The challenges of the renovation process make it all the more rewarding. When you finish a kitchen remodel, room addition or deck and stand back to admire your investment, the feeling of satisfaction is incredible. You’ve spent so much time and effort on your project, and it’s finally complete.
Of course, you can’t just choose a project and start work. Some renovations require a building permit, and if you forget that detail, the consequences are severe. A failure to obtain the necessary permits may result in issues with resale and refinancing, to say nothing of fines.
Fortunately, it’s simple to avoid the stress of building permits if you know when they’re necessary. You’ll ensure the smooth completion of your project with a little research. That said, the subject is somewhat complicated, as some renovations may or may not demand a permit depending on your circumstances.
For example, demolishing a load-bearing wall requires a permit, but that doesn’t mean you’re free to remove a non-load-bearing wall without one. Some permitting agencies are overly cautious and want to ensure DIY homeowners aren’t placing themselves in danger. The lines begin to blur.
So how should you address the issue of a building permit if you’re unsure about an upcoming renovation? Where do you start? Here’s a simple, three-step guide to move you in the right direction.
1. Review Your Intended Project
All cities are different in their permitting requirements, but on closer inspection, you’ll find similarities. As a general rule, projects require permits when they include plumbing, electrical work, natural gas, or anything pertaining to personal or public safety. Naturally, this covers a broad spectrum of renovations.
As an example, if you’re planning a deck or patio, you’ll likely need a permit over the course of your project. Most localities require one when you’re building a deck over a certain height, such as 30 inches above grade. The same applies to a fence when it crosses a specific threshold, like 6 feet.
For brevity, review this list and search for your intended project. You’ll need a permit if you’re planning one or more of the following activities:
- Destruction of load-bearing walls
- Augmentation of roofline
- Reroofing with structural elements
- Expansion of the house
- Building an addition
- Alteration of the home envelope
- Installation of electrical wiring or circuitry
- Any work involving a sewer line
- Addition of a garage or carport
- Creation of a new opening
- Insertion of a fireplace or chimney
- Conversion for a garage
- Installation of a furnace or air conditioner
- Connection of a water heater
- Adjustment to plumbing
- Placement of a dumpster on the street
2. Review your local regulations
If your project appears in the list above, you should make a call to your local permitting office and ask for details. However, as mentioned earlier, you may or may not need a permit for certain projects depending on your area. Consider the following activities and research the regulations of your municipality:
- Relocation of a sink
- Replacement of doors and windows
- Removal of a tree on the property
- Destruction of a non-load-bearing wall
- Addition of retaining walls over 4 feet
If your project doesn’t include any of the activities in the previous lists, you don’t require a permit. Then again, the subject is more nuanced, and you shouldn’t move forward without an informed understanding of what’s allowed. It’s best to read over the list below to see if your project meets the criteria.
- Installation of any hard flooring or carpeting
- Incorporation of similar materials for a new roof
- Replacement of an existing sink
- Addition of new countertops
- Painting the interior or exterior
- Installation of nonstructural siding
- Execution of minor electrical work
- Building decks below a certain height
- Replacement of bathroom and kitchen fixtures
- Appliance replacement without modifications
- Addition of one-story detached buildings
- Construction of a tree house of a certain size
- Raising fences below a specific height
- Addition of retaining walls below 4 feet
- Replacement of decking surface
- Parking a dumpster on the property
After you’ve determined the necessity of a permit, you’ll move on to the next phase.
3. Obtain the Necessary Permits
It’s relatively easy to obtain a permit, as a contractor often handles that part of the renovation process. Unless you have plans to take on your project by yourself from start to finish, you can likely depend on the person you hire to help out. Consult with them on the details and determine whether it requires a permit.
Though the lists in the previous section are helpful, a contractor can provide information related to your specific set of circumstances. You can rely on them to take care of the permits for your project, which alleviates the pressure of acquiring them yourself. This is almost always the best course of action.
That said, you won’t always have the expertise of a contractor if you’re doing the work yourself. In those situations, you’ll need to draft and submit your own plans unless your local agency has suggestions. In terms of your timeline, the review process may take anywhere from a day to several weeks.
Naturally, you’ll need to pay for the building permit as well. The price will change with the type of project you’re planning, and you’ll have to look at your municipality’s fee schedule as well. Even with these distractions, you can feel a small bit of relief knowing the upfront permit price covers inspections.
4. File the Paperwork for Later
As you near the end of the permit process, sort through your paperwork and set aside the important documents. Make copies of your permits and final approvals and file them. If you want to scan these documents and store the digital files in a folder on your computer, that redundancy can keep you safe.
You’ll likely need your permits and final approvals if you have plans to sell your home. It’ll assure a buyer that you completed the work correctly and a local inspector verified it. This small detail may not seem like much at the moment, but it will save you a substantial amount of trouble in the future.
When Do I Need a Building Permit?
Building permits don’t make the renovation process any easier, but they’re ultimately necessary. They ensure you meet a range of requirements that minimize hazards and health risks. They keep you and your family safe, even if they feel like extra work you’d rather not deal with.
Regardless, look through the lists in this guide and follow the suggestions above. Soon enough, you’ll complete your project and feel that well-earned sense of satisfaction — so much sweeter for all your hard work.