When Do I Need a Building Permit for House Projects?
Even if your next home improvement project seems minor, you might be surprised to find it requires a permit. Permitting requirements vary considerably depending on where you live and the scope of the project.
Here’s what you need to know about acquiring permits before you get started.
Home Improvement and Renovations that Always Require a Permit
Some of the work you’ll do to your home will always require a permit. According to Redfin, these projects require building permits in most regions:
- Fencing installation and repair.
- Window installation.
- Plumbing work.
- Electrical work.
- Structural changes.
- Many HVAC maintenance projects (like installing a new water heater).
- Additions and remodeling projects (even including sheds and garages).
Additions and remodeling projects often require building permits and you might be surprised to learn how many components of these projects call for a building permit.
When You Need a Building Permit or Other Specialized Permit
Local building codes will dictate whether your intended construction requires a permit. If you’re doing any of the following, check with your municipality before you start work:
- Removal or addition of walls.
- Room conversions that change the use, like turning your garage into an office.
- Changes to the home’s piping systems.
- Demolition of any part of the home.
If you’re doing work on the systems in your home, those projects sometimes also require specialized permits. For example, installing a new underground sprinkler system might mean you have to secure a plumbing permit. The best way to find out exactly what’s required is to contact your local permitting office.
What Home Improvement Projects Don’t Require Permits?
There’s good news for homeowners — not all renovation projects need permits.
Cosmetic improvements like painting, decks under a certain height, installing new cabinets, putting in new countertops, adding a whole-house fan, repairing the driveway, building a small fence and more can be accomplished without needing to apply for permits.
What Happens if I Don’t Get a Permit?
It can be tempting to try and skip the permitting process, especially because it can be a burden. However, neglecting to obtain a permit can easily lead to major problems with your city. Unpermitted home renovations can also hurt sellers when they try to sell their house.
On the city side of things, you might be subjected to hefty fees, or your project could be halted. In some cases the city might even require you to destroy the work that’s already been completed because there’s no way to tell whether the work is up to code.
When in doubt, it’s always best to contact your municipality to double check the permitting requirements for the projects you hope to complete. Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.” Where construction permits are concerned, the exact opposite is true.
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