Building in Chicago can be an efficient and enjoyable process, assuming you know how the system works and anticipate where problems might come up. Understanding the design process, how to get approvals at the Chicago Department of Buildings, construction bidding, and the building process will go a long way to help you get your project built on time and within budget.

Design

MEPdesign

The first step in your construction project is the design process. The Chicago Department of Buildings has extensive

documentation on the building codes, city standards, and what you have to complete to be ready to submit for permits, including a guide to permits.

Even before you get to the permit process, you need to decide how you will achieve your project goals. If you are planning a commercial project, there are two main routes to achieve project completion.

  • The first option is hiring a Design-Build Firm that will carry you through the project process from conception to punch list.
  • The second option is to hire your own design team (Chicago engineers, architects etc.) and then hire a General Contractor.

Permits are the first big hurdle for owners after deciding on who will help you with your project. You need to find the professionals that can design and engineer the plans for the project. All of this has to happen before you can submit for permits. Once you have submitted, there is no guarantee that your permit will be issued.

To avoid delays on permitting, be sure you are engaging the services of qualified MEP Engineers and architects or that your Design-Build firm has qualified personnel. MEP Engineers are engineers specializing in the

  • Mechanical
  • Electrical
  • Plumbing

technical disciplines. These three building components are intrinsically connected within building structures, which makes it imperative they are designed together and cohesively. It is recommended to hire a firm that specializes in all three disciplines to avoid potential project pitfalls.

Approvals at Chicago Department of Buildings

The Chicago Department of Buildings, at the time of publication, has a number of different kinds of permits covering an array of circumstances. You can find the complete list of those here. Educating yourself on the permit process that applies to your specific project will greatly aid you in obtaining permit approval. Depending on the permit type submitted, the processing times vary.

If you are denied, there is an appeals process you can follow to try to have it overturned. The information on the appeals process is here. According to their website, the appeals process does not include appeals for electrical problems. Engaging the services of local Chicago engineers will ensure you have professionals with the know how to navigate the Chicago Building Codes and potentially avoid denials.

If you are looking for alternative routes for project specific approvals, there are a few offered by the Chicago Department of Buildings. The Alternative Code Approval process or a hearing before the Committee on Standards and Tests could lead to the ability to use innovative practices and new building technologies that are not already prohibited by the Building Code. This only applies if it is a planned component of your project to introduce a new and innovative way of doing things.

Construction Bidding

Once you have your permit approval you are ready to start asking for bids for your project. It is customary to put out a public request for proposals (RFP’s), especially for public works projects. Depending on your criteria for your contractors, you will need to collect at least 3 bids for each RFP you put out. Different projects may have requirements to use women owned or minority owned businesses. This must be taken into account when the proposals are reviewed.

You will want to send them out in enough time to assess the bids and ensure you are able to pick the best fit for the timeline and budget. If you have enlisted a general contractor already or are working with a Design-Build firm, they will handle this process and engage the requisite contractors to complete the project.

The bidding process itself boils down to companies bidding for the work and attempting to prepare the most enticing proposal that features

  • value-adds
  • within or under budget costs
  • potentially aggressive timelines

Your project manager, or equivalent, will help you select the bids that align best with your specific project needs. Not all bids are created equal, having qualified bid reviewers means taking the guesswork out of choosing the wrong one.

Once you have decided on a proposal, you send an acceptance letter to the contractor and begin the next stages of the working relationship. This includes signing contracts and establishing expectations for both parties that will be in effect for the duration of the project.

Building

Building designOnce you have your permits approved, your contractors selected, and everything is ready to go, you can finally begin the building process. Your project manager will do everything they can to ensure your project runs smoothly and adheres to the Chicago Department of Buildings requirements for active construction projects.

By now you know that there is a governing rule and body for each construction stage. There are strict rules about site cleanliness and noise pollution that must be observed to keep from getting shut down.

Another aspect you must contend with is inspections for each stage of construction before you can move on to the next. Working with qualified Chicago Engineers in the design process will make all the difference when it comes time for the various inspections to happen.

One of the final steps of the building process is applying for a Certificate of Occupancy if it is required for your project. Not all projects are required to have one. Your hired firm will help with this when it comes time to apply. The Certificate of Occupancy is issued by the Chicago Department of Buildings. It certifies that larger commercial buildings are compliant with the current building codes of the city.

Taking on the daunting task of building a new building (or renovating an old one) can be a rewarding and financially beneficial endeavor if you do your due diligence and take the time to find the right team for you.

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