Building a House

Building a House

Probably the single most important decision is the hiring of a contractor. Hire a reputable contractor. The adage, “you get what you pay for,” applies here in what may be the biggest investment of your life.

The following information assumes that you have a fully approved building lot, if this is not the case you must make application through the Department of Planning, Engineering and Regulatory Services.

Unserviced Lot
If the lot is not serviced by the City water and sewer system, then approval is required for a private water supply and septic system. Approval must be obtained from the Provincial Government Service Centre (GSC) before a building permit can be issued.

  • A $2,000 deposit is required (payable at Inspection Services) and is fully refundable when: Final approval from the GSC (for the septic system) is received at City Hall, acceptable dry well/rock sump is installed to drain foundation tile (or drainage to roadside ditch as noted below) and an acceptable driveway culvert is installed (approval required from Roads Division, Department of Public Works, located at the Municipal Depot, Blackler Avenue).
  • An application to develop land has to be submitted to the GSC, including site plan, floor plan, site evaluation and system design plan.
  • The system design and site evaluation must be submitted by an approved designer. (Professional Engineer, Certified Engineering Technician, Certified Public Health Inspector, or others who meet competency requirements of GSC.)
  • Only drilled, or Artesian wells, are permitted within the City of St. John’s (shallow, dug wells are not permitted).
  • A final inspection and Certificate of Approval must be issued by the GSC before an Occupancy Certificate can be issued by the City.
  • Storm drainage (weeping tile) will not be allowed to drain into the City’s roadside ditch unless the basement floor is above the top of the ditch or the crown of the road. As well, basement floors must be installed above the ground water table.

An application can be made through the Department of Planning, Engineering and Regulatory Services. All applications are received and permits issued at Inspection Services, third floor of the John J. Murphy Building (City Hall annex). This form must be accompanied by adequate plans to ensure a complete review of the proposal. This includes fully dimensioned, scaled plot plan, survey, floor plans, elevations, truss drawings, wall sections and structural details.

The house must be situated on the lot so that all setback requirements for the particular zone are met; front, rear and side yards. As well, any easements over the lot must be avoided.

The house grade (elevation of front door threshold ) must be established to suit the conditions of the lot (contours of land) and the house design, ensuring that proper elevation above the yard grade is maintained, surface run-off drains away from the house, doesn’t impact neighbouring lots and that service laterals (water and sewer lines where applicable) are accessed correctly (minimum two per cent slope on sewer lines).

In subdivisions there will usually be an approved grading plan which will assist with setting the house grade, as well as indicating required yard grades and slopes to correctly drain surface run-off.

It is important to understand how the yard grades will look when finished. A builder/owner should not assume that they will have a perfectly level yard to all corners. Flat streets are rare in our City. As the street slopes, the yard must adjust for the change in grade from one property to the next. For example, the property to the left may be four feet higher, in which case your property should slope up two feet to meet it and that yard should slope down two feet to meet yours. Sometimes retaining walls are desirable or necessary to overcome the differential or avoid too much of a slope.

In the case of a single lot being developed next to already developed lots, the builder must adjust the yard grades to match/meet those existing.

Once the application is received, with all necessary information, the Plans Examiner will review your drawings to ensure compliance with the Building Regulations. Please allow at least five to 10 working days for completion of the review. The Plans Examiner will forward copies of the plan review letter to the owner and the builder/contractor. This letter will identify any deficiencies noted in the plans, or give special instructions for the builder. It is critical that the plan review letter be read, understood and complied with. If there is an item on the plans letter which you do not fully understand, you should contact the Plans Examiner for clarification.

At this point, the Building Inspector will prepare and issue a grade certificate, which will specify the grade and layout information noted above. A building permit may now be obtained. It can be picked up at Inspection Services by the owner or the owner’s representative (usually the building contractor). Payment may be made in cash, by cheque or Visa/Mastercard or debit card.

You are now ready to proceed with construction of your house. It is critical that the following inspection procedures are followed to ensure proper construction:

Please Note: Only Electrical and Plumbing Contractors licensed to operate in the City of St. John's may pick up Electrical and Plumbing permits, carry out work, or request electrical or plumbing inspections.

