in person. We have found the websites are usually lacking in details or are hard to navigate and gather information from.

I would like to address the engineering process. If structural engineering is not required, we still strongly encourage it especially if the job site is located in places such as a seismic area, high elevation with massive amounts of snow, or in coastal areas. Engineering provides another level of protection to the homeowners and another level of assurance that the plans have been reviewed by an additional set of experienced eyes. I have been a licensed general contractor for roughly 20 years and am very familiar with building codes and make every effort to include complete and thorough building notes, measurements, and material call outs, but still and engineer is a good investment no matter where you are building or what project you contract with me to design.

For Civil Engineering, Geotechnical Analysis we again recommend this process being done even if it is not required. If your job site location has expanding soil, seismic movement, or a marshy location be very careful. If the HOA strongly recommends a geotechnical analysis (even if it is not required) we urge you to have it completed. A sinking house is a nightmare.

If structural engineering and/or geotechnical analysis is not completed then we note on the drawings so that you, the builder/general contractor, the city/county, and the HOA are aware that the drawings have not been reviewed by engineers.