Special Permits and Documents Needed for a Building Permit

Below is a detailed list of the kind of permits and supporting documents that might be required by the building department in your community in order to obtain a building permit. When one of these is required, it usually needs to be obtained before you can apply for the building permit.  That’s why your modular general contractor should determine which ones are needed as soon as you’ve decided to build. Your GC should also determine what actions will be needed and how much lead time will be required for each permit and supporting document, and then act accordingly.

An example of the first two pages of a building permits application
Click Here to See an Example of a Building Permits Application.

In addition, you and GC need to agree who will pay for each of the permits and fees required to build your home. The cost for permits, utility fees, engineering and survey work, and related items varies widely from town to town, utility company to utility company, and engineer to engineer. For example, a building permit can range in price from a hundred to a few thousand dollars, and utility hookups can range from no cost to several thousand dollars. Since you are ultimately responsible for the costs, whether you pay for them directly or through your modular general contractor, determine the amounts for each item as soon as possible, budget accordingly, and agree in writing with your modular general contractor which of you will be making the payments.

Potential Permits and Supporting Documents

  • State and local environmental-commission’s approval: This is particularly important if the property contains wetlands or protected dunes in coastal areas
  • Tree-removal permit: If the land is on a state road, federal highway, or designated a scenic route, you might need permission from a regulatory agency
  • Utility permit for temporarily taking down high-voltage power lines
  • Demolition permit: May be required to demolish any existing structures, and another permit may be required to dispose of the materials
  • Hazardous waste permit: Required to dispose of hazardous materials
  • Well permit: if a septic system is needed, its design might need to be approved before a well permit is issued
  • Potable water test: the well water might need to pass a safety test before a building permit is issued
  • Municipal-water entrance permit: This can be as costly as drilling a well, and the fee does not include the cost for digging the trench or installing the underground pipe
  • Septic design approval: having the design completed by a licensed sanitarian or engineer and approved by the local board of health can sometimes take several weeks
  • Municipal-sewer entrance permit: This can be as costly as a septic system, and the fee does not include the cost for digging the trench or installing the underground pipe
  • Driveway curb-cut permit: In most areas this is routine, as long as safety is not an issue, but if the land is on a state road or a designated scenic route, you might need to apply to another agency
  • Street-excavation permit: If the road must be excavated to bring public utilities to the site, permission must be obtained from the town or state, depending on who is responsible for maintaining the road
  • Traffic-safety permit: If the road must be excavated or if traffic will be obstructed, the town or state may require special signage or a police officer to maintain traffic control
  • Fire-marshal approval: Required for smoke detectors, oil furnaces, fireplaces, and woodstoves
  • Building permit for additional structures: Required for all structures that will be built on site, such as a garage, porch, deck, mudroom, or finished attic
  • Structural engineering design and plan: May be required when an {I}-beam is being used in the basement to support the home instead of lally columns
  • Oil permit: May be required when installing oil heat, along with a final inspection to obtain a certificate of occupancy
  • Gas permit: Required when natural or propane gas will be used for the heating system, an appliance, or a fireplace
  • Fuel-storage permit: Required when the heating system requires oil or gas storage

For more information about your building permit and all additional permits and fees that might be required to build your modular home,  see The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home and Building a Modular Home on Schedule in my book The Modular Home.

Scheduling Electrical Power to Your Home

Several of my customers over the years have suffered through lengthy delays trying to complete the turnkey on their home due to problems scheduling electrical power to their site. For the most part, these customers were acting as their own general contractor or had hired an independent GC. But my company has also experienced these delays in scheduling electrical power when serving as the GC.

