Building on the rise in Sevier County – You probably need a permit for that

A new carwash is being built on this site in Richfield Tuesday morning. Building permits in Sevier County have been on the upswing since January.

In a world where a lot of people try to do things themselves through “Youtube University,” sometimes there are important steps missed. 

“It’s a lack of experience,” said Jason Mackelprang, Sevier County zoning and building official. He has been enforcing building codes since 1998. 

The county’s building and zoning office has run across a large number of projects lately that legally require a building permit, but haven’t had one.

 “We just want to make sure it’s done right and that it’s safe,” Mackelprang said. Also, as the zoning and building office is combined, Mackelprang and his staff can help people avoid costly zoning violations and help people navigate the county’s zoning code.

Currently, any building 120 square-feet or larger requires a building permit. A typical garage is 500 to 600 square-feet. 

“A phone call is really cheap,” Mackelprang said. “We’d much rather they call and ask a question than not.”

Many home improvement projects require a building permit — new water heaters, furnaces, plumbing, electrical and roofing.

“We want to look at the roof,” Mackelprang said. He said there are lots of instances of roof plywood that is rotted and in need of replacement, and even times when he’s found broken rafters during an inspection.

The cost for a building permit starts at $48, which covers reroofing, water heaters, furnaces and most minor remodeling projects. 

“I think of it as cheap insurance,” Mackelprang said. He said adherence to the International Building Code is a way to prevent problems that could be very costly in the future.

One example that has been seen many times in the county is chimneys. Chimneys and or fireplaces are installed, but not using the correct specs or materials. The result is that over years, materials that conduct heat dry out wood in walls and attics until one day they start on fire, Mackelprang said. 

“We definitely want to look at chimneys and make sure they are being done right,” Mackelprang said.

Part of the challenge of making sure things are up to snuff is that the building codes are updated every three years. A building built 30 years ago would have significant changes to how it would be required to be built today. As more things are learned about building, the codes are updated.

“There is no way to memorize it all,” Mackelprang said. He said he and his staff regularly refer to the books to make sure things are being done correctly.

“Fire stuff changes a lot,” Mackelprang said. One example is the egress required in bedroom windows. Windows now have to be large enough to accommodate a firefighter in full gear entering the room and getting someone out of it.

Not getting a permit when it’s required can be costly — including a doubling of the fee for a permit.

“Most of the time we just try to educate people,” Mackelprang said.

Another challenge that Mackelprang and his staff face is the diversity of projects in the county. Currently a middle school being rebuilt in Monroe, a solar farm near Sigurd and a UPS facility in Salina rank among the largest projects in the county — each with its own unique set of requirements. 

On top of that are the homes being built. 

“We’re up quite a bit this year,” Mackelprang said. He said the COVID-19 crisis has had a negligible effect on construction in the region. Since January, the county building department has seen a $45,000 increase in valuations of new building permits over 2019.

“I think Sevier County may have been found,” Mackelprang said. 

For more information about any building project, call the zoning/building official’s office at (435) 893-0420.

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