Everything You Need to Know About the Chicago Building Process

Michael Tobias
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    The City of Chicago is famous for its tall buildings and state-of-the-art commercial as well as residential architecture. MEP engineering in Chicago incorporates cutting-edge construction designs to provide the city’s residents with some of the finest places to live and work in. However, you need to follow specific rules and regulations when constructing a building in Chicago. Construction companies need to keep the following points in mind:


    • Minimum Load – According to the Chicago Building Code, structures should support a prescribed minimum load, including dead weight. The guidelines for minimum loads are in the ‘American National Standard Minimum Design Loads for Building and Other Structures. A dead load of the building includes the weight of any permanent structure, such as floors, walls, ceilings, and other permanent fixtures. Live loads include the weight of occupants and other movable objects in the building.

    • Resistance to Local Damage – The structure should be strong enough to withstand local damage over time due to weather conditions and building occupants. Decks, balcony railing, porch, and stairways should be able to withstand minimum thrust, as defined in the building code.

    • Materials and Foundation – The materials used for the construction of the building should meet the minimum criteria, as laid down in the codebook. Piles, footings, foundation columns, caissons, and piers, should support the structure, as prescribed by the city’s building regulations.


    Approvals at the Chicago Department of Buildings

    In Chicago, the Department of Buildings uses the Chicago Building code to grant construction companies the permits to construct or renovate buildings. The city may grant different types of construction permits, depending on the scope and nature of the project. The different types of permits include:

    • Easy Permit
    • Developer or Direct Developer Permit
    • Standard Plan Review
    • Green Permit

    1. Easy Permit

    This permit covers non-structural repairs that do not require a new architectural plan. An easy permit covers those elements that you can repair or replace quickly. These include windows and doors, a wood-frame garage, furnace, hot water heater, fence, and electrical points.

    2. Developer or Direct Developer Services Permit

    The DS or Developer Service permit is for complex commercial projects, such as high-rise buildings greater than 150,000 sq feet. Since these types of projects involve multiple city agencies, approval of the Developer Services Permit involves a project administrator as well. The City’s Department of Building also holds a pre-submittal meeting with the applicant before issuing this permit.

    DDS or Direct Developer Service permit is similar to the DS permit, other than the addition of a peer review by the city of Chicago to streamline the process further. A Department of Building-certified Developer Service Consultant conducts this peer review.

    3. Standard Plan Review

    An SPR or Standard Plan Review permit is necessary for projects that do not fall into any of the above categories. There are no specific guidelines for granting SPR permits. The permitting facilitator is usually responsible to determine the documents that you need to submit along with your SPR permit application. The City of Chicago’s SPR approval process is 100% electronic and you can, therefore, carry it out online.

    4. Green Permit

    In recent years, Chicago is focusing on creating environmentally-friendly residential and commercial buildings. The city’s DOB incentivizes green technology projects by expediting the approval process and reducing permit fees. You need LEED certification for a commercial project to be eligible for a green permit. Chicago engineers should also use green strategies or technologies in their construction, as per the city’s codebook. Once you submit the green permit application, it takes the DOB four to six weeks to review and make a decision regarding the permit.

    Over the years, the City has been making continuous improvements in its permitting process. Nowadays, the time required for the review and approval of a permit application is 70 days. You have to submit a list of Contractors and Drawings with clear indications of existing and proposed conditions with your building permit application.

    Safeguarding Elements during Construction

    During the construction process, construct the scaffolding keeping in mind the safety of workers and people passing by. If the wind speed can exceed the hazardous level as per the scaffold manufacturer, lower the scaffolding to the ground. Construct and dismantle all scaffolding according to the engineering standards in the American National Standard safety requirements for scaffolding.

    Things to Consider While Constructing Buildings in Chicago

    • Anchor Bolts – One of the most common violations contractors face during construction in Chicago is the presence of bolts placed improperly. The latest regulations from the Department of Building require anchor bolts at the center-third of the foundation plate width.
    • Bathroom Vents – The building code requires the building to expel the bathroom air using a 16-sq inch ventilation outlet. If there is only closed space above the bathroom vent, you are in violation of the building code. This rule prevents moist air from trapping inside the property, causing mold or rot.
    • Junction Box – According to the Chicago Building Code, the junction box should follow the following guidelines:
      • They should be easily accessible and visible to the naked eye.
      • Wires inside the box should be at least 6 inches in length to easily establish an accurate
      • There should be no loose wires inside the box and you have to clamp all of them to restrict movement.
    • Staircase and Handrails – For the safety of occupants, the Chicago building code requires you to space the steps on the staircase evenly. Moreover, the handrails should be firm and secure. The guardrail terminal at the top and at the returning end should be inside the wall, or there is a risk people might get near the terminal and it would catch something.

    Bottom Line

    Understanding the building process in Chicago can help construction and renovation companies avoid any hiccups during their projects. The Chicago Building Process allows workers to construct well-developed and well-planned buildings. It also helps them in developing properties that are safe for the occupants and do not pose a hazard to the environment.

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