When working on a construction project, you’re most likely going to require permits to get the work done. If done correctly, you can acquire permits for your job in just one day.
You do this by obtaining a STFI (subject to field inspection) permit. It’s an over-the-counter permit you can get the same day you submit your plans...as long as you have everything in order.
If not, you'll be subject to a full plan review-a process that takes a minimum of 3-4 months before getting approval.
Below are some tips to make sure you're getting a STFI and not a plan review:
1.) Check the Seattle GIS map for any steep slopes or ECAs (environmentally critical areas) on your property.
This is the first thing I check when looking at a property to renovate. If you do any work on a steep slope, you’ll be subject to full submittal of plans. If you can avoid doing any work there, you’re on the right track to get the STFI permit.
Below is an example of a project our team completed last year. You can see the back area of the house has a critical area from the blue shading. That circle in the drawing below (tough to see but outlined with the red circle) was a gazebo.
If we did any work at all to the gazebo, the permit process would have been a full submittal. We obviously decided to forego any work to stay within the restrictions of the STFI.
Click here for a link to the Seattle GIS map. Make sure to check 'steep slope' and 'potential slide area' when using the map.
2.) Hire a structural engineer
Most often when renovating you’ll be removing walls, adding beams, posts, raising the ceilings, etc. That’s where a structural engineer can help out letting you know what is and isn’t plausible.
He’ll tell you if a 5.5”x7.5” beam works or if you need to upgrade to a 5.5”x9.0”. He’ll determine if you need earthquake straps, what walls are load-bearing, and other requirements if you're remove existing walls.
When complete, they’ll deliver a PDF pamphlet of 20-40 pages worth of calculations, material recommendations, and more. When presenting this to the city, this will show you're prepared and have done your homework.
A 200k+ project costs us ~$1800 for their services. Most charge a site visit and time spent drawing up the plans so the smaller the project, the smaller the bill.
3.) Draw a site plan
A site plan shows the existing structure of both the interior and exterior of the home as well as the final rendition of the layout once the work has been completed.
The interior will include where doors and windows are located, kitchen, bathrooms, bedrooms, etc. The exterior layout will include decks, plants, streets, driveways, etc.
What the city requires on their site sounds daunting but it’s not.
I myself drew up a site plan that got accepted by the city of Seattle. If I were to draw you a cat you might think it’s a house. The point is: anyone can draw a site plan.
It’s important to label the scope of work on the side of the site plan so everyone is crystal clear on what work is getting done. Bullet points usually do the trick. Site plans can be drawn freehand or via the computer.
4. ) Know dimensions of certain areas
Here’s a list the city has showing what qualifies for a STFI permit and what will be a plan review.
When walking thru a house, Below are what I think the most important ones are:
No beam spans more than 14 feet in length
Breaking up walls mostly result in putting in new beams. Just make sure they don’t exceed 14 feet.
One example is the photo below where we put a post near the center of the living area so the span was 13 feet to the post and 6 feet after.
Had we not put the post there, the span would have been 19 feet and we would have had to wait 3 months getting permits. This is the biggest hurdle in my opinion everyone faces when trying to get a STFI permit.
Creating a dormer that's going to expand livable square footage
Dormers are a great way to add curb appeal to a property but also add more head height and square footage in the house.
However, If you’re adding a dormer to an attic space that’s not used as living space, you’ll have to submit a plan review.
Something to keep in mind on dormers is the livable square footage can’t exceed 200 additional square feet when complete.
Decks no higher than 8 feet tall or built on a steep slope
A deck can be as large as you want as long as it’s not above 8 feet or an enclosed space like a garage or basement.
Also, you can update a deck on a steep slope as long as you don’t touch the footings and only replace the deck boards, stringers, and ledgers.
If you're able to follow these four tips mentioned above, you'll have a great chance of walking away with a permit in hand the same day you walked in.
One thing to keep a note of with STFI permits and Covid: in-person meetings are canceled so the standard STFI timeline looks more like 1-2 weeks.
If you have any questions navigating the process when it comes to investing, buying, or selling, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org