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When Not to Do Work – Preparing Your Home for a Business


Most people opening a residential board and care home, home plus, group home, or daycare have no experience with doing a major construction project, and remodeling a home for personal use is not the same as remodeling a home for commercial use. When remodeling your own home you just need to hire a contractor who files for a residential permit and then they can do the work, get their inspections and you’re done. But when you are remodeling a home for a business you have to realize you now fall under a different set of rules and layers of review.



There is no consistency from one city, county, or state to the next when it comes to the process of licensing a home for a business, and for that singular reason, it’s very important that you don’t dive into a remodel as soon as you get the keys from the realtor. Each city or county typically has a plan review board that represents a different jurisdiction, also referred to as Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ for short). Some AHJ’s want to oversee every detail of any commercial home project, some AHJ’s don’t care at all, and some AHJ’s only want to see your plans if you meet certain thresholds. Here as some examples.


1.      You want to open a children’s group home in a rural area, therefor the AHJ is the county, and the county doesn’t really do plan reviews, in this instance the ultimate authority having jurisdiction will be the State Fire Marshal (or in the few states that don’t have fire marshals, the State Department that licenses these homes), and we only have to tailor the remodel and code plans to satisfy their requirements. Projects that only have one AHJ typically get licensed faster.


2.      You want to open an Adult Day Care in a suburb of a large city, but the county itself has a single AHJ that oversees plan reviews of all projects in the county. This is in addition to the State Fire Marshal or Licensing Agency that will also independently review the code plans. This doesn’t mean that you automatically have to submit plans for review to the local county AHJ, sometimes there are certain thresholds, or levels of changes you need to make to the home, before the local AHJ will review the plans. For example, you are converting a home into a 8 person Adult Day Care, and per our plan review analysis, you won’t need to sprinkle the home. Your project will always need to be reviewed by the State level AHJ, but the local AHJ has a policy that without a sprinkler, they are more than happy to let the State review the plan since they in general just consider this a residential project and it doesn’t meet their thresholds of a commercial project. However, if for any reason we do determine that you need a sprinkler, then that will trigger a review by the local AHJ in addition to the State. Now we have two different authorities to satisfy, and that could mean two slightly different code plans (not all AHJ’s have adopted the same codes, so even if your home complies with one set of codes, it doesn’t mean it complies with the other set of codes).


3.      You want to open a small retirement home for elderly people in your home, the local city has policies that require that they review all building plans regardless of the number of residents and if the home is sprinkled or not. In these situations, we have to determine early on what the local AHJ’s specific requirements and codes are, especially any local ordinances that are unique rules that in the code books, and make sure we meet all of these.

It’s not easy to determine exactly what AHJ requirements you will have to satisfy, there are just too many variables. That’s why it’s very important to contact National Code Plans as soon as you start the process so we can identify what we can and can’t do the home when remodeling, and what codes and ordinances we’ll have to meet.

 

So the big question here is, why does all of this matter? It matters because if you don’t know the rules of a game, you tend to lose when you play it. If you know you want to convert the garage of your home into several bedrooms, and you hire a contractor and to do the work and they remodel the garage fully, then you contact National Code Plans to draw up the plan of your home, and we determine that the local city has a ordinance that all homes are required to have 2 covered parking spaces, you’ve now spent ten’s of thousands of dollars doing remodel work that you have to rip back out and convert the garage back. Or let’s say you bought a home with 5 bedrooms and will only have 5 adults living in it, and the State Fire Marshal says that only homes of 6 or more residents need to be sprinkled, so you’ve only saved and budgeted enough money to buy the home and add a sprinkler system. You’ve signed the mortgage and got your loans, but after contacting National Code Plans we determine that the local county requires all group homes, even if there is 1 resident, must be sprinkled, so now you have to find $40,000 add that sprinkler system before you can open the home. These are just two real life examples that have happened, and it can delay projects for months, or even indefinitely.


For the examples shown here, and for so many more reasons, it’s important that new homeowners realize that while you need to get open as soon as possible to start bringing in income, it’s equally important to understand that making unapproved changes to the home can quickly set you back in time and money. You need to understand the “rules of the game,” and just making a call to your local plan review department is often not enough, we know from experience that if you don’t know what questions to ask, you will only get partial or incomplete answers. National Code Plans has developed a list of specific questions to ask each Authority having Jurisdiction to determine exactly what needs to be done to the home so that you can open your business as soon as possible.

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