Understanding the Home Repair Permits

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Whether you know it or not, most areas in Canada permis de construire maison require a permit for new construction and structural repairs. Curiously, as builders and restorers, we’ve found that the first question that comes up in a discussion of building permits with homeowners is not the cost of, or necessity for, a permit. It is, instead, whether homeowners agree with the process of obtaining a permit for work taking place on their own homes.

There is a lot of philosophical thinking at play behind this question. Ideas about property rights, and individual versus social rights take place. And beneath the typical position evidenced by most homeowners (and people in general) to find a balance between personal needs and social obligations, when it comes to work on “The Castle,” a powerful sense of anarchy reigns. Sure, most of us agree to share by the great unwritten social contract public spaces like roads and parks, but surely our personal spaces should be beyond the reach of any authority besides our own. In a word, “No.”

We take the position that the interest building authorities in Canada (and there are now more of them than ever) have in your home is a good thing, but this is not without some reservation. The crux of the question is this: building authorities assume that people that build, wire, plumb, fix or otherwise create buildings and their systems are not born with a knowledge of good building practice. They do, however, assume that sound building can be learned, and regulations such as those proposed by Canada’s National Building Code (NBC) provide guidelines for good building, albeit a theoretical version.

So here is the “good thing” part about such guidelines. Let’s assume you want to build a conventional frame home. This typically means some sort of foundation topped by a bunch of wood and a roof. Well, thanks to the designers and builders of yesteryear, that “bunch of wood” made up of plates, studs, joists and rafters is not only an excellent building system, but it is a method deeply entrenched in the NBC. It has been much tested in the real world. Stick with it, and as far as the structural elements of your project goes, you won’t go far wrong.

In fact, conventional-frame building is so tried and true tested that even as it fails due to rot damage or imperfect use of desired techniques, the many connections inherent typically create a sound structure despite imperfections. This is why conventional wood-frame technology is imported in areas that have not used it traditionally. It makes for stable structures. Of course, the NBC guidelines cover much more than the building frame example discussed here, but we make the assumption that guidelines like these are in place for the purpose of ensuring buildings are safe and useable, and for the most part, believe this to be true.

So what about our reservations about enforced building codes, that anarchic resistance to building authorities telling us how our hallowed homes are to be built or repaired. The first is this: let’s assume you as a builder have a natural gift for building, or even a great deal of experience, and simply know how building loads can be brought from roof to ground in a safe, usable, durable way. Well, chances are that you will still need a building permit, and your fine work must still be inspected for code adherence, perhaps by someone with a fraction of your gift for building. You might not even mind having someone over who also possesses building knowledge and has a deep interest in building like yourself. Together, you could analyse your project, and share in the pleasure of great building. Heck, even the best of engineers check each others work, so perhaps your site inspector would enjoy having you at his or her home to help make sure everything there is in order. Assuming such a pleasurable, supportive dialogue exists in the interests of good building, the only real problem might be that you’ll be paying for your permit.

A second reservation about the permit process is its fallibility. Despite the NBC and its enforcement at regional and municipal levels, we’ve all heard about leaky condos, the cost of which is, in some cases, passed on to the taxpayer. Why then should you, the homeowner, be forced to adhere rigorously to codes and bylaws that have obviously been evaded by others? Is this not a breakdown in that great social contract that seeks to balance your needs with those of society’s? Put simply, others are obviously getting away with doing bad work, so shouldn’t you be free to do so also, at least in your own home?