Regarding the site landscaping of the property, it is City policy that the landscaping meet the following specifications prior to release of final occupancy approval.
Part 1: Landscape Requirements:          

1.  All new construction of residential use shall have front, side and rear of dwelling landscaped to the following specifications unless otherwise approved by the City.

  • 150mm thick layer of placed topsoil (100mm when rolled/compacted) to cover the entire front, rear and side yards.
  • Sodding, seed or hydro seed to be installed in accordance with good industry practice and manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Certification from the installing contractor that installation, as noted above, is completed in conformance with the requirements.

2.  All new construction of dwelling units located in residential zones where the building line is a minimum of 4.5 metres shall have a minimum of one 

  • tree planted on either the front or side of the dwelling to the following specifications.
    • Trees shall meet landscape Nursery Guide Specifications.
    • Trees shall be selected from a species hardy to Canadian Plant Hardiness Zone 5B, salt tolerant, adapted to environmental conditions at the site, with a proven local history.
    • Trees shall at both the time of establishment, or in the future, not obstruct the sightlines between the street and access drives nor shall any feature which creates an obstruction of view be located in the sight triangle.
    • No tree shall be located closer than 1.5 metres from the back of sidewalk/property line, from any driveway or laneway.
    • Planted trees shall be nursery grown and at least a stock size of 35mm caliper and 1.25 metres in height.
  • In areas where planting a tree in the front yard cannot be achieved due to set back, location of underground servicing or there is no adequate side yard available, upon approval by the City, the permit holder may plant the tree in the rear yard subject to the specifications referenced in Part 1.
  • Owner/applicant must ensure consideration for mature tree size in relation to above and below ground utilities, infrastructure and root zone requirements.
  • The following list constitutes the official tree species for the City of St. Johns. No species, other than those included in this list are to be planted without prior approval of the Municipal Arborist.


Latin Name
Latin Name
Acer platanoides Norway Maple Phellodendron amurense Amur Cork Tree
Acer pseudoplatanus Sycamore Maple Prunus sargentii Sargent’s Cherry
Aesculus carnea Red Horsechestnut Prunus serrulata Japanese Cherry
Aesculus hippocastanum Horse Chestnut Pyrus calleryana Callery Pear
Betula papyrifera Paper Birch Quercus coccinea Scarlet Oak
Betula pendula Silver Birch Quercus imbricaria Shingle Oak
Betula verucosa White Birch Quercus palustris Pin Oak
Celtis occidentalis Common Hackberry Quercus robur Common (English) Oak
Elaeagnus angustifolia Russian Olive Quercus rubra Red Oak
Fraxinus Americana White Ash Sorbus spp. Whitebeam
Fraxinus mandshuricia Manchurian Ash Syringa spp. Lilac
Fraxinus nigra Black Ash Tilia cordata Small-leaved Linden
Fraxinus pennsylvanica Red (or Green) Ash Tilia x euchlora Caucasian Linden
Malus spp. Dolgo Crab Apple Tilia x europaea Common Linden
Latin Name
Latin Name
Abies concolor Colorado Fir Pinus nigra Austrian Pine
Picea abies Norway Spruce Pinus sylvestris Scots Pine
Picea pungens Colorado Spruce    

Part 2: Landscape Security:

  •   Prior to the issuance of any construction approval or building permits, the owner/applicant will be required to provide a refundable security to the sum of one thousand dollars ($1,000) to Inspection Services to an acceptable standard of the City.

 Part 3: Landscape Acceptance:       

  • The City, upon final inspection of the dwelling, will provide acceptance of the installed landscaping. All landscaping, including tree planting, must be completed prior to a final occupancy permit being issued.
  •  The Inspector, when at the time of the final inspection is unable to determine if the requirements have been met, may at the discretion of his/her supervisor, refer to the Municipal Arborist.

 Part 4: Landscape Release of Security:

  •  The timing of the release of the security will be upon completion of all landscaping requirements referenced within, including tree planting, to the satisfaction of the City.
  • The security will be released at a rate of 100%.
  • The security will remain in effect for a period of twenty-four (24) months of which time, if not released, the City will make contact with the owner regarding noncompliance of the By-Law.