Scheduling Electrical Power to Your Home

After scheduling electrical power, a utility work climbs an electrical pole
If your modular home will be located a substantial distance from the power lines, do not delay in scheduling electrical power. It will likely take one to three months lead time to have additional electrical poles or a new transformer installed

The delays in scheduling electrical power usually happened because the utility company needed additional electrical poles or a new transformer, which typically required one to three months lead time. The delays in scheduling electrical power were sometimes compounded because the approval of the poles required a public hearing, which itself took a month or more from scheduling to approval.  On a couple of occasions when things were particularly busy, the overall delay in scheduling electrical power was over four months.  In these cases, the GC completed as much of the work as he could.  But he was then stopped in his tracks for a couple of months, which delayed the customer’s move in by the same amount.
In other cases a delay in scheduling electrical power was used by the GC has a reasonable excuse for postponing the start of the work. As the GC pointed out to the customer, the subcontractors need electricity to operate their power tools. Although the subs could use a portable generator temporarily, this would be an inefficient and expensive way to operate.
These delays in scheduling electrical power can be minimized, however, if your GC asks the electrician to contact the utility company several weeks before your home is delivered. If the electrician discovers that you need additional poles, you can have him file an immediate request to avoid substantial delays. Another option for minimizing the impact of delays in scheduling electrical power, when possible, is to ask the electrician to set up a temporary service to your home.

Scheduling Electrical Power Weeks Before Beginning Construction

The most important thing you can do to avoid delays in scheduling electrical power to your site is to ask the electrician to request service to your home several weeks before the modules are to arrive. At the very least, you and your GC will know what to expect and can plan accordingly.
For more information about scheduling electrical power, see The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home and Building a Modular Home on Schedule in my book The Modular Home.

Modular Home Contracting Responsibilities

The GC has many difficult and time-consuming modular home contracting responsibilities. Some of these are obvious, but many are not.

Some of the More Important Modular Home Contracting Responsibilities

  • Obtain competitive bids
  • Help determine the scope of work
  • Help determine the building specifications
  • Select subcontractor candidates for each area of construction
  • Review written proposals for each subcontractor candidate
  • Select each subcontractor and sign a contract detailing the scope of work, building specifications, and price
  • Create and manage the schedule for materials and subcontractors, including the sequence of each subcontractor to maximize productivity and reduce conflict
  • Ensure the job is ready for each subcontractor before instructing him to begin
  • Revise the schedule weekly to adjust for inevitable delays, such as weather, inspectors, and illness
  • Ensure that work is done to accepted industry standards as well as to the customer’s satisfaction by completing on-site inspections
  • Ensure that any warranty problems that occur after the job is done and after each subcontractor is paid are taken care of to the customer’s satisfaction

The GC's modular home contracting responsibilities before the home is delivered and set
The GC’s modular home contracting responsibilities before the home is delivered and set

As you can see, the general contractor (GC) has a critical list of responsibilities and duties. That’s why I strongly recommend that you hire a professional, experienced GC. He (or she) is able to call upon a number of subcontractors to obtain competitive bids for each construction task. He is able to get them to perform in a timely fashion, which is no small task in the building trades. He can command a fair price and a timely response because they depend on the work he provides. He knows which subcontractors to avoid because of a history of poor workmanship, unreliability, and unethical pricing. When problems occur, as they do on every job, a professional GC solves them quickly. Better yet, he anticipates problems as a matter of course and heads them off before they become a threat.
The GC's modular home contracting responsibilities after the home is delivered and set
The GC’s modular home contracting responsibilities after the home is delivered and set

Having an experienced GC on your side is also helpful when navigating the approval and permit steps that must be completed prior to beginning construction of a new home.  A licensed GC knows the building codes. This is important not just because following them is the law, but because they protect your health and safety. A GC who has experience with modular home contracting responsibilities will have the necessary insurance to protect against something going wrong on the building site. This includes an accident causing a serious personal injury or significant property damage to your home. This insurance is very important in limiting your potential liability as the homeowner.
You may save a little money up front by hiring a GC without professional experience, but you could lose the savings and your sanity once the work begins.
For more information about modular home contracting responsibilities, see Selecting a General Contractor and The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

Modular Home Delivery and Set

When I first starting selling modular homes I had a difficult time convincing customers to bring the right equipment to their modular home delivery and set unless the need was completely obvious, which it often is not. That changed after one nearly disastrous incident.

