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Electrical, Plumbing and Building Permits: Everything You Need to Know

Electrical, Plumbing and Building Permits: Everything You Need to Know

By Kara Parlin


Whether you’re initiating a major remodel project or simply updating exterior windows, you may need to obtain permits before you get underway. It’s true that many smaller updates likely don’t require permits, such as installing flooring, erecting fences under six feet, and painting an interior. But it’s always a good idea to check with your city building and permit office to avoid complications.

First Things First

If you plan to hire a contractor to complete the work, the contractor can handle the permit requirements for you. Some cities actually require that contractors pull permits if you’re paying any professionals to complete the work. But if you’re putting in your own sweat equity or having friends donate their time, you’ll need to do any pre-planning and contact your local agency to check if they require that a licensed professional obtain permits. If that’s not a requirement, you can pull the permits yourself.

Why Permits Are Important

While it may seem like an inconvenient formality, the permitting process serves several important functions. First, by getting a permit, you’re helping your city enforce established building codes. This, in turn, ensures that the project meets safety and structural standards.

Documenting renovations and having them inspected also heads off any surprises for property buyers and sellers. You don’t need to look too hard to find cautionary tales in which local municipalities required homeowners to remove or redo unpermitted work after the fact. They can also issue stop-work orders (SWO) during modifications, which you want to avoid.

Your renovation project will likely fall under either the building, electrical or plumbing permit categories. Here’s a basic overview of each permit type.

Building Permits

While a building permit may sound like a general catch-all, this type of permit actually covers specific types of property modifications. Any project that affects structural aspects of your property falls into this category. Some examples are:

  • Removing or modifying load-bearing walls
  • Building an addition
  • Replacing your roof
  • Adding a deck

Electrical Permits

Electrical permit requirements, on the other hand, are a little easier to identify. Any work that involves wiring or dealing with electricity will likely require an electrical permit, such as:

  • Adding a new permanent electrical device
  • Running additional wiring for existing fixtures
  • Converting or updating a fuse box or circuit breaker

Plumbing Permits

Bathroom and kitchen remodels commonly need a plumbing permit. But a plumbing permit may be required for some other projects, as well, such as:

  • Water heater replacement
  • Moving existing plumbing pipes
  • Any work involving sewer lines

Permit Process and Costs

If you’re hiring a contractor, you can leave the permit process to the pros. If you’re thinking of applying for permits yourself, you’ll first want to call your local agency to determine whether you can obtain the permits yourself or they require that a licensed professional request them. Additionally, find out what type of documentation or plans you’ll need to provide with the application.

When you submit your application, you’ll also need to pay the permit fee. Since permit costs depend on the type of work, how extensive the project is and your location, they can vary significantly. This fee includes all inspections that the city will make during and at the end of the project.

For smaller projects, you may be able to get a permit the same day. But getting a permit could take several weeks for more extensive renovations. Once the work is complete, someone will come out for a final inspection and approval.

Even if you’re hiring a professional to complete the work for you, knowing about permit process basics will make you a more informed consumer. Learn more about how Emprove can empower you with your home design projects.

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