Permits do not make a fun topic for commercial plumbing contractors, but we sure couldn’t live without them, quite literally. They hold plumbing contractors to the highest standards, while the government keeps collecting permit fees. Either way, commercial plumbers especially cannot afford to overlook this vital part of project paperwork.
However, plumbing permit requirements vary so widely from state to state and city to city, it would be impossible to cover all of them in one short article. Instead, a loose generalization of common types of commercial plumbing permits will help us evaluate the most important ones.
This article isn’t going to be exhaustive in any way, so you should always check with your local building authority or municipal government for details. A simple online search for “plumbing permits in <your area>” will also help you find any additional information you might need to stay compliant with local plumbing permit and licensing regulations.
Permits, Licenses, & Certifications
These three types of credentials are distinct enough in practice, but they can be confusing on paper. For the purpose of this article, it’s important to differentiate them:
- Permits are issued for health and safety reasons. They’re specific to one project and are accompanied by official inspections.
- Licenses are documents issued as proof of competence in a general field of expertise, usually issued after passing an exam. At the time of writing, licensing is mandatory for plumbers in all but these six states: Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming.
- Certification alludes to the skills and qualifications of an individual, e.g., pipelayer, commercial plumber, etc.. Certification is optional, but determines the types of jobs the plumber can take.
Most government authorities only allow licensed plumbing contractors to apply for commercial plumbing permits. In addition, special permits like gas piping or mechanical plumbing will require specialized certification in the field concerned.
When Do You Need a Plumbing Permit?
In commercial plumbing, that’s pretty much every time. Plumbing permits are meant to safeguard lives and property.
With this in mind, a permit might be needed when:
- Dealing with any installation, maintenance, repair, modification, extension, or other alteration of water piping, wastewater drainage, and other plumbing infrastructure.
- Installation, modification, repair, or alteration of special fixtures such as gas, furnaces, and fire suppression systems.
- When installing service connections to municipal water, gas, or sewerage systems.
- The project involves multi-unit buildings.
- Whenever the general building permit issued to the general contractor does not cover the scope of plumbing work (stand-alone plumbing).
- Wherever the general contractor’s permit doesn’t cover plumbing work carried out by subcontractors.
- The plumbing work is being carried out at public or state-licensed facilities like schools or hospitals.
The only time you may not need a plumbing permit is when undertaking minor work such as simple repairs and a few small replacements. Scheduled maintenance work also does not usually require permits unless major alterations, remodels, or upgrades are scheduled. Some states, like Arizona, call this the “handyman exception.”
Top 12 Common Commercial Plumbing Permits
1. Plumbing Permit
A plumbing permit is a “general” permit required for every plumbing job in accordance with national and state plumbing codes. This permit is issued to ensure the correct installation of plumbing systems for the safety and welfare of building occupants and the community at large.
Plumbing permits are only issued to licensed plumbing contractors, whether individuals or businesses.
However, a plumbing permit is not required for minor replacements (faucets, valves, etc.), repairs, or clearances (such as blocked toilets). In short, you won’t need this permit for anything that does not involve replacing or rearranging pipes, valves, or fixtures.
2. Building Permit
Building permits cover construction, renovation, and major repairs to existing buildings or structures. Sometimes, building permits also cover the plumbing work being carried out, but most states require separate plumbing permits. Check with local regulations to be sure.
3. Gas Permit
A gas permit is a special permit required when you need to install, remove, or in any way alter piping and fixtures for gas systems. In particular, special permits are required for medical gas and vacuum systems used in hospitals and industries. These can only be issued to properly certified and certified Master Plumbers, contractors, or engineers.
4. Fire Suppression Systems Permit
This permit is issued to plumbing contractors working on fire suppression plumbing systems such as overhead sprinklers, standpipes, fire pumps, backflow prevention devices, fire hydrants, and fire department connections. Property owners, engineers, certified contractors, and building owners can apply for this permit and must submit complete plans for the entire system for approval.
5. Heating Permit
It’s common knowledge that water heater installation, repair, or replacement requires a permit. Given that heating is one of the most dangerous plumbing systems in a building, inspection and certification are necessary to ensure that it does not pose a threat to occupants.
Heating permits sound more like the realm of commercial HVAC contractors, but they’re also issued to licensed contractors and qualified plumbers for the installation of forced air and hydronic heating systems.
6. Rough-In Permits
Rough-in permits are often issued for large plumbing projects after the initial approval of the plumbing diagrams, plans, and drawings submitted to authorities. This initial permit is usually often issued the same day and allows the contractor to begin the first stages of the project, such as pipe-laying, but without installing any fixtures or concealing any work.
7. Final Inspection Permits
After the initial stages of plumbing work, a final inspection is done. Any corrections needed are made before the last fixtures are installed and finishing touches completed. After this, a final inspection permit is issued to certify the completion of that plumbing project.
8. Special Fixtures & Installations Permits
Special permits are usually required for the installation of special fixtures such as backflow devices, fire pumps, booster pumps, chemical waste drainage systems, multi-purpose sprinkler systems, wastewater pretreatment and reclamation, and vacuum waste systems, among others. Only licensed contractors with the right certifications may apply for these permits, usually in conjunction with plans and drawings designed and approved by an engineer.
9. Alteration or Replacement Permits
This type of permit is issued when significant changes are to be made to the plumbing system and fixtures of an existing building. It also covers tenant build-outs, such as when businesses remodel a commercial space. This kind of permit often comes as part of a building alteration permit, but it can also be issued individually to a licensed plumber.
10. Mechanical Permits
A mechanical permit is required when you need to install mechanical equipment such as water pumps, water heaters, venting, propane tanks, medical gas equipment, and more. Only licensed contractors who are certified in that specific mechanical class may apply for these permits. Most states issue them separately from the others from the other types of permits, and many also require contractor insurance and bonds for the permit.
11. Water & Sewer Connection Permit
This permit is needed to connect or disconnect a building or facility to municipal water supply or sewer services. It is also needed during repairs and demolition of such connections. Professional engineers, architects, and licensed Master Plumbers can apply for this permit after submitting full plans and drawings to the water and sewer utility company or government authority.
12. Health Permits
In addition to whatever permits are required in regards to the plumbing itself, many states also require plumbing plans be submitted to the health department. When a commercial plumbing project involves a food service establishment, such as a restaurant or hotel, the health department will need to approve it before moving forward.
Other Relevant Permits That Commercial Plumbers May Need
In addition to the permits directly associated with commercial plumbing work, there are other relevant permits that you may need, depending on the specific project requirements and local regulations.
- Encumbrance or right of way permits — These are required in cities when you need to close off or narrow public walkways, highways, or other rights of way.
- Excavation permit — This permit is needed when you need to excavate roads, sidewalks, or pavements.
- Well/borehole permit — This is issued to contractors working on wells or boreholes to ensure sanitary, healthy, and adequate water supply.
Compliance with such demanding regulations is one of the reasons why many commercial contractors lose sight of crucial business functions such as field service management, accounting, and growth. These modern challenges require advanced solutions to help you streamline your commercial plumbing business and stay lean.
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