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Home Improvement Projects Require Town Inspections



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Home Improvement Projects Require Town Inspections

By Andrew Gorosko

Building a home addition, such as a porch or deck, involves more than making a trip to the nearest hardware store to buy lumber, paint, and nails.

The town requires that homeowners obtain a building permit for such improvements, to ensure that the structure that is built complies with applicable building safety code requirements.

“We try to be user-friendly,” said Newtown Building Official Tom Paternoster, explaining that the town building office is ready and willing to help applicants navigate the complexities of obtaining required approvals for home improvement projects.

“Anyone who has any questions, please call,” he said. The building department exists to help the public, he said. As such, the building department will provide advice to applicants who are unfamiliar with the town’s building permit review process.

The town building department, which formerly was located at Canaan House at Fairfield Hills, has moved to new quarters at 31 Peck’s Lane.

“Inspections are very important… We are assuring that the job is in compliance with Connecticut building codes,” Mr Paternoster said.

The department provides informational packets explaining to applicants the town approvals that are needed to accomplish various improvement projects. Information is available on deck and porch construction, home additions, finished basements, swimming pools, new homes, and other projects.

To obtain a building permit to add a deck or porch to a home, an applicant must complete a building department application and a zoning application, and provide four copies of the building plans drawn to scale, plus two copies of a plot plan, including an A-2 survey. Also required is proof of workers’ compensation insurance or an insurance affidavit.

Obtaining the approvals that are required for a certificate of occupancy involves trips to the tax assessor’s office, tax collector’s office, the zoning department, conservation department, the health district office, and the building department for “sign-offs,” or approvals, on paperwork. More complex applications may require approvals from the town engineer and fire marshal.

If a burglar alarm or fire alarm is part of the project, those alarms must be registered with the police department.

An architect’s designs typically are not needed for a home addition project, unless the homeowner desires an architect’s services, or the project involves complex work, such as the installation of structural steel beams.

Finding a suitable builder to construct a home addition may involve getting a positive recommendation from someone who has had that builder do quality work for them, according to Mr Paternoster.

The town building department prefers that builders and the people who hire builders resolve any problems that may arise during the course of a construction project between themselves, rather than involving the building department in the matter, Mr Paternoster said. Most projects, though, proceed smoothly, he added.

Various building inspection fees are levied based on a project’s estimated construction value.

In inspecting a home addition, building inspectors check many aspects of the project, including building footings and footing drains. They also make a “rough” inspection and an insulation inspection. If installation of a fireplace is part of the job, the hearth and its “smoke shelf” also must be checked, Mr Paternoster said.

Also, any work that is found to be improperly done on an initial inspection must be modified to meet the building code and then reinspected.

Mr Paternoster warns that although homeowners may sometimes simply tackle a home improvement project without obtaining required approvals, they may eventually regret it.

Most commonly, homeowners finish their basements to create family rooms without obtaining required approvals. That construction may involve plumbing, electrical work, heating, and the installation of drywalls and insulation.

Besides safety considerations, making such improvements without getting approvals poses practical problems when the house is put up for resale, Mr Paternoster said. Before a house can be resold, home improvements that have escaped building inspections must be inspected, he said.

Such after-the-fact inspections may involve complex and time-consuming disassembly work to ensure that the improvement work was properly done, he said.

The town building department’s telephone number is 270-4260. The office hours are weekdays from 8 am to 4:30 pm.

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