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How To Build A House in Philadelphia – Building Permits

by Chad Ludeman on December 4, 2008 · 2 comments

in Development

This is the second of a three post series on “How to Build a House in Philadelphia.” The first post detailed how to obtain Zoning Approval for your new house project. This time we focus on getting the Building Permits. The final post will cover the Construction process.

Building Permits

Once you have obtained your Zoning Approval, you are ready to move on to submitting for Building Permits. This is the main building permit you will need for the overall project. The individual permits for things like electrical and plumbing will be handled by your GC and/or your subcontractors. This process usually takes 15 days or less, but the entire process will be a bit longer as they usually find something you missed on the plans submitted.

The majority of the information below originates from the City of Philadelphia’s Licenses & Inspections (L&I) Department’s permits section on their website.

  1. Download he Building Permit Checklist (doc) to use as a guide while preparing to submit your building permit application. This has useful contact info that you will need in the steps below also.
  2. Download and fill out an Application for Building Permit (pdf) from the city for each property you are planning to build.
  3. Have building plans drawn up by a licensed architect that meet the city’s Building Plans Submission Standards (pdf). You will need three copies to submit to L&I. Tip: Make sure you cover all the bullet points on the Building Plans page for both the application form and building plans.
  4. In addition to the Application and Plans above you will need to fulfill everything on the New Construction and Additions (pdf) checklist shown below:
    • Approved site plans and Zoning/Use Registration Permit. (You will have this after completing the zoning application process)
    • Water and sewer availability, storm water management from the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD). This step is a doozy.
      • Download this Sewage Facilities Planning form (pdf), follow the instructions and fill it out.
      • As part of this form you will be required to a “PNDI Project Environmental Review Receipt” which you will need to create an account for online and follow their instructions.
      • Once all of this is completed, you can send this to Eric Ponert (his email is in the Sewage Facilities Planning form) at the PWD along with plot plans and he will send you the certification you are seeking.
      • Once that cert is obtained, take everything, including your completed building permit application, down to the PWD on the 2nd floor of 1101 Market Street. Take a right after walking through the glass doors outside the elevator. The kind people here will help you out and complete the hardest portion of the building permit application for you.
    • Approvals for curb cuts, driveways or encroachments on the public way from the Streets Dept. (This should have been taking care of during the zoning approval process)
    • Approvals from the following departments if necessary – Fairmount Park (residential subdivisions), Historical Commission (someone should notify you if your property or land is Historical), Art Commission and the City Planning Commission (usually for large projects).
    • Soils Investigation Report. You will need to provide this to your architects and structural engineer for them to complete the building plans. We use Ambric Technology Corp for our soils reports.
    • L&I “Structural Design Criteria (pdf)” Form – To be filled out by your licensed structural engineer.
    • L&I “Special Inspections (pdf)” Form – This can be filled out by your architect, but probably won’t be necessary for the average house. The building inspector may ask for something specific to be checked off on this list after reviewing your submitted plans.
    • L&I “Energy Conservation (pdf)” Forms – This should be filled out by your licensed architect and officially sealed by them. All supporting documents should also be attached to the completed form.
  5. If you are building a house next to one or two adjacent houses, you may be asked by L&I to submit a letter from your structural engineer or soils engineer stating that they will be responsible for inspecting your foundation. This happened to us and we had to have Ambric sign and seal a letter to this effect. The following is the verbage that L&I gave us for this matter: The construction documents shall include a detailed plan for protecting the footings and foundations of adjacent buildings and structures from settlement or lateral translation. This plan for protection of buildings must be designed by a registered professional engineer. Or in the event that no special precautions are warranted, the registered design professional shall provide a statement that, “No special precautions or measures are required to protect existing footings and foundation on the subject property or on the immediately adjoining property(ies)”.
  6. Review the Building Permit Checklist (doc) to determine if you have completed everything needed for your project prior to submitting your plans.
  7. OK, finally you are ready to head to L&I. Gather all of this stuff up and grab a building permit ticket and wait your turn. Hand everything over and pray you filled everything out correctly. Bring a check to pay your building permit filing fee of $25 per house. If you want to expedite it will cost you an extra $540 per house. Currently it is taking about 10-12 business days to reveiw building permit applications, so I don’t suggest doing this unless you are in a terrible rush.

Whew. That was rough. Hopefully I remembered everything. If not, I’ll be going through all of this soon enough for a second time and will make sure to update this post. Good luck and happy building.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 American Modern Living December 6, 2008 at 3:22 pm

Its great, I have been reading your blog long time.Its very informative especially the building permits topic. It has helped me a lot.

Thanks for posting.

2 Brenda C. Nichols March 11, 2009 at 10:41 am


Have 2 properties being completely rehabbed in Philadelphia,PA. Can you tell me what permits are required for rehabbing a home.


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