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Permitting Lesson

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#26 Norm Meyer

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Posted 19 January 2013 - 07:55 PM

You know what they say "It is easier to beg forgiveness than
to ask permission". I don't inquire about too much. Maine is
a lot easier to work with than CA but it's coming here to...
just a little more slowly.
Best of luck.

Norm

#27 Christopher Erickson

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Posted 19 January 2013 - 09:23 PM

It has been my experience that coming up with a set of plans with a structural engineer or architect's stamp on them almost always turns the entire permitting process into a breeze.

I have always had the best luck getting the structural engineering stamp by looking around for a young, open-minded, self-employed engineer to work with. Usually at the best rates too.

Municipal bureaucrats are much more likely to lock horns with homeowners than they are with professional engineers, who can often quote building codes from memory.

I hope this helps.

#28 Midnight Dan

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Posted 20 January 2013 - 10:29 AM

Each inspector is a law unto himself, answerable to nobody. Now that was a stupid statement. He has to answer to Public Safty, Local codes, State codes, and the National Building Code. A good inspector knows the laws extremely well and alot more than mister homeowner who slips it in on weekends burns his dam house down then wonders why?


First, not all inpsectors are "good". In my recent dealings with my building inspector, he told me I needed a 4 foot deep below-the-frontline foundation for an 8x12' storage shed. I had to spend many hours of my own time pouring through the NYS online building codes to prove him wrong.

Second, while technically, the inspector is "answerable", in effect he is not. The town lost a 20 year old inspection record for my barn and the building inspector decided that it needed an inspection, including digging up our property to inspect the foundation. I spent thousands on a lawyer, only to be told that he essentially could do whatever he wanted. We could try to fight it in court, but it would cost many tens of thousands of dollars and we still could lose.

Bottom line - it takes more time and costs more money to fight the inspector than it's worth ... and he knows it. This is what makes him answerable to no one.

-Dan

#29 Mary B

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Posted 20 January 2013 - 05:50 PM

So run the electrical to a pole beside the observatory and use a short RV cord to power it. Makes a nice lightning protection disconnect also.

#30 Christopher Erickson

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Posted 20 January 2013 - 05:55 PM

So run the electrical to a pole beside the observatory and use a short RV cord to power it. Makes a nice lightning protection disconnect also.


Excellent advice!

And have a licensed electrician do the work.

#31 Aquarist

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Posted 20 January 2013 - 06:28 PM

We are erring on the side of caution, getting all plans, measurements, etc. approved and signed off. The planning process may take a bit longer than desirable, but the final inspection process is a breeze.

#32 csa/montana

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Posted 20 January 2013 - 06:38 PM

Steve, this plan will save you time & grief later on! :bow:

#33 Aquarist

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Posted 20 January 2013 - 10:02 PM

Thanks Carol. The worst case scenario that I am trying to avoid is "undoing" which could get costly. But so far, while they are particular, things are proceeding smoothly.

#34 csa/montana

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Posted 20 January 2013 - 10:42 PM

Glad to hear that, Steve; keep us posted.

#35 jazle

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Posted 22 January 2013 - 11:50 AM

Update from the long weekend: I drove down and talked with the Structural Engineer Friday afternoon. One of their CAD guys came out and introduced himself -- he is one of the local astro club members and has property in the mountains that he wants to build an observatory on as well. Turns out when the primary engineer saw my write-up request for help, he called the CAD guy in as they had planned a roll-off 10 years ago but never did it. So, they didn't see my project as crazy and were quite envious :)

Anyways, they did some napkin calculations and couldn't find anything that was a concern to them. They are going to run some more serious numbers to be sure. They also wanted to see a positive hold-down mechanism in both the open and closed positions (had planned for the closed, but not the open). So, I'm on my way to getting the engineering done and then I can head back to the county to pay their shakedown fee :)

I'm not worried about having to "re-do" it. So far, it's all been done to their rules -- i.e. it was an exempt building until the electrical so, at most, I should have pulled the building permit at the same time as the electrical instead of learning it needed a new permit from the first electrical inspector.

