Modular Home Permitting
Navigating the permit process for a new modular home
“Building you a road map to guide you through the multi faceted permitting process”
Every jurisdiction, including states, counties, cities or towns – has different requirements for issuing building permits, along with different building codes and fees associated with these permits. Other than the Building Department, there are also several other entities/agencies/departments that may also require a permit. Some of these can be applied for concurrently or may need to be applied for separately and in a designated order. Most towns will provide you with an outline of their specific requirements to help navigate the process but not always.
Typically, the formal building permit is the last one needed. Prior to applying for the building permit, you may need to contact one or more departments/agencies to confirm if they have any jurisdiction, ie. Conservation Commission, Planning Board, Board of Health, Zoning Board of Appeals, DEP Waterways, Army Corp of Engineers and Coastal Zone Management. They may have different levels of authority. A simple application with plans and documents might be all they need to review and approve your project, or a formal public hearing may be required. For a public hearing, abutters and interested parties must be notified in writing of the hearing date and description of the project. The notice of hearing will also be advertised in the local newspaper and posted on a public bulletin board.
Any one of the permits may take a considerable amount of time to obtain and may benefit from hiring a consultant experienced in that particular permit process to assist you.
In general, the construction of a new home will require permits from the following:
- Board of Health
- Conservation Commission
- Planning Board
- Zoning Board of Appeals
- DEP (state & federal), Army Corp of Engineers and Coastal Zone Management
- Local jurisdiction
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The Board of Health typically reviews/approves onsite sewage disposal systems (septic systems), municipal sewer connections and private wells. They will follow County & State regulations as well as their own local By-Laws. Working with a Civil Engineering/Survey firm licensed to design septic systems & experienced with the board and it’s members is recommended.
The Conservation Commission serves in a regulatory capacity to issue and condition any work in and near wetlands, floodplains, banks, riverfront areas, coastal resources and surface waters. It is again highly recommended to work with one of the local civil engineering firms to guide and represent you through the process.
For large multi-lot building projects, the Planning Board is charged with administrating subdivision regulations and municipal master plans.
The Zoning Board of Appeals function and duties include interpreting ordinances and By-Laws, deciding appeals for Special Permits and Variances. A thorough knowledge of the By-Laws/Ordinances is important. Special Permits are
approval often given to non-conforming uses that meet certain standards or conditions which are listed in the local By-Laws. Variances are usually harder to obtain as they involve relief from something that is prohibited. Proving hardship specific to the property is difficult. Legal representation is an option that may protect one from stumbling through the parliamentary process without prejudice.
The DEP (state & federal), Army Corp of Engineers and Coastal Zone Management are agencies that come into play for building piers and seawall type structures along the coast and normally have no jurisdiction for permitting the construction of the house.
Specifically for Modular Homes, there are a few added steps along the way to obtaining the building permit. Every manufacturer’s engineering department will work to provide a fully engineered and code compliant set of floor plans, elevations, and sections with various required details. A structural engineer will provide an analysis for shear wall framing, window/door opening sizes, portal wall framing and snow load calculations for roof truss/rafter designs. In a coastal environment there may need to be a “high wind” code review. A formal Rescheck report is required that is used to calculate how the home will comply with the IECC (International Energy Conservation Code).
Modular manufacturers are also required to hire a Third Party Consultant to review their engineered plans and documents for compliance with state & local codes. The Third Party Consultant provides routine factory inspections of typical factory construction tasks and procedures but not on individual homes on the assembly line. Once the Third Party “signs-off” on the documents, they are automatically sent to the State’s building department for final review. The total engineering and review process can take several months based upon the complexity of the home and market place demand for new modular homes. Building Code changes can also lengthen the process.
Local jurisdiction – At last it’s time to file for the building permit with your local building/zoning department. Over the years this process has been shortened in most municipalities due to the Third Party review and approval process prior to submission to the building/zoning department. It is also common that any of the following documents are requested to be submitted with the application when building a modular home:
- Crane operator’s license & insurance certificate
- A copy of the Manufacturer’s recertification letter from the State’s building department
- The modular manufacturer’s installation & set manual
- A copy of the “set crew” authorization letter from the manufacturer
- A house moving permit (rare but has been requested)
- 48 hour notice given to the building inspector of the date for setting (installing) the modular home on the foundation
Your home is your castle; a place to raise a family, a vacation spot or enjoy the fruits of your labor in retirement. Building a new home is complicated and the processes of permitting can be daunting.
The success of navigating the road is to follow the correct path. Do your homework and due diligence. Give yourself adequate time and expect a few bumps along the road.
A collaborative approach is recommended where you are fully engaged with the builder, designers, engineers, surveyors, and attorneys. They bring years of experience to the table and are up to date on the ins and outs of their individual professions.
Above all, keep an eye on the end game and look forward to the many enjoyable years to come in your new home