Fully grasping the required building plans needed is a common challenge for business owners and project managers alike — particularly those in charge of commercial construction, expansion, or renovation projects. The answer, as you might imagine, is straightforward: it depends. Permits are required for everything from breaking ground and laying foundations to placing dumpsters and opening the doors for business. Not to mention, permit requirements and the associated documentation can vary widely from city to city and even project to project.

Similarly, certain projects may require a few documents while others call for nearly a dozen. With so much variation and nuance, it can be difficult to track, particularly when you work in more than one municipality.

However, there are some standard plans that almost every commercial project requires, which can provide an excellent foundation for project managers. We’ll go over those plans below, along with some special considerations that may arise, and how permit expediters like Scout Services can help smooth out the process.

A Brief Overview of Commercial Building Permits


Commercial building permits are required by federal and state law in order to ensure the safety of anyone who might occupy your building for any period of time. Not only do building permits protect customers and employees of the business operating within the building, but they also help shield the building owner from liability.

Unlike residential purposes, commercial building permits are required for any structure that will be used for commercial, industrial, or institutional purposes, and the requirements tend to be much stricter. As a result, the process of obtaining commercial building permits can be a months-long process and involve complying with local building codes and regulations that cover safety, fire protection, environmental impact, and so much more.

For the purposes of this blog, we’ll be focusing exclusively on what plans you need for commercial construction projects.


What Plans Do I Need for Building Permits: A Breakdown

Preliminary Research and Planning

Before taking on a commercial building project, careful research and planning is necessary to ensure success and keep project milestones within the timeframe. Identifying local building codes and regulations that apply to your specific project and location is always the first step. But this can be a daunting task, particularly if the municipality you’re working in has a website that is not user-friendly or has not been updated to account for recent changes to local ordinances.

This is why involving a skilled permit expediter early on in the process is so essential. Most of the construction work cannot be started until many of these regulations have been met and permits are in place.

Beyond identifying local permitting requirements, consider seeking out advice from architects or engineers to gain insight into the project’s feasibility, as well as any challenges that may arise.

From there, getting commercial building permits is about having the right plans available for review

Architectural Plans

Foundational to acquiring commercial building permits in any location, architectural plans are often the first ones to be drafted. Included in these plans are several essential elements, including:

  • Site plans
  • Floor plans
  • Elevations
  • Roof plans
  • Fire safety plans
  • Accessibility plans
  • And the cover sheet

Each of these documents provides a detailed overview of the proposed structure and highlights crucial aspects such as layout, dimensions, materials, and safety features. Similarly, each element must meet regulatory standards in order for the permitting process to move forward.

Structural Plans

The structural plans detail the stability and integrity of the proposed building. Typically encompassing foundation plans, framing plans, structural calculations, and engineering specifications, structural plans are vital to ensuring that the building can withstand the anticipated load demand and still maintain structural integrity.

In certain locations, this may also include meeting seismic requirements or hurricane building codes.

Mechanical, Engineering, and Plumbing (MEP)

When thinking about the question, what plans do I need for building permits, MEPs may not immediately come to mind. However, these plans are just as essential as the others for ensuring a timely and efficient permit approval process.

MEP plans provide details about the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems to be used in the building. HVAC plans, ventilation, electrical design and drafting, wiring, lighting, and plumbing configuration are all core components of the MEP plan.

Fire Safety

Fire safety is paramount in any commercial building project. The fire safety plans detail the measures that will be taken to prevent, detect, and control fires within the building. These plans usually involve a comprehensive breakdown of alarm systems, emergency lighting, fire suppression systems, and detailed evacuation plans.

Inspections and approvals for fire plans can be an ongoing project depending on the location and phase of construction. They are also necessary for any post-occupancy activities.


Finally, accessibility plans are another to add to the list of items when answering the question, what plans do I need for building permits? In the U.S., commercial buildings must be designed to accommodate people with disabilities in order to ensure equal access and usability.

Accessibility plans encompass features such as accessible entrances, parking, paths of travel, restroom facilities, and related signage.

What Plans Do I Need for Building Permits: Additional Considerations

Energy Efficiency and Sustainability

As our society continues to shift in favor of increased environmental accountability, energy efficiency and sustainability are important issues to keep in mind when drafting your commercial project plans and beginning the permitting process. Depending on your location, regulations may already be in place to ensure that any new build or remodel project meets energy usage standards. Some locations may also have statutes around sustainable building practices such as waste management and the incorporation of environmentally friendly materials.

For instance, California has a unique requirement in the form of Title 24 paperwork, which regulates energy conservation, green design, and accessibility, among other things, in all California buildings. Without a Title 24 document, projects cannot move through the review process.

While this remains mostly unique to California, it’s likely that similar requirements will soon be incorporated in municipalities across the country. Getting out ahead of it is a great way to ensure compliance regardless of where you are. Including energy-efficient elements such as insulation, lighting systems, EV charging stations, and renewable energy sources in your plans are good places to start.

Special Permits or Variances

Occasionally, you may encounter unique building situations that require special permits or variances. This can happen if zoning or building regulations deviate from more standard requirements. The identification of these scenarios early in the planning stage is essential for navigating the permitting process and avoiding major and potentially costly setbacks.

Once project managers have identified these needs, they’ll need to prepare to go before the municipal board to present their case. This is where a strong working relationship with permit expediters is invaluable. Skilled permit expediters like Scout Services will be able to assist with the preparations for these processes, including gathering and organizing the relevant paperwork.

Ready to Start the Permitting Process? Scout Services is Ready to Assist.

The permitting process is an extremely important and complex stage in commercial construction projects, and gathering the appropriate plans is only the beginning.

Whether you’re undertaking a new build, remodel, or roll out, any misstep or overlooked piece of information can be the cause of major delays, costing you and your team time and money.

Scout Services is one of the nation’s leading providers of permit expediting services. Our trained Field Scouts possess the local expertise to help you move through the permitting process as swiftly and smoothly as possible. With our national database, we ensure that your permit submittal package is accurately submitted on the first go no matter where you’re working from, and our digital tracking system enables us to stay on top of where your project is in municipality pipelines.

Do you have a commercial project coming up? Get in touch with our team of experts today to get started on obtaining your permits, fast.