When it comes to structural inspections, however, I haven't met an inspector in this area that knows much. They rely on the engineer to tell them it's OK. As the engineer noted, once they see you went through the effort of hiring an engineer and have the wet stamp, they don't even bother looking at the building -- figuring if you went that far, you most likely did it as prescribed.

As for the extension cord solution. That was the solution with my last observatory and I would switch the breaker off when not in use. But it was a mess of power strips and cords running everywhere. Not exactly what you want when you're walking around in the dark within tight quarters.

This time, I plan to run an instrumentation pole with real-time weather and sky monitoring through a laptop updating to the web. It would be much more convenient to have the networking and power permanently installed. And when the inspector brought up the permit requirement, the trench and conduit were in the ground and the $600 worth of wire was already shipping cross-country. So, the deed was pretty much done.

On Saturday, I pulled the cable, wired up the panel, wired up a 20A GFCI below, and flipped it on. It was satisfying being able to run some tools off of the observatory's own power. Roughed in a few more boxes before turning back to sealing up the exterior for a forecasted round of rain this weekend.

#36 Christopher Erickson

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Posted 22 January 2013 - 12:11 PM

That's fantastic news!

#37 jazle

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Posted 22 January 2013 - 12:12 PM

One of the disadvantages to the building permit process is that you have less flexibility in being able to change your plan mid-construction.

If you're doing the project as a weekend hobby, it gives you lots of time to read what others have done during certain stages of construction and make some changes -- some simply for aesthetics or convenience. For example, I decided to shift my main pier over a foot to get a better view to the west. I also shifted my warming room wall over a foot. And I hadn't decided on the final siding until the exterior walls were framed. At least the first two required changes to the framing that would probably have sent me back to the country and engineer to modify and submit the plans.

Getting the structural engineer review now is easy since it is built and all they have to do is validate and stamp it.

But if you aren't building it yourself, then you most likely will need to have a set of plans for a contractor to build from (and to bid on). So then you might as well get the engineering and permit.

I'll also add that you can't neglect the cost factor. My last observatory was a converted $500 Rubbermaid shed. I estimate I put about $3000 into it if I include all the furniture, the window A/C, the insulation, plywood, deadbolt, etc... I actually sold the structure for $1000. Doubtful that the welded modifications would have been easy to engineer and get inspected, but the costs would have been a quarter of the final price (assuming $1000).

In this observatory, I'm in at least $15K (maybe $20K as I stopped tracking out of depression) in finishing touches, new electronics, etc... It's my pimped-out observatory that's going to last at least 10 years (i.e. until we decide to move houses). Spending another thousand is just a small fraction now.

What's going to be interesting is that my wife's grandmother has 120 acres that has been in the family for about 80 years. It is in the Green light zone, but about a two-hour drive away. I've talked with some AP buddies about building an observatory on the property sometime down the road when my wife inherits part of the property. It will be off-grid, however, as the highest spot on the property is about 3500 feet from the road -- there's not even a dirt road on the property to get to the spot. But I expect we will still need to get a building permit anyways since I'm not limiting myself to 120 square feet again.

#38 Christopher Erickson

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Posted 22 January 2013 - 12:51 PM

And sometimes even when you do everything right, you can still run into extra-bad inspectors.

* Here in Hawaii, I put in a solar hot water heater to replace the old 240VAC electric water heater. It required the sign-off of three inspectors. Structural, plumbing and a special "green energy" inspector so I could get my state tax rebate. Amazingly, the "green energy" inspector wanted to know where the connection to 120VAC was to run the circulation pump. I told him it didn't need one because it had a 240VAC pump. He flat-out told me that there was no such thing as a 240VAC circulation pump! He continued to argue, even after I pointed to the "240VAC" on the sticker on the pump. He never gave in but he did finish his paperwork and hand me a signed approval form. Ego. Sad.

