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Do I Need a Building Permit For My Home Renovation Project?

Do I Need a Building Permit For My Home Renovation Project?

By Erica Garza


Before you start on your next home renovation project, find out if you need a building permit.

Neglecting to research this step may end up costing you down the line. Not all construction requires a building permit, but it depends on your local building code. In some states, environmental issues may play a role. Each municipality is governed by its own code, which has its own permitting requirements. Before you start swinging your hammer, learn the requirements.

What Is a Building Permit?

Counties, towns and municipalities require homeowners to secure building permits before undertaking some home renovations for the purpose of enforcing building codes. These codes ensure that all properties meet minimum safety and structural standards. In addition to obtaining a building permit, you may need additional permits like plumbing or electrical, depending on the scope of the project.

Which Projects Require a Permit?

Not every renovation project requires a building permit, though you will have to check your local building code for specifications. You will likely need a building permit for the following projects:

  • Converting the use of a room (like a garage to a living space)
  • Adding new rooms, especially if the added value is over $5000
  • Erecting a large fence
  • Performing piping and electrical work
  • Installing a new roof
  • Adding or removing walls
  • Demolishing a portion of the home
  • Installing windows
  • Replacing water heaters

Projects that typically do not need a permit include:

  • Building a small fence
  • Installing kitchen cabinets
  • Replacing or installing faucets
  • Painting or wallpapering
  • Repaving a driveway
  • Installing floor coverings
  • Developing or updating landscaping

The best way to determine if your project needs a permit is to consult your city building and permit office.

Where Do I Get a Permit?

Your general contractor should be the one to obtain the permit but be sure to get a copy for your records. If it is a DIY project, you’ll have to obtain your own permits, but keep in mind that there are some permits which can only be obtained by a licensed professional, like an electrical permit. So, even if this is a DIY project, you may still need to engage with a licensed professional to obtain the right permit and conduct the work associated with it. You may also consider hiring a permit expeditor to assist you in the process, though many jurisdictions now offer online permitting services. The steps to getting a permit typically involve completing a permit application, preparing a project plan, scheduling a plan approval, obtaining the permit and scheduling inspections.

What If I Don’t Get a Permit?

If you are working with a contractor who resists obtaining a proper building permit, reconsider your choice of contractor. Contractors and homeowners are both to blame for un-permitted work, city and industry officials say. If you don’t get one, you may be assessed extra fees if the city finds out you skipped this vital step. It may also shut down your project or even force you to tear down your work. Lastly, your homeowner’s insurance likely won’t cover the costs if damage occurs down the line, even after a fire or flood.

So, before you put your hard hat on, make sure you’ve obtained the necessary paperwork or your next big project might just become your biggest problem yet.

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