The building permit process is similar between buildings built with traditional construction and those built with modular construction. The following steps are usually taken when building permits are required to start and complete a modular building project.
Develop a Building Team
Best practice is to create a “Building Team” to help value engineer the project. The team should include the owner or owner's rep, the contractor (its recommended to use an approved modular building dealer), and modular building factory. It may also include an architect, structural engineer, and anyone else that the team considers to have valuable input in the design process. By “value engineering” the project, input is given by each discipline that has a task during the building process. Since the modular building process is a fast track method of construction, it’s critical to coordinate all facets of the project in the beginning to avoid time delays and costly changes down the road.
3rd Party Approvals
This is where the difference between the traditional construction process and the modular construction process is seen. On a traditional construction site, a local inspector must be called out during the “open construction” phases to inspect the work for local and state code compliance.
In the modular construction process, the factory drawings are submitted to a 3rd Party Licensing Agency whose role is to make sure all drawings meet those same local and state codes. As the building proceeds through the factory, it is inspected for compliance to those codes. When the building is delivered to the site, there is no need for additional inspections because the building will already be approved and will have state labels affixed to it for proof of compliance.
Geotechnical Soil Analysis (Survey)
If a permanent foundation is required, a Geotechnical Soil Analysis may be ordered to confirm the soil bearing capacity of the site location of the building. A civil engineer or a firm that specializes in Geo tech surveys may be hired. Generally the owner or owner's rep will either order the survey themselves or have the Contractor (modular building dealer) coordinate the soil analysis.
What is a Geotech survey? It is a survey that determines the type and strength of the soil on the job site’s area by documenting how expansive the soil is under the proposed building. In other words, it will tell you how much the ground will shrink and swell. Why is that important? Because the expansiveness of the soil will determine the design of the foundation. If a building is sitting on expansive clays, extra deep footings would be required so the building doesn't move, or in extreme cases, fall down. Some soils are dispersive, and when they get wet they erode away very quickly. All important things to know before a foundation can be designed for the building.
Structural Foundation Plan
A structural Foundation plan is designed and drawn by a civil engineer. It is designed based on either the geotechnical survey completed for the site or on an assumed soil capacity. It is ordered either by the Owner, Owner's Rep or Contractor (modular building dealer).
The purpose of a foundation is to provide a level and uniformly distributed support for the structure. The foundation must be strong enough to support and distribute the load of the structure and sufficiently level to prevent the walls from cracking and the doors and windows from sticking. The footings distribute the weight of the structure over a large area. They are usually made from concrete because it can withstand heavy weights and is virtually decay-proof. The same type of foundations for traditionally constructed buildings are also used for buildings made with modular construction: a concrete slab, a basement or a raised foundation made from piers and columns and/or perimeter wall.
Civil Engineering Plan
A site plan or civil engineer plan is developed and sealed by a Civil Engineer. It includes grading, landscaping and other site details. A Civil Engineering Plan is created using information from the Structural Foundation Plan and the 3rd Party Approved Drawings and is ordered by either the Owner, Owner’s Rep or Contractor (modular building dealer).
Building Permits Submission
Once completed, all the above information is packaged together and is submitted to the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) by either the Owner, Owners Rep or Contractor/modular building dealer. Generally, there will be questions and clarifications that need to be made and correspondence will go back and forth between the AHJ and the submitting party.
Building and Utility Permits
A building permit will be issued in the name of whoever the team has determined to be responsible for the building’s construction and its compliance to codes, zoning regulations and use. The permit allows the holder to erect a building on the location specified in the permit. Generally, because the AHJ often requests changes to bring the building into compliance with current local codes, it is good practice to not start construction of the building in the factory and foundations at the job site until a building permit has been obtained.
Utility Permits are pulled by the electrician hired to hook the building up to the closest utility connection. Once a building permit has been obtained, the electrician will go to the local permitting office and request a utility permit. It is generally a one-day turnaround and simple to obtain.
Final Use and Occupancy Permit
The final step in the construction process is to obtain a Final Use and Occupancy Permit prior to being able to move into the building. The Permit Holder will call for an inspection by the AHJ. Upon inspection and approval of the use of the building, a permit is obtained and the occupant may move into the building.