By Carole Hawkins, [email protected]
A building inspector is someone you normally wish you could avoid. But what if a building inspector personally gave you tips and updates?
David Hacker won a lunch with Jacksonville’s head building inspector in a NEFBA contest last year.
In February, Hacker, the owner of Construction Specialties of North Florida, shared his prize.
Tom Goldsbury, chief of the Building Inspection Division for Jacksonville, talked about the inspection process and the latest changes to city codes at the February lunch meeting of the Northeast Florida Builders Association’s Remodelers Council.
About 50 members — new home builders and tradesmen, as well as remodelers — attended.
“We’re busy and I hope you guys are busy,” Goldsbury said. “We’re seeing a lot of work come to town that’s never been here before.
Keeping up to date with codes is not easy. But Goldsbury offered a tip: Sign up for bulletins on the city of Jacksonville’s Building Inspection website. It will email an alert any time something new is coming, he said.
He addressed several issues at the meeting.
Which comes first, zoning or permitting?
Applying for a Certificate of Use (COU) in order to convert use confuses a lot of people, Goldsbury said, and he’s trying to get the process changed.
Converting use is a type of improvement where the owner is going to use a building differently than it was before.
For example, a new owner wants to put a restaurant in a building that formerly housed an art gallery. It can mean different requirements apply, such as the number of parking spaces needed.
Every new business must apply for and receive a COU from zoning, including those that are converting use. The business must also apply for a building permit when construction is performed.
Right now, city law says an owner can’t get a building permit until he gets COU approval from zoning.
But it doesn’t make sense to issue a COU until after the contractor has made the changes required for the new use, Goldsbury said. Sometimes owners get the COU issued from zoning and never make the changes.
A recent bulletin from Building Inspection said contractors can now get a building permit issued without the COU, but must have the COU from zoning in time for the final inspection.
Ultimately, Goldsbury would like to have the two computer systems –– Building Inspection’s and zoning’s –– tied together, so if a permit also requires a COU, they can be processed at the same time.
Landscaping not as much an issue now
Commercial contractors sometimes bump up against a rule known as the 50 percent rule.
The city’s Landscaping Tree and Protection Code says when a renovation or expansion costs 50 percent or more than the value of the existing improvements (a property’s value minus the land value), the owner must also bring the landscaping up to code.
Goldsbury said he’s seen cases where an old building might only be worth $10,000 and is entirely surrounded by concrete. A renovation could cost $20,000.
“That’s definitely more than 50 percent,” he said. “So now I’ve got to put trees around here and all the landscape code.”
A few weeks ago the code was changed. The 50 percent trigger is still there, but owners only need to add landscaping at a cost of 20 percent of the overall improvements. It will be a lot less painful to someone trying to renovate an old building, Goldsbury said.
Not every permit requires a final inspection. Window and door replacement projects under $5,000, for example, get a permit that auto-expires.
The terminology was recently changed from “auto-expire” to “Finalized-NIF,” where NIF means non-inspected final. Not everybody liked the idea that a permit could “auto-expire,” Goldsbury said.
Certain permits can be issued online, such as siding installation, roofing and windows and doors. That way, the contractor doesn’t have to go down to the Building Inspection Division office.
Be sure the product approval sheets are available for the inspection, though, Goldsbury said.
“Our guys can’t know what every product requires — whether your windows and doors need this many or that many screws, and where,” he said.
Installing a vintage door
How do you get a product approval for a door your homeowner bought from Eco Relics?
Well, you really can’t, Goldsbury said. It’s a one-of-a-kind door.
Building Inspection will accept an engineer’s or architect’s review that signs off on the door.
Otherwise it could cost you more for the product approval than it would for the door, Goldsbury said.