Thinking about that dream renovation for your home, but don’t know where to start? May is Building Safety Month, and the City’s Inspections Department would like to help protect you from experiencing the many issues we’ve encountered over the years.

We have a team of building code experts who are tasked with the adoption and enforcement of building codes and ordinances that specify the standards for constructing buildings, residences, and nonbuilding structures.

Keep in mind that these adopted codes are minimum standards, designed to safeguard the public safety, health and welfare, and safety to life and property from fire and other hazards.

Getting started finding a contractor

Always do your homework when choosing a contractor. The Huntsville/Madison County Builders Association is a large organization, comprised of many types of trade and professional contractors for almost any project. They can refer contractors who specialize in areas of work you are proposing. There are others, but the information you can get here is extremely valuable. Obtain multiple proposals before making your choice.

No matter which contractor you choose, ask them for copies of their licenses or cards and insist on seeing copies of their general liability insurance, and any references they can provide. If they can’t or won’t provide this information, move on to someone else. The City of Huntsville Inspection Department can assist with license information on request.

Insist upon a written contract

Contracts are required by some state licensing boards and are essential for the consumer to know exactly what will be provided and installed within the scope of their job. The contract should provide timelines, detailed specifications of products and materials, and should include payment schedules and change orders and their associated costs. The contract should be discussed, agreed upon, and signed by both parties. Always obtain a copy of the contract for your records. One should be cautious of making large upfront payments, exceeding about 25 percent. In the case of a disagreement or civil action, the contract is the only binding agreement between the parties and will be relied upon by a judge or jury to provide the necessary information to render a judgment.

When do I need a permit?

Any combination of materials and labor in excess of $250, or any project dealing with structural issues, requires the issuance of a permit. Often, we hear that contractors will tell their customer that a permit is not required for their scope of work. Usually, it is an attempt to perform the work without the permit and associated inspections that would follow.

Permits allow our inspectors the right to be on your property. We will verify that the work performed by the contractor meets the intent of the codes. If a contractor asks you to get the permit, there is usually a licensing issue, so beware. They will also claim it would be cheaper for you because you are the homeowner. There is no cost difference, one versus the other. Permits help protect you and your property. Make the contractor be accountable.

By following these simple steps, you can make your next project a dream rather than a nightmare. As always, the City of Huntsville Inspection Department is available to assist with questions or concerns you may have.