Vail Valley Voices: Building permits mean safer homes |

Vail Valley Voices: Building permits mean safer homes

Jennifer Eliuk
Vail, CO, Colorado

My dad is one of the handiest people I know. When I was little, he built a gorgeous gazebo for our new house with no plans, landscaped another so well we won an award, and could fix anything that broke around the house or in the car.

We never had any repair people at our house unless it was for warranty work on an appliance. A lot of people enjoy doing home improvement projects themselves, as my father does.

However, when we move into a new home, the welcome wagon rarely shows up to educate us on when we might need a building permit for those projects.

When someone calls me at Community Development to ask if they need a permit, the answer is normally “yes.” In the town of Vail, and most other local jurisdictions, the determination for when a building permit is required comes straight out of the building code, not a local ordinance.

Right now, the town of Vail is using the 2003 International Building and Residential Codes, and it provides a list of items that do not require a permit, such as: painting, carpeting, tiling, sidewalks no more than 30 inches above grade, among some others. The list is very limited, so as you can see, most home building projects require a building permit.

Why do we need building codes and permits? Building codes were established to protect people and are considered a minimum for life-safety.

The first building codes were part of the Code of Hammurabi, one of the first ancient law codes (and the best preserved) from ancient Babylon. Here is a particularly interesting excerpt found on Wikipedia: “229. If a builder builds a house for someone, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built falls in and kills its owner, then that builder shall be put to death.”

Thankfully, modern codes are a little less melodramatic and instead focus on how buildings should be constructed to ensure that occupants are safe.

When a building permit is applied for, plans and other documents that communicate what work is being proposed are submitted, and we review it for compliance with adopted codes before the work begins.

On-site inspections ensure that the project is being built to the approved plans. Without building permits, simple oversights in a building project could create fatal results.

For example, decks built with pressure-treated wood (to prevent rot) must use special nails and fasteners, or the chemicals in the wood could eat right through regular nails, causing premature deck failure.

After natural disasters, such as hurricanes, it often becomes obvious that strict enforcement of building codes helps preserve property and lives.

This past September, Hurricane Ike hit the coast of Texas with disastrous results, particularly in Gilchrist, where about 200 homes were completely and utterly destroyed, yet one home built to newer codes survived, and the dramatic pictures of the Adams’ residence circulated news and Internet sites quickly.

Other town approval requirements:

Even though your project may not require a building permit, it may still require town approval. For example, when any changes are made to the exterior of a building, such as repainting or landscaping, town Design Review Board approval must be obtained before starting work. This approval exists to ensure we have not only a safe, but a beautiful community for our guests and residents. Projects in or connecting to the public way (such as replacing a driveway pan) require a public way permit through Public Works.

If you have an upcoming project, please give me a call.

Jennifer Eliuk, development review coordinator for the town of Vail, can be reached at 970-479-2128.

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