* In Pendleton, Oregon, a friend had a permitted cow shelter (roof and four poles) in the middle of a field. He added siding on two sides for wind protection for the cows. Municipal inspector came out and threatened him with $1,000/day fines for every day that it remained up. He had to tear it down, get a set of plans, an engineering stamp, a building permit and two inspections to put it back up. Absurd.

So in conclusion, it is my opinion is that it is much better to learn the local rules and play the game than it is to get sideways with the local building authorities, who have the unfortunate power to make your life miserable.

In most locations what seems to work really-well is taking a set of Skyshed plans to a local structural engineer, who may make some modifications or additions to accommodate local building codes and then stamp them. That usually makes the whole process a lot smoother than it would be otherwise.

I hope this helps!

#39 DGB

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Posted 22 January 2013 - 05:43 PM

Anyways, they did some napkin calculations and couldn't find anything that was a concern to them. They are going to run some more serious numbers to be sure. They also wanted to see a positive hold-down mechanism in both the open and closed positions (had planned for the closed, but not the open). So, I'm on my way to getting the engineering done and then I can head back to the county to pay their shakedown fee :)

My county inspectors (Madison County, Virginia) approved this roof hold down mechanism for the open and closed positions of my 20'x24' roll off observatory. The welded bar slides between the caster plate and the "V" groove wheel. Both rails have this mechanism welded on each end. A clamp on each rail from the warm room serves as the other open/closed point of positive engagement.

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#40 Joel

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Posted 22 January 2013 - 05:51 PM

Glad things seem to be working out for you. I had to get a permit for my observatory. When the inspector came to do the inspection (after it was completed) he barely glanced at it. The only thing he had to say was to ask me what the telescope cost.

#41 jazle

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Posted 23 January 2013 - 12:06 PM

Looks like you're ready for a hurricane! I thought of something very similar, but on a smaller scale. I would have to do the same as you and have two different hold-downs to cover both ends.

What I'm thinking of doing is getting some box steel, cut out a slot on one of the four sides and mount it to the roof wheel set with the slot about an inch above the angle-iron track plate. Then put some lag bolts will go through the track and the heads will stick up so they slide into the groove when open or closed. Then I only need to cut the gable end for the profile of the bolts which I can tuck under a splash guard.

#42 DeanS

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Posted 23 January 2013 - 12:57 PM

I have forgotten to clamp my roof down before after closing up. The last time we had severe thunderstorms roll thru the area with high winds. When I went out and realized the roof was not secured I was so surprised as it did not move a fraction of an inch.

I do have some metal "keepers" that will not allow the roof to come off, but nothing to keep it from rolling, except clamps inside. However my roof is a hip roof design and that does not give as much area for the force of the wind to hit it straight on. And it is heavy.

So just something else to consider in your design if you are in an area prone to high winds and storms.

Dean

As for permitting, I just went thru a big scare with building a large equipment/party barn. My contractor said we don't need a permit and I went along thinking he had built enough to know. After they poured several truckloads of concrete for the pad, and I saw how large it was going to be, I decided to double check. Farmers don't need permits for barns that are primarily for livestock but I must have one they said for even storing mowers and tractors. So no big deal I thought, I'll get one. Turns out my contractor and excavator put it too close to the property line so I ended up having to apply for a varience which delayed the project about 3 months. But at least now I don't ever have to worry about it being non-compliant and risk being told to tear it down in the future. So yes it is worth doing it right to begin with.

And with that being said, no I did not get a permit for my observatory when I built it 10 years ago. However after the building inspector when thru my barn I showed him the observatory. He was very impressed and said it was well made.

#43 Calypte

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Posted 23 January 2013 - 09:29 PM

But at least now I don't ever have to worry about it being non-compliant and risk being told to tear it down in the future. So yes it is worth doing it right to begin with.

