getting permit-tion, passing inspections and lessons learned

To date we have had to get 10 different permits for the work we’ve completed, and that is ongoing, up in here.

1 Mechanical for the new HVAC.

2 Building Dept – one for the general interior upgrades we’ve been making (like removing drop ceilings, stripping wood slat walls and installing a new board and batten accent wall) and one specific to the best weekend ever and the subsequent build-out and new windows and trim and siding.

3 Electrical – one for the original electric system upgrade, one for the HVAC electrical and one for the new electrical in the vaulted ceiling.

4 HARC Permits – That’s the historical review commission here in Key West.  And they like to make decisions on things.  :)

I tell you this because the flow of work really is dependent on knowing which permits we need, and in what order, and calling the appropriate inspections in … again, in the right order.

This is where professional help really is well, helpful.  We’ve gotten a lot of great advice and know-how from our contractor friends.  Let’s be honest, places like the building department are the types of places that really just expect you to know what you’re doing most of the time.

So after the best weekend ever, we had our first inspection, the sheathing inspection where they check the materials and nails used for “appropriateness”.

Since a picture of plywood and nails is boring, how about this shot when they were still framing in the new roof.  #BigA$$SkylightAnyone?
After we were deemed appropriate, which was long after the skylight stage, we were free to attach the soffit and fascia boards to finish off the edge around the roof to prepare for the roofers.

Before soffit and fascia:

After soffit and fascia:

(If anyone’s looking for details about soffit and fascia just give me a shout.)

Lesson Learned #1 – Even if you’re working with professionals it benefits everyone to keep at least a basic grasp on the next steps of the project.  We actually had roofers come and get started on the roof over a month ago … only to realize half a day into their work that the fascia board hadn’t been installed yet.  No fascia board means we weren’t ready for the roof.  I wish I had put two and two together before they spent half a day doing work they ended up needing to rip out.  :(

It took some time to get the roofers lined up for a second go-round, but they did come by and “dry in” the roof. Essentially laying ice and water shield so we were protected from the elements, but still roofless.

On the inside, next up came the electrical inspection for the new switches and wiring we ran for the lights in the newly vaulted ceiling.

installing recessed lights

Funny story about when I went to get that permit … Sometimes the permit stipulations really are just all about money and politics and my opinion or knowledge is the least of their concern.  When I applied for the permit for the electric work for the new vaulted ceiling they questioned my estimated cost of the project.  Turns out the fee for the permits is based on that estimated cost so the higher the estimated cost the higher my permit fee.

Setting all of my opinion and knowledge about what it was going to cost aside (even though I knew for sure because I had already bought the supplies) I let the building department do the math for me which went something like:

Building Dept Employee – “Let’s say $100 for supplies, about a half days work of labor for 2 guys (even though we were doing the work ourselves we needed to add in the cost of labor) at $20 an hour is about $200 … so put $400 for the estimated cost and you’ll be good.”

Me – “Works for me, thanks for your help.”

Does that math add up?  No.  Would it have benefited me in any way to question it?  No.

Lesson Learned #2 – Sometimes playing dumb can be very smart.

With our electrical permit in hand, wiring done and inspection passed you may have found us strutting around the house saying things like “of course we passed, I know the electrical code like the back of my hand”.

And to prove that we, in fact, did not know the code like the back of our hands here are two key takeaways from that process.

Code regulations that were news to me –

  • Fire blocking blown insulation is required in any hole that goes up through the walls.
  • Two grounding wires are not allowed to be attached to the same screw on a switch.  The code requires that they are attached to each other with a wire nut with one “pigtail” piece connecting them to the screw. Who knew?  :)

After the electrical inspection was the framing inspection.  The big key here was hurricane straps, a requirement down here in Cane country.  They’re just 18″ long straps that secure the old structure to the new construction attached above it, and the strap the walls to the roof framing.  It’d probably be a good idea to check for local regulations like this in your area to see if there are any particular regulations specific to your region.

With the framing inspection passed we got the green light to insulate.  Using regular rolls of insulation we filled in between all of the roof rafters and new wall studs and used bits and pieces in all of the random nooks and crannies left from the old porch walls and the new window sizes.

After the insulation inspection was passed we were cleared to finish up all interior work.

Lesson Learned #3 – I had no idea how many little steps of the process required a separate inspection.  At this point I was glad I had taken the time to make conversation and get to know both the electrical and building inspectors.  Collectively, for all of the permits, they have been to the house 11 times and counting. We’re like old buddies now.

Take the time to be kind and respectful and there’s a greater likelihood that they will treat me the same way.  I can only imagine how many different types of personalities the inspectors deal with on a daily basis.  And they have to keep a close eye on what everyone is doing.  For everyone “doing it right” I have no idea how many people aren’t.  The inspectors don’t define the regulations, they are just doing their job to enforce them.

I’d rather be a project they might look forward to inspecting than one they dread.

And we finally got on the roofers schedule last week so with that project underway we felt comfortable hanging some drywall!!  Dude, we have walls!!  Kind of.

We’re still waiting on the delivery of that small window so we can’t quite finish off the drywall up there.  But that can’t stop me from dreaming about paint and furniture and over-sized wall art pieces!!


  1. Cordelle says

    Well, it only took us a year and a half to figure out what kind of roof we wanted and what color….I am so impressed with all your choices and what you have accomplished!!

  2. says

    So fun to be “riding along” as you continue with this great big project. My own house is a “chip away at it year by year while we live here” type project, so it’s a blast to come to your house and see you guys pounding away at big changes. Woohoo! We’ve been through the permit process before, on our last house, and it was quite enlightening! One thing we found is that different inspectors have different things they focus on — even within the same department. So one electrical inspector will really be all about one thing, and then you think you’re all set but the next guy will find something different. Just different people with different things on their mind. It was fun and educational, though. Lovely to see what you’re up to and what’s coming next! ~Angela~

  3. txvoodoo says

    Remember your bit about ‘not working’?? Whenever you feel that way, come back and read this post. You have a job: project manager, at the very least!

    • says

      Welcome!! I have a friend who has a little house up in Marathon, that was my first Keys experience last summer. We feel so fortunate to have found our way here. :)

  4. says

    My husband and I honeymooned in KW 5 years ago and our annual trips down have gotten longer! One of these years… (he threatens not to come back up North with me!) Anyway, til then I will have to live vicariously through you. Thanks! Paula

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