For many different types of home repair and improvement jobs, permits are required. Though simple repairs usually don’t call for permits, additions or major changes—particularly those that involve structural work, electrical, heating, and plumbing—usually demand that you get the appropriate permits from the local building department. If you’re working with a contractor or subcontractor, this professional usually handles the permit process.

If your job falls within this category and your tradesperson suggests that you don’t need a permit, be wary and check with the building department yourself. In most cases, getting a permit means the work will be inspected by the necessary officials.

Stick figure looking through a magnifying glass.
© Palto |

As a homeowner, this is good for you. Your contractor’s work will be scrutinized by another set of knowledgeable eyes and the results of the project must adhere to building codes, which set minimum safety standards for both materials and construction techniques.

Building codes ensure that your home will be safe for your family and any future families who live there. If work is done without a permit and discovered later, building officials may require that you bring the work up to permit standard—or even dismantle and redo the work—before they will give it a completion or occupancy approval.

For most permits, you must pay fees, typically based on the value of the project. Don’t overestimate the value of the work because it will cost you more in permit fees.

A permit ensures oversight of your contractor’s work (or yours). The scrutiny of an inspector can guard against mistakes and shoddy workmanship and ensure that the work adheres to building codes. You’ll sleep better knowing your project meets safety standards for materials and construction techniques.

A permit will also help you avoid headaches in the future. If building officials discover you have done work without a permit, you could be legally obligated to disclose that you have remodeled without a permit, and the buyer could demand that you bring work up to code.

When Do You Need a Building Permit?

If your project involves minor cosmetic surgery, you probably will not have to worry about getting a building permit. If you are making changes to your house’s structure, plumbing, or electrical wiring, you will need to get permits from your city or county building department before you begin. The best way to find out whether or not a permit is required is to call your local building department.

You will probably need a permit if you plan to:

• Change the footprint of your house

• Move a load-bearing wall

• Alter the roofline

• Create a new door or window opening

• Replace an electric stove with a natural-gas model

• Move a sink

• Install new electrical wiring

You probably won’t need a permit if you plan to:

• Install new floor coverings

• Replace doors or windows without altering the structure

• Change a countertop

• Replace a faucet

Handling Building Codes & Permits

Here’s a to-do list if you decide to act as your own general contractor:

Check with your building department if you are putting on an addition. Local codes usually specify how far from the property line a house must be. If your addition is too close, you may need a variance, or you may be prohibited from building at all. Find out whether you will need to submit your plans for approval.

