When Do You Need a Permit for a Renovation or Remodel?

You’ve made the decision that you’re going to do a home improvement project of some type. So a big question becomes whether or not you need a permit. The short answer is that it depends, but below we’ll go into more details about what you should know in these situations.

What Are Building Permits?

Building permits are an authorization put in writing by your city or county that gives you permission to do some type of construction. The objective of building permits is to ensure compliance with zoning and building codes in your local municipality.

When Do You Need a Permit?

When you’re considering a home renovation or remodel, these are some projects where a permit is often required:

  • Taking out a load-bearing wall
  • Changing the roofline of your house
  • Expanding your house or changing the layout in any major way
  • Installing circuits or new electrical wiring
  • Adding a fence that’s over a certain height—usually over six feet
  • Demolition such as using a dumpster that’s going to be parked on a public street
  • Building decks that are over a certain height
  • Anything involving a sewer line
  • Building an addition
  • Building a garage
  • Work that requires a new opening like adding exterior windows or doors
  • Adding a fireplace
  • Garage conversions
  • Installing a new water heater, furnace, or air conditioner
  • Installing a pool, including in-ground and above-ground

Situations where you might need a permit, but you don’t always need one include:

  • Plumbing work such as moving a sink or changing drain lines
  • Demolishing a non-load-bearing wall
  • Replacing windows or doors
  • Removing a tree on your property
  • Adding a retaining wall

When Do You Not Need a Permit?

Situations where you usually don’t need a permit include:

  • Adding new roof materials
  • Parking a dumpster on your own property for demolition
  • Changing your flooring
  • Replacing a sink
  • Painting—interior or exterior
  • Replacing countertops
  • New siding
  • Minor electrical work
  • Adding decks below 30 inches
  • Adding detached buildings like a storage shed that’s one-story and doesn’t require electrical or plumbing work
  • Replacing decking surface materials
  • Replacing fixtures in kitchens and bathrooms

What is the Process to Get a Permit?

If you think your project will need permits, they are issued by local municipalities based on city ordinances where you live. Building codes aren’t based on federal or state standards. Instead, they vary from city to city. If you’re working with a contractor, they should know whether you need permits with your project and how to get them.

If you’re doing the work yourself, you need to determine this. Also, don’t assume that your contractor is handling the permits—verify.

If you don’t get the permits it may stop your renovations or complicate trying to sell your home later on. You have to show that you have the proper permits if you’re going through a home inspection or appraisal process.

You can apply for a permit through your local municipal government office. If the project is relatively simple, you may be able to get the permit right away, but if it’s more complex, there may need to be an inspection of your plans.

Also, during the process of the renovation, inspections of the work may be done. If you’re doing a large project, usually there will be multiple required inspections. After the work is complete, there can be a final inspection, and the permit can be issued.

The big takeaway from all of this is that many projects where you’re going to change your home will require a permit, especially when changing the structure. It’s better to be on the safe side when determining if you need a permit, and no matter who is actually doing the work, it’s your responsibility as a homeowner to make sure you get the correct permits.

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