Understanding the Chicago Building Process

Michael Tobias
Author : Michael Tobias
October 19, 2018
8 Minutes Read

    Professional engineers should provide building owners with a useful insight to the City of building process. Every US city has a unique and often complex building process. Chicago is no different to say New York in this respect. Here is a summary of the key elements of the building process, including design, approvals, construction bidding and building issues in this city.

    Design, Approvals at the Department of Buildings

    The Department of Buildings administrates the approvals processes of building permits.


    Building Permits

    Building permits from the Department of Buildings help to ensure construction work complies with the minimum standards of safety established by the Building Code to protect public health, safety, and welfare.

    Requirement: The Municipal Code of defines the specific circumstances where a building permit is or is not required. Nearly all building projects in require a permit. These may be for new construction or for major repairs, alterations or demolitions to existing construction and include MEP engineering works. Projects including the repair or replacement of non-fire rated construction, finishes and minor appliances are excepted.

    Responsibility: Property owners are responsible for obtaining building permits but may authorize an architect, engineer, contractor or other to submit and sign applications.

    Timing: A building permit should be reviewed and approved before beginning construction, demolition, and repair work. An applicant should allow enough time for plan review, corrections and permit issuance. On average a permit is reviewed and approved within 70 days.

    Applications: The various building permit applications possible include the:

    • Easy Permit: a streamlined process for small home or building improvement projects. The commonest permit type, it allows home or building owners to obtain a permit to repair or replace existing building features without requiring architectural plans.
    • Standard Plan Review: for more substantial renovations.
    • Developer Services Permit: designed to meet the specialized needs of moderate to complex construction projects.
    • Direct Developer Services Permit: for complex projects or major developments
    • Demolition (Wrecking) Permit: required for the demolition (or wrecking) of any building or other structure.
    • Self-Certification Permit: simplifies the building permit process for eligible residential, business and mercantile and small assembly projects where the ‘architect or engineer of record’ takes full responsibility for code compliance.

    Other City departments administrate specific MEP permits including:

    • Sewer Permit: issued by the Department of Water Management, required for the adjustment, cleaning, construction, repair and rodding of subsurface structures designed to collect or transport sanitary waste water and/or storm water, sited in private property or in the public way. To be obtained by a licensed drainlayer.
    • Elevator and Conveyance device Permit: issued by the Department of Buildings Elevator Bureau, required to install or repair elevator, escalator, other type of conveyance devices, except for automotive lift permit, to be obtained by a licensed elevator mechanic contractor.

    The Department of Buildings Guide to Permits summarises the permits available for small and mid-sized projects.

    Submission: Permit application forms are available via the City of website and can be filed electronically via the city e-plan software. For building permits, excluding the EP, drawings should be stamped and signed by a licensed Architect or Structural Engineer in the State of Illinois, have zoning information indicated with details of existing and proposed conditions and details of Contractor(s) with licenses filed with the City.

    Construction Bidding

    The City of Department of Procurement service is transitioning from paper to online eProcurement bids. When complete, all construction, including MEP engineering, bids will be advertised through eProcurement.

    • MEP engineering eProcurement opportunities: these are only available online, and not from the department’s bid and bond room. Vendors who wish to respond to an eProcurement proposal should be registered with the City. Notifications of addenda are automatically sent to respondents. Vendors can view and respond to eProcurement solicitations from its eProcurement bid opportunities web page.
    • MEP engineering non-eProcurement opportunities: these are current competitively bid, downloadable RFI, RFP, RFQ, Small Order bids and addenda, except construction documents that this department is unable to post due to document size, that are available on CD for collection.

    This department buys from technically, financially responsible businesses such professional engineers in the following four ways:

    • Informal Competitive: Contracts under $100,000, solicited by mail, fax and/or web posting, solicited without public advertisement and subject to identical terms and conditions as formal solicitations. 
    • Formal Competitive: Contracts over $100,000, awarded by free and open competitive sealed bidding or competitive negotiation following public advertisement.
    • Non-Competitive: Non-competitive procurement enables goods and services not adapted to competitive bidding to be procured according to the Municipal Purchasing Act. 
    • Emergency: Emergency contracts $250,000 or under are awarded to meet City emergency needs and solicited free of public advertisement or competitive bidding according to the Municipal Code and Illinois Municipal Purchasing Act.

    As engineers our own bids respond to specifications that are formal statements of engineering needs. Specifications contain a description of the engineering services the City seeks to purchase. If revisions are required, this Department prepares an addendum and sends it to those listed on the bid take out list, including those firms that have received specifications prior to addendum issuance. Any bid cancellation is also issued to those firms on the bid take out list.

    • Bid completion: Bids are offers on requested services and should be correct, signed and correctly notarized.
    • Bid submission: Bids should be submitted to the Department before the date and time specified. If required, bid deposits should be cashier’s checks or money orders.
    • Bid review: The public is invited to bid openings. All bids received are reviewed, tabulated and subject to correction.
    • Bid acceptance: Successful bidders receive notice of bid acceptance. On federal or state funded formal bid contracts, an acceptance notice is issued within 60 or 90 days. Additional time may be requested by this Department.


    The Department of Buildings can perform inspections relevant to engineers including:

    • Permit-related building inspections
    • Required reporting for elevators and other conveyance devices
    • Required reporting for exposed metal structures
    • Required reporting for exterior walls of high rise buildings
    • Enforcement-related follow-up inspections

    The Bureau of Engineering also provides inspectional services relevant to engineers for public and private buildings connected to the public water and sewer mains such as inspections of potable water connections by plumbing inspectors, private drains or sewer lines by drain inspectors or large private sewer structures by mason inspectors.

    End note

    This summary, while summarising the key points of the building process, does reveal its complexity. As professional engineers we are familiar with the intricacies of dealing with the Department of Buildings and other associated departments for design, approval, construction bidding, building (including MEP engineering) requirements. Through our expertise, we serve our clients by saving them the time involved in the necessary completion of these processes while not compromising on quality.





    Tags construction bidding | Chicago building permits | Chicago Building Process

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