Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
The Small Home, Big Decisions series follows Jennifer and her husband, Tyler, as they build a self-reliant homestead on a piece of country property in northeastern Kansas. The series will delve into questions that arise during their building process and the decisions they make along the way. The posts are a work in progress, written as their home-building adventure unfolds.
Like it or not, before you can build a home in most locations, you have to first apply for and receive a building permit. We needed a building permit for a single family residence from the Leavenworth County Planning and Zoning department before we could turn the open foundation hole, shown above from a fun angle, into our home. As far as paperwork goes, this was the last piece we had to organize and complete with the county (fingers crossed). The septic inspector will come check out the septic system installation later on, but that will be the only remaining “i” to dot or “t” to cross with the planning and zoning folks.
Curious about how to get a building permit? Below is the full list of items we needed to complete, followed by the details of how we went about handling them.
1. Completed signed application. We decided that our contractor, Jeff Wooster, would be best at handling the remaining pieces and the official application process at the county office. We had to fill out a form that authorized him to act in our stead and have that form notarized. Jeff took it in with the rest of our permit application materials, including the actual signed application form. From here on out, he is the main point of contact with the county. (Cheers to that!)
2. Copy of the property deed. We made a copy of our original deed and sent it along with Jeff. If he’d needed to, he could have had a new one printed out at the county’s Register of Deeds office for no charge.
3. Site Plan indicating the location of the following items: a. Proposed residence with front, side, and rear setbacks indicated and relative location of other structures on property; b. location of center line of the driveway dimensioned from property line. This one sounded difficult, but it turns out Jeff could do it at the Planning and Zoning department’s office. They printed off an aerial map of our property, and Jeff drew the required details directly on the map. His drawing, coupled with a copy of our final plat survey, did the trick.
4. A set of building plans indicating total square footage of all floors. We were able to directly email a PDF copy of our final house plans to the county. (Important side note: This is what we mean about advance planning. These last two points sound so easy, but it took months of time and thousands of dollars to complete the plat survey and the building plans.)
5. A letter from the Water Company stating service can be provided to the property or a copy of a bill. We were exempt from needing this piece because we decided to use well water (see No. 7 below).
6. A letter from the Electric Company stating service can be provided to the property or a copy of a bill. We called the electric company (we are planning to incorporate renewable energy but not be totally off-grid) and had their representative come out. He met with Jeff and made a plan for getting the electric line onto our property. We ended up having to take out some trees at our property entrance to make way for an electric pole and line, but we are cutting those trees into firewood and plan to bury the line from this pole at our entrance up to the house (so we don’t have to look at it all the time).
7. A copy of the State permit for a well, if applicable. We have decided to dig a well (more details to come in an upcoming post), and this state permit was turned in by the company that will drill the well. Turns out our property sits atop plenty of water that is a little salty but still safe for watering animals, irrigating our garden crops, and running into the house.
8. A private sewage disposal permit or public sewer permit if within a sewer district. As we’ve written in earlier posts, the septic system application and approval has been the biggest hurdle to jump in order to pull a building permit. (Note to readers: Even if we decide to install composting toilets, we must have a septic system in place per the county’s regulations and in order for our bank loan to be finalized.) Our septic installer successfully completed the perc test, so this piece of the building permit was already filed.
In addition, although it isn’t listed on the requirements, there is, of course, a fee. A residential building permit for a 1,500 to 2,999 square-foot structure, such as our house, costs $400. The new septic permit is priced at $150. So, along with the forms listed above, Jeff took in a check written to the county for $550 to get our permit squared away.
Technically, we aren’t allowed to build on the property until the building permit is posted at the site. So far, we haven’t started actual construction of the structure, but we have a gravel driveway and a hole dug for our foundation whenever the permit is approved. By the end of this week, we should have an address, a posted permit at the construction site, and the green light to pour the concrete.
Photo by Jennifer Kongs.
Next in the series: Homestead Planning with Bonus Morel Mushroom Hunting
Previously in the series: Moving Dirt to Build a Home and Gravel Driveway
Jennifer Kongs is the Managing Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. When she’s not working at the magazine, she’s likely in her garden, on the local running trails or in her kitchen instead. You can connect directly with Jennifer and Tyler by leaving a comment below!