Pulling A Residential Permit in Austin Part 1

Extremely important notice located in the lobby of City of Austin Planning & Development

Extremely important notice located in the lobby of City of Austin Planning & Development

The permitting process had been a source of lingering anxiety for me. There is a wealth of information online, but the city's website is hard to navigate and it is difficult to know what pertains to your project and what you can ignore. On top of that, we had been relying heavily on hearsay from the various contractors we had been speaking with to shape our understanding on the process. Needless to say we were left extremely confused and our project stalled. 

When we brought these concerns to our structural engineer, he suggested we take our hand drawn plans (drawn by yours truly) down to the city and take advantage of their free permitting "office hours".  A source of major confusion for us was who should be doing this drawing and how technical it needed to be. Instead of wasting any more time ruminating on how confused we were, we headed to the permitting office with our rudimentary drawing (pictured below) in hand. We didn't leave with a permit, but this step allowed us to learn the process first hand and increase our chances of our plans being approved. I'll also note that if we had submitted without going to office hours, we would have 100% been rejected. 

My first drawing. I did not own a ruler at the time, can you tell?

My first drawing. I did not own a ruler at the time, can you tell?

Our lopsided roof.

Our lopsided roof.

First we met with a city planner who reviews residential development permit applications.  He talked us through the process, helped us fill out the paper work, and answered all of our questions. He was extremely relieved to hear that we had already worked with a structural engineer who had sanctioned our plans. He said my drawing wasn't the WORST he had seen, but it definitely needed to be reworked. 

We then chatted with a technical specialist who answered our questions about the drawing specifically. The most important thing is that the drawing must be to scale. They suggest using graph paper and a 1/4th inch or 1/8th inch to 1 foot scale (they even supplied us with the graph paper - such angels!). Depending on what you are doing with your remodel, there are different requirements for what needs to be shown in the drawing. They supplied us with helpful handouts for us to take home for reference. 

At the advice of our friend and Houston based designer, Lauren Braud, I invested in a laser measure. These are a bit pricey as compared to a tape measure, but it saved me so much time when having to remeasure the entire house to do the scale drawing! 


Current and Proposed Floor Plans
It is important to have the rooms labeled and the scale clearly noted. You will also want to have a note about either the existing smoke alarms and co detectors or your plan to install them. Finally, most will require noting the location and size of the doors and windows. I did not know this until our second visit to submit our application. At that point, they said it would be fine to proceed without it given that we are replacing our windows size for size. To err on the side of caution, I would include it from the get go. 


In addition to the drawings, we needed to have a formal survey done (you will likely have already had this done if you are applying for a mortgage) to be submitted to the city along with our application. The survey process was surprisingly painless and took less than a week (although, it is annoyingly expensive). 

We were told that most applications don't pass on their first submission, which is interesting. We asked our pals in the residential review department what are some mistakes that homeowners make when submitting their plans for review and thought we'd pass them along. 

Most Common Permit Application Mistakes: 

  1. Not taking advantage of the walk-in office hours (we couldn't agree more. no, seriously, go!).

  2. Submitting plans that are not drawn to scale.

  3. Not having an engineer or otherwise highly qualified individual sanction your plans before bringing them to the city. This takes a huge burden off both you and the city since many jobs require a final inspection by a 3rd party engineering firm upon completion of the project. Knowing that the engineer is on board from the get-go can help ensure your plans and completed project will be approved.

We submitted our application to the city and will provide an update on our permitting journey in part 2. We are so excited to get the ball rolling on these major projects!

Meanwhile Em O has been feverishly researching all of the finishing we will need for the house which is WAY more interesting than permitting. Expect an update with our choices soon! 

-Em V