A Lesson about the Importance of the Modular Home Delivery and Set

My customers were building a two-story home made up of four modules shipped on four carriers. I asked them to have their excavator assist the delivery crew on delivery day, and they complied. It turned out that the bulldozer was not needed because the ground was dry and firm. This enabled us to position two of the modules next to the foundation and crane on the property with the other two modules stored in a staging area over night. I reminded my customers that they needed to keep the bulldozer on site for the next day’s set, but they said they didn’t think it was necessary. I pointed out that if it rained that night, we almost certainly would have a problem. My customers responded that it would cost them $500 for the second day, and they thought it was a waste of money. When it began raining that night, I called them at home to again ask them to supply a bulldozer. They refused.

A caterpillar loader ready to help with the modular home delivery and set
Make sure your GC provides the proper equipment for your modular home delivery and set

The set started off well. We got the first module onto the foundation quickly. While we were setting the second, we delivered the third to the site. But the transporters could not get enough traction on the wet ground to move the modules close enough to the foundation no matter what we tried. My customers called their excavator, who arrived two and one-half hours later. While we were waiting, a thunderstorm hit hard. My set crew climbed on the roof, in spite of the lightning, and tried to cover the two modules with tarps. They did OK, but while trying to position the tarp, one of the crew slipped and pushed his foot and part of the tarp through kitchen ceiling.Allof the water that had pooled on the tarp while it was being installed poured onto a row of cabinets. Fortunately, none of my crew was hurt and the damage was repaired. But that experience taught me that I had to explain to my customers all of the things that can go wrong if they do not provide the proper equipment for their modular home delivery and set. It also taught me to delay the start of a set if the equipment is not on site.

Help Your Dealer Protect Your Home During the Modular Home Delivery and Set

When your dealer tells you to provide equipment for your modular home delivery and set day, remember that he isn’t just protecting his interests; he is also protecting your house.
For more information about the modular home delivery and Set, see The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

Are You Ready Willing and Able to Build a Modular Home

It takes most customers awhile to shop for a new home. When they’re finally ready to build, the last thing they want is to be slowed down by some unanticipated steps. Unfortunately, that’s what usually happens. Most customers are surprised by these delays because they haven’t given enough thought to what they need to do be ready willing and able to build a modular home.

Are You Be Ready Willing and Able to Build a Modular Home on Schedule

Personal Situation

  • Start a new job
  • Get married
  • Welcome a new baby
  • Say goodbye to your oldest child
  • Receive an inheritance
  • Receive an insurance settlement
  • Close on the sale of your house or have no house to sell
A "sold" home sign indicating that the seller is almost ready willing and able to build a modular home
If you own an existing home, you will likely need to sell it before you are ready willing and able to build a modular home

Selections

  • Home style
  • Home specifications
  • Modular dealer
  • Scope of on-site contracting work
  • General contractor

Building Lot

  • Purchase or receive as gift
  • Survey
  • Subdivide

Town Approvals

  • Zoning board
  • Planning board
  • Wetlands
  • Septic design
  • Building Permit

Financing

  • Lender financing or a sufficient source of private funds
  • Acceptable debt
  • Acceptable credit
  • Cash to cover
    • Mortgage down payment
    • Bank and legal fees
    • Carrying costs during construction
    • Dealer deposit requirements
    • GC deposit requirements

Some of the steps might only add a day or two, but others can delay you months from being ready willing and able to build a modular home. The sooner you identify where you stand with each, the sooner you’ll be able to form a realistic schedule and begin working on overcoming any obstacles.

Don’t Wait Until You Are Ready Willing and Able to Build a Modular Home before Signing with the Dealer

One final word. Even if you’re facing delays, I recommend that you sign a contract with the dealer and contractor as soon as you’ve made your selection. Otherwise, you may unwittingly create even more delays. To protect yourself, make sure your contracts include the contingencies mentioned in my 12/7/11 blog, “What You Need from Your Dealer – Part 1, Legalese”.
For a more detailed answer to the question, are you ready willing and able to build a modular home, see Building a Modular Home on Schedule in my book The Modular Home.