We have a local brouhaha going on because people have structures that were permitted and signed off, but then another inspector shows up and decides it's non-compliant after all. My earlier comment about inspectors being laws unto themselves and being answerable to nobody (which got an angry retort from someone who apparently is a retired inspector) was partly derived from this local situation. A county supervisor got involved, and people thought they were going to get amnesty on at least some of these shakedowns, but it turns out there is no amnesty. I haven't been personally hit up, but this is exactly the sort of thing that keeps people from even inquiring about permits. And I wouldn't feel too confident that, just because you're square with the inspectors now, it doesn't mean they can't change their minds.

#44 DeanS

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Posted 23 January 2013 - 10:44 PM

I would think if you have a signed building permit, and an approved final inspection you should be covered no matter what changes??

#45 JJK

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Posted 24 January 2013 - 06:25 AM

I second battery power and solar cell. The inspectors were hassling me about 110v in the observatory. They said electrical permit and structural review plus on some technicality because of permament utilities I would need an asthetic architectural review.

SNIP


How do you keep the batteries from freezing? Are they located underground?

#46 Patrik Iver

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Posted 24 January 2013 - 02:33 PM

How do you keep the batteries from freezing? Are they located underground?


By keeping them charged, which they will be, as the charge is maintained by the solar panels through the charge-/discharge controller.

Lead acid batteries do not freeze, when kept sudficiently charged. Well, eventually they do, but at really extreme temperatures (arctic, somewhere below -60 deg. F).

#47 Christopher Erickson

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Posted 24 January 2013 - 04:44 PM

I would think if you have a signed building permit, and an approved final inspection you should be covered no matter what changes??


Remodel permits normally require the entire structure brought up to current fire, electrical, plumbing (and hurricane) codes.


#48 jazle

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Posted 24 January 2013 - 08:32 PM

Today's Update: Picked up the structural engineering review today. Safe and sound. Other than adding the hold downs -- which were already planned, but just not yet implemented -- all the calculations came out fine. No modifications required. All that for $700.

Tomorrow I'll head down to the county to see what kind of shakedown fee for the permit they have in store. Hopefully it's the minimum $100.

#49 JustinO

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Posted 26 January 2013 - 08:08 PM

Put wheels on it.
I know someone who built a chicken coop. Inspector shows up and starts yelling. Next day inspector returns -- the coop is cut off its foundation and set on an old utility trailer. Inspector leaves and doesn't come back.
Only the telescope's footing needs to be in the ground, and that isn't a "structure".

#50 jazle

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Posted 20 February 2013 - 07:01 PM

Latest update: Permit application cost was $200 -- $150 now, $50 when issued. Fire department wants another $50. Took a week for the planners to review "my plans" and the engineering docs. My plans were nothing special, just a diagram I threw together in Excel of the layout for my planning. I figured that would be enough for "a shed".

Well, the planners called and they were fine with the location. Wanted to make sure it was OK with the local CC&R office (which approved it in October).

Certainly one of the most ironic questions I'll ever be asked in my lifetime regarding the observatory: "When the roof is rolled off, will the building be emitting any stray light?" Apparently, they wanted to make sure the observatory would meet the county's lighting ordinance! I think the planner realized the silliness of the question as she was asking it.

But then it goes to the plan checkers. Rather than call me, they send me a letter. In it, they want everything! Floor plans, elevation plans, roofing plans, electrical and mechanical plans, diagram of code-compliant stairs, a diagram of the roll-off/on mechanism, a diagram of the telescope mount, engineering confirmation on anything that has been covered,...

They actually sent a "residential building permit" checklist with all of the things they needed circled. The only thing they didn't check was a site plan and some energy efficiency calculations -- I had included a small site plan with the original application. They'll probably be asking for carbon monoxide detectors soon :p

So back to the engineers. They say I can save myself $1000 by doing the plan sheets myself (I knew my 7th-grade drafting class would come in useful someday). They'll do the analysis on tie-downs I devised.

Meanwhile, I keep working on anything that won't cover up any additional inspection checks.

I did get the exterior painting done this past weekend and it's starting to look like a real building. Attaching a photo.

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