July 13, 2024


Built General Tough

Rise in residential alterations permits indicative of home improvement craze | Premier

If your neighborhood has been filled with construction noise over the past year, if you’ve seen an unusual number of people hanging onto ladders or hammering on rooftops, an increase in permit applications for residential alterations might offer at least a partial explanation.

According to the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department database on pprbd.org, a total of 61,996 total permits were approved in 2019 for El Paso County residents looking to perform major construction work on their homes, like installing new air conditioning systems, building new decks and working on electrical systems. Last year saw that number increase by about 2 percent, to 63,215 permits.

Commercial alterations permits, on the other hand, went down from 10,025 in 2019 to 8,232 in 2020. Many major commercial construction projects have been delayed after they were met with logistical challenges related to the pandemic.

Still, PPRBD has remained busy with the slight uptick in residential alterations, along with the many other categories of construction projects they regulate each year.

“We cover pretty much all of El Paso County,” said Greg Dingrando, chief public information officer at PPRBD. “That includes Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, Monument, Fountain, Green Mountain Falls, Palmer Lake, and we also do the town of Woodland Park in Teller County. Obviously we handle the planning side of things, so all the plans come to us. Once the plans get approved, then they get permitted. Once permitted, they can start the construction process. And then, as they move through the construction process, they call us to get the inspections done to make sure that the work is being done correctly.” 

But the number of permit applications approved by PPRBD provides only a partial view of the building projects that take place each year in El Paso County. Many other more minor projects — like painting, flooring and carpeting, cabinets and countertops, window and door replacements — usually don’t require a permit. 

Take Colorado Springs resident Bryan Cassady, for example. He spent his extra time at home over the last year working on a network of “smart home” features he and his partner use to make their house more efficient.

“The biggest thing with the smart home stuff is to make everything talk to each other and establish the triggers,” he said.

Cassady’s web of automated electronics can sense when his vehicle is close to home to open his garage door. It can turn lights on or off with a voice command.

But even though his project is complex, it isn’t the sort that requires the oversight of the building department.

In other cases, however, people performed work that did require a permit without actually obtaining one.

According to Leigh Blackburn, PPRBD’s legal administrative assistant, 414 certificates of alleged noncompliance were recorded in 2019 for both commercial and residential projects, 50 of which were later terminated after projects were brought back into compliance. In 2020, 337 certificates were recorded. Fifteen of those were later terminated. 

Notices are sent by certified, return receipt mail to the owner of public record and explain the violations and how they can be resolved. After an allegation of noncompliance is noted, the department allows 30 days for a person to bring the project into compliance. Blackburn said that, “at times, for good cause, extensions may be granted.” If that doesn’t happen, however, the department may record a “certificate of alleged noncompliance,” which can come with associated fees.

Dingrando said reports of alleged noncompliance sometimes are reported by neighbors who notice a project in their area they suspect might be out of compliance. In other cases, holds may be issued on home sales when an illegal addition, for example, is discovered during an inspection.

Extraordinarily strong sales reported by some of America’s biggest home improvement chains during the pandemic also paint a clear picture that Americans have been making use of their extra time indoors to spruce up their living spaces, while others have transformed their homes to include quasi-versions of the amenities they used to go elsewhere to enjoy. In many cases, homes are now no longer just a place to begin and end a day, but might now have corners serving as makeshift day care centers, gyms, offices and bars.

Home Depot, for example, reported $32.3 billion in sales in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2020 — $6.5 billion more than it made in the same fiscal quarter of 2019, or a 24.5 percent increase.

“The impact of COVID-19 and the actions we have taken in response to it had varying effects on our results of operations throughout 2020,” reads a statement Home Depot’s communications team sent to the Business Journal this month. 

“Overall, we saw a significant acceleration in sales with strong performance across our departments as customers have focused on home improvement projects and repairs.”

Executives at the big-box home improvement chain, which claims to be the largest in the United States, expect to continue to see the healthy sales growth continue into 2021 as Americans — many of them new customers — find new ways to make the most out of their limited space.

“Over the past year, many tackled their very first DIY project — whether it was painting a room for the first time or simply implementing a more robust organization system,” the statement continues. “As we enter this Spring, we expect DIYers of every level to get more involved in new projects at home and outside, taking on even more advanced tasks.”