Sunday, September 9, 2007

balcony building and getting a building permit in ottawa

Ever since i've owned my house, i've known that i've needed to have some work done to its rear end. As you can see in the picture, which was taken shortly after i took possession, theres always been a door leading to nowhere. The original owner even nailed a few 2x10's up there for me to "get started" on an awesome balcony. Thanks!!! Unfortunately after discussion and research, nailing to the side of a non waterproof surface is probably not a good idea for a structurally sound chill pad for apt. #2.
addition 1

So this year, the main plan was to get er done. I started early on researching and discussing with an experienced friend of mine exactly "how" i was going to do it. I went through a few basic structures and ideas:
  • Build it on top of the existing structure

  • Build it with supports in the ground

  • With or without stairs?

  • In the end, i settled on a no stair, but extended balcony that is NOT supported by the structure underneath. Basically if it was, it would of required engineer's help to verify the integrity of that structure, and that structure was highly suspect. The previous owner did an "ok" job on everything done, and i just didn't trust it.

    So late last year i realized if i was going to build a balcony up there, i should probably ensure that the roof was good. Because it would really suck to have to tear down the balcony to fix a leaky roof. And the roof was already leaky. So i had the roof replaced. Which was not cheap, but at least i trust it now. Its properly flashed all around, and is in good shape. Earlier this year, i also decided to have eavestrophing installed on the roof above the door. That part of the roof is the lowest point so a lot of water attracted down that wall, and would be onto the roof, causing more water issues. I thought that was a good idea, and i'm happy with the result.

    Then came the building permit. From conception and farting around on the city of ottawa's web site to issuance, it was many months. But i got it in the end.

    The problem with the building permit, is the plans. The application itself is nothing, but it must be accompanied by plans of what you're going to do. Which makes sense. But is not trivial. I do believe you can get home depot and/or rona type stores to do plans for you for "free", but i kinda wanted to do this all myself. As i said i have a friend who helped conceptualize what the thing would look like, and then i just needed a tool to put it together. In retrospect i would have been MUCH easier to have someone else do it, but i was stubborn and like doing things myself so i understand them.

    Enter Google Sketchup. Is there anything google can't do? I mean this tool is amazing. In a nutshell, its a layman's CAD tool. You can design pretty much anything in it, and if you really want to, import it into google earth (which apparently has a flight sim built into it, but i haven't tried it). So if you design a house or a building, you can plop it down in the googleverse and see what it looks like. I have not done this. But what i did do, was design the whole thing in sketchup, as well as site and floor plans where necessary.

    The end result is pretty sweet. After quite a few hours i developed a model of the entire balcony including every piece of lumber to be used, proper angles, railing, etc.. I thought this was a much cleaner idea than drawing up some crappy sketches that would no doubt need to be updated during the permit talks. And i was right about that!
    Side view

    Getting the building permit was quite an ordeal. Once the drawings were done and i had filled out the application, here's a summary of how it went down:

    1) Show up at city hall on a friday morning.

    2) No lineup, ask to submit an application for a building permit.

    3) The lady looks it over, tells me it'll be 80 odd dollars, and calls the dude from the back.

    4) The dude spends a few minutes looking it over, and takes issue with a few points. My footings were not deep enough (originally i had 4 foot holes, they needed to be 6 feet), and i needed to properly quote building code sections for the blocking and railing, or have a proper diagrams that showed screws and specifics.

    5) I asked where i can see the building code

    6) He said it was for sale "over there".

    7) I said gee thanks.

    8) I then thought about it, and decided to go to the library. They did not have the 2006 building code, but they had the 1997 + amendments.

    9) I spent some serious time going through all the different schematics coming up with a now different railing plan. The lady at the library was very nice as i didn't have my card, but let me borrow one of their photocopy cards, and i just payed what i spent when i left. How trusting!!!

    10) I choose a model i liked, made photo copies of all the appropriate sections, and went home.

    11) I then updated my model with the footing adjustments and changes to the blocking and railing, printed it off again, and went back.

    12) They accepted the application!!! Yay!!! I paid the 80 odd dollars.

    13) About 6 business days later, i get an email from someone at the city that was assigned to my application. It contained a pdf of issues, which included, among a few other things, that the photocopies from the old building code needed to be from the 2006 building code. Arg!!!

    14) I bought the damn 2006 building code. 150$. Now i'll have it forever. Or at least until 2012 when a new one comes out and this one becomes useless reference material.

    15) I made photocopies of the newly revised sections, which looked to be identical to me, and now proceeded to communicate with this nice lady via faxes and emails.

    16) We sorted out the remainder of the issues over the next week and a half, mostly to do with floor plans, and "is it a fire exit", etc..

    17) Roughly a month after the initial application, i was back at city hall signing the real permit. I got my original plans and faxes stamped, and a sheet to put up on my window saying i'm a wicked permit holder.

    All in all it wasn't a horrible experience, and i understand why the back and forths occurred, and i understand why you need to quote from the new building code, but they really should make the building codes available for perusal at city hall. That part is ridiculous.

    Once i had the permit i was assigned an inspector. I discussed with him what inspections i need. I needed an excavation, framing, and final inspection. I have had the excavation inspection, and it went very smoothly - he didn't even measure the awesome 6 foot depth. I dug 2 perfectly deep 6 feet by 2" diameter holes and he didn't measure them!!! O well, at least i know they're the real deal.

    There will be more boring assed balcony discussion to come, you can bet your bottom beam on that.


    1. Bob, I hate to do this after you spent $150, but the Building Code is online, along with almost all provincial regulations:

    2. Thanks for the tip David!! I'm not 100% that site has what i need however. It seems to have all the "sections", but not the supplementary material, ie the diagrams. On the Ontario Building Code site, it offers to sell the code *online* for 100 or so a year... it would be really strange (but not impossible) if all that material was actually available elsewhere for free.

    3. Great info. It's helpful to see the application process from the inside. I live in a tiny 1920's house in Centretown, and I may be adding to it in a few years. The building permit thing alone is baffling. Glad to see it worked out for you.