 Stages of Building Inspections
The following inspections must be requested a minimum of 48-hours in advance, that is, at least two City of St. John's working days prior to the day required. No work can proceed on the next stage of construction until the previous stage has been inspected and approved.

Prior to any footing or foundation work. This is to ensure that the soil conditions are adequate for house construction. If fill is to be added to the foundation site , proper compaction and certification by an Engineer is required.

If there is to be a water and sewer connection to the city system, the service laterals must be inspected by Department of Public Works, Roads Division personnel. If a private system is being built, it must be inspected by GSC personnel prior to backfilling.

Once the footing and foundation is constructed, you must get your surveyor to prepare a location certificate, which must be submitted to the inspection division and approved before you request the next stage (backfill) inspection to ensure that the house is being constructed in the proper location.

Prior to backfilling the foundation. This inspection is to ensure proper placement of drain tile and foundation waterproofing, as well as to examine the footing and foundation construction.

Before requesting the next stage (framing) inspection, plumbing and electrical rough-in inspections must be completed and approved. This is to ensure that critical framing members are not altered (notched, cut or holed) by subcontractors beyond what the Code permits. As well, the roofing and siding must be complete to ensure that insulation is not damaged by moisture.

Prior to installing insulation and vapour barrier. This inspection is the most critical and time consuming as all aspects of the structural framing and members must be examined to ensure the house is structurally sound and built to Code. Note that all framing members must be new, grade stamped lumber to ensure quality. We do not accept unstamped 'local' lumber or used lumber. It is usually at this stage that the ventilating equipment detailed below is inspected.

Prior to insulation, where applicable. This inspection is to ensure proper construction and clearances to combustible materials to minimize fire hazards and assure safe operation. Note that propane or oil heating equipment must be certified by the installer.

Slab Polyethylene
Prior to installation of basement floor/slab. To ensure polyethylene damproofing is in place as required to prevent ground moisture from entering the floor.

Insulation and Vapour Barrier
Prior to installation of drywall. This inspection ensures that adequate insulation and proper vapour barrier is installed to maintain acceptable comfort, temperature retention and prevent inside generated moisture from entering wall/attic spaces and damaging components.

Ventilating Equipment
This inspection is to ensure that heat exchangers, air exchangers and associated equipment, as well as supplementary venting such as exhausts for bathrooms and range hoods meet Code requirements. Written certification by a HRAI certified installer is necessary for the HRV’s. Note that the National Building Code now requires that all new houses have a primary exhaust vent with heated air intake. This essentially means a heat exchanger or HRV (Heat Recovery Ventilator).

Prior to occupancy. The final electrical and plumbing inspections must be completed and approved. All construction must be completed. At this point there may be other outstanding items such as ensuring that finish yard grading is completed as per requirements noted above.

As stated before, each stage must be inspected and approved prior to starting the next stage. If the Inspector discovers deficiencies, a Field Notice will be left after each inspection which either indicates approval or lists the deficiencies which must be corrected before calling for the next inspection. If there are outstanding deficiencies after the final inspection then occupancy may be refused or a Conditional Occupancy Certificate may be issued which lists the items to be corrected by a certain date. A fee may be required for an amount which would pay for the corrective action if it becomes necessary for the City to carry out the work.

Occupancy Certificate
As noted above, a Conditional Occupancy Certificate may be issued if there are outstanding items to be corrected. A final Occupancy Certificate will be issued when all inspections are complete and the house fully meets requirements. It is important to note that the inspection service provided by the City is intended to ensure that your house meets the minimum standards of the National Building Code of Canada. We do not inspect or provide any assurance for ‘fit and finish’ items.(Things like, nailing, finish and fit of trim and mouldings, cabinets etc) These items should be covered by your Builder’s warranty or other warranty programs. Your Occupancy Certificate is a legal document that will likely be required by your lawyer or financial Institution.

Please refer to the Schedule of Rates page for information on permit costs.