Permits and Inspections

The permitting process and interaction with the Portland Bureau of Development Services is in some ways almost as challenging as some of the design and construction issues.
As I see it BDS is more oriented towards commercial developers than home owners. I should know the process well by the time my ADU is finished but until then I’m doing everything for the first time.
BDS recently setup “Residential Permit Nights” Thursday evenings where you go in to 1900 SW 4th Ave and sort out permits without waiting in line with contractors. It’s an idea, but I don’t think they have entirely the right expertise there to answer much beyond standard requests. The one time I used the service I was given sewer connection advice that was completely wrong.
I usually go into BDS daytimes but recently I’ve noticed a trend where instead of sitting me down with a subject matter expert I am given a phone number to call, leave a message, then wait for a callback to discuss. It’s not the same as being able to sit with someone with plans and show them what I’m doing.
The real expertise resides in the senior inspectors and I have received invaluable advice in the past from the senior Plumbing Inspector. However I’m finding them increasingly difficult to reach.
The other comment I’ll make is that I think the inspectors, for the most part, try to be helpful to home owners. I messed up the inspection codes for the underslab plumbing inspection but the inspector was able to resolve the issue. They might not be nearly as lenient to commercial contractors.

My Permits

The architect applied for the building permit on which I’m listed as the contractor. So it’s my responsibility to request building inspections and track them.
The electrical permit is handled entirely by my electrician. I’m not able to do any of this work including run underground conduit without the City putting a 2 year block on ability to rent out the property.
The drainline rough-in I am able to do myself without rental restrictions and I pulled my own permit. The actually plumbing work inside the ADU must be done by a plumber so that won’t be my permit issue.

Record of Permits and Inspections

The building permit comes with a blue “Residential Inspection Record Card”. It’s really important to get every inspector to sign off this sheet even for trade permits that contractors have raised.

The first section contains the inspection codes you might need to call before pouring the slab. I called BDS and we worked out that I needed 215-Setbacks, 230-Reinforcing/Concrete, and 227-Grounding Electrode.
But then the inspector is a different person with different ideas about what codes are needed plus they can see the actual situation on site.
I probably should have filled in the paperwork for 200-erosion control as we were shifting dirt around, although I slipped by that one as it was an existing structure. The inspector commented I was doing a good job on that.
He asked to see the paperwork for the survey markers on the property line so he could check the setbacks. I had a survey done 2 years ago before building the back fence however I hadn’t paid the ~$400 to get this formally registered with the city. I was able to get through that by explaining it was an existing structure and I was putting it back (was required to put it back) exactly where the original building had been. (However if you are building a new ADU, then you need to be prepared for the City to insist on formal survey documentation.)
He asked about an insulation code – however there was no insulation code listed in the pre-pour section so I’d never requested one. I told him there was a complete insulation system that would be inspected later and he didn’t push that any further.
He commented that the builder had done an excellent job on the foundation prep and formwork.

My biggest mistake so far

Then  he asked “Where’s your 305-Underslab Plumbing?”. The previous week I’d had the underslab plumping inspected and had a 399-Final signed off on the rough-in permit. What I should have done was also called a second code – a 305 on the Building Permit.
So there it was 14 hours before the concrete pour with a half dozen people scheduled (and paid for) to arrive and pour concrete. The builder was like “The concrete is getting poured tomorrow!”.
I left a message with the plumbing inspector who had done the inspection 5 days earlier asking him to urgently call back. He did, right at the end of the day. He clearly couldn’t remember the inspection, however told me that if there had been any problem he would have noted it and if anyone gave me any trouble over the codes then have them call him and he would sort it out.

If I had the plumbing inspector sign the blue form when he did the 399-Final on the Plumbing permit then it’s likely he would have noticed I needed a 305.
So it’s really important to always get the blue form signed and to ask the inspector if there are any other codes that should have been called.

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Bill Dickens

I grew up on a hill country farm in New Zealand, then lived and worked in Hong Kong. I moved to Portland, Oregon in 2009. I'm presently renovating my 1929 "English Cottage" house in the Irvington Historic District.

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