You live in Colorado Springs, and you want to finish your basement. However, you’re doing the work by yourself. Sure, a few friends will help, but you’re the one who is responsible for finishing your basement. Let me ask you a question: Do you need a permit?
If you answered “No,” go to the back of the class. Sorry, but the fact is no matter who is doing the work – you or a contractor you hire – you have to obtain a permit in Colorado Springs. Truth be told, you probably need a permit no matter where you live!
OK, question two: You just hired a very inexpensive (cheap) contractor who would rather not take out a permit. He offered to discount the work even more if you didn’t insist on a permit. Can he do this?
Of course not! And I know you knew the answer to that one before I even told you. Here’s your takeaway from such a scenario … that contractor is probably not licensed to do the work and may not have insurance either.
If you think forgoing a permit isn’t a big problem, think again. There’s a one-word reply to anyone who believes it isn’t necessary: liability. However, I’ll share more on that in a minute.
First, what exactly is a permit, and why do you need one? A permit notifies various organizations within the city or county that you’re going to do work on your home. They need to know this because you’re going to require an inspection after the work is completed. An inspection is conducted by a knowledgeable and licensed individual, verifying the work and ensuring the work completed is safe.
Safe? Say you moved a wall and didn’t realize it was a load bearing wall. Do you realize the floor above the basement could come crashing down? It has happened. Such an event has occurred to inexperienced do-it-yourselfers and inexperienced contractors who lack an understanding of structural integrity. When a wall crashes down in an area where people are gathering, it can be a disaster of the highest magnitude.
Inspections happen in phases. An inspector doesn’t come in when you’re finished and says, “Hi, I’m here to inspect the work.” That wouldn’t do anyone any good. It occurs in phases because each phase impacts the following phases.
So, inspections start with a framing inspection. Say you’re putting in a window, or you’re framing a wall using studs. You need an inspection to ensure the work was done according to the code established by Colorado Springs. Studs must be a certain distance from each other; a window must be large enough to provide an exit in case of an emergency. The list goes on and on. So, you should have a permit for two key reasons: It’s required by law, and it’s designed to protect your safety and the safety of everyone living in your home.
As the homeowner, you’re responsible for securing the permit. It doesn’t require a degree in construction or knowledge of electrical and plumbing. Make a rough sketch or drawing of your basement design and take it, along with the permit info and a check, to the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department. You’ll have your permit!
Now, here’s a word of warning: Only get the permit if you’re doing the work. If you’ve hired a contractor, let them procure the permit themselves. Don’t ever get a permit for someone else. If a contractor asks you to pull a permit, run. They’re probably not licensed or insured which is why they don’t want to take out a permit in their name. They are required to get their own permit and handle their own inspections. It’s not your responsibility since you’re not doing the work!
When should you get a permit?
Pretty easy answer: Whenever you’re doing work or having work done on your house, you need a permit. Now, if you’re only doing cosmetic improvements, like painting or flooring, you can probably get away without one.
However, if you’re doing anything at all with plumbing or electrical, or you’re planning on a structural change, get a permit. Once you have the permit, your inspections are free, and they’re invaluable in terms of helping you do the job safely.
Be thankful a knowledgeable person will come in and look at your plumbing, electrical or structural issues. Yes, thankful. Because if you installed something wrong, or you have the wrong type of interrupter switch on a bathroom outlet, or you moved a load bearing wall without a reinforcing beam, the inspector will tell you and allow you to get it done right – and safely. This could be a lifesaver down the road!
Safety is only one issue, although it’s the main issue. Suppose you didn’t have a permit or inspection, and you’re ready to sell your home. Buyers come in and say, “Wow!” once they look at your basement. Then their realtor asks if you had a permit and inspection for the work that was done. If the answer is “no” – you’re going to lose a significant amount of money.
Here’s why: If you have to get an inspection after the fact, it means you’re going to have to undo drywall, ceiling tile and other improvements and provide the inspector access to the work you’ve done. You’re going to have to pay a triple permit fee for doing work without a permit, and the permit and inspection process will now cost either a small amount of money to fix a small problem or you’ll be tearing out everything you’ve done and starting over. That’s a nightmare nobody wants to go through!
That’s going to cost a fortune to repair or replace. If there have been code changes since you did the work, you won’t be current and you’re going to have to pay to bring things up to code. That’s going to cost you additional money. Ripping out brand new plumbing or wiring is costly. If you’ve moved a load bearing wall and now need to put in a beam after the fact, watch your wallet, because that will cost a ton of money to fix. A permit may cost several hundred dollars, but a fix will be in the thousands. Which would you rather pay? Easy answer, isn’t it?
There’s also the issue of the quality of the job. If you hire a contractor that didn’t take out a permit, you can pretty much bet that the quality of the completed work will be subpar. Without having a license or insurance, there’s no incentive for such contractors to use professionals. Instead, the contractor will use lower wage individuals to perform critical tasks such as electrical or structural work. That’s nothing but a disaster waiting to happen.
Think of it this way – a permit and an inspection are not about how the work was completed, but more about peace of mind for you and your family. Unless you’re a professional electrician, plumber or building engineer – or had the work done by professionals – you want the assurance that everything in your home is safe. When you bought the home, you had nothing to worry about. Either the builder had inspections or it was inspected when it was sold. That’s the kind of peace of mind you want your family to enjoy in their finished or remodeled basement.
Trust your inspector.
Don’t be adversarial about the inspection process. Remember, the inspector is there to protect your home and you and your family’s safety. The inspector doesn’t want to pass inspection if the work is shoddy, not up to code or downright dangerous.
Remember, the inspector does inspections hundreds of times a month. They go into new home construction, room additions, basement finishes, add-ons, renovations – the whole nine yards. They’ve “been there, seen that, done that” and that’s a plus in your favor.
Here’s another tip – try to be around when the inspection is taking place. After all, if you did the work, you can answer any questions the inspector might have. If you hired a contractor, have them available as well, either in person or by phone. It’s for the same reason – if the inspector has a question, they’ll be available to provide an answer right away. This will speed up the inspection process.
Getting a building permit in Colorado Springs is a simple process. Just go to the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department website at www.pprbd.org and you’ll find all the information on what’s required and how to obtain your permit. In this day and age, there’s absolutely no reason to not have a permit for the work and an inspection once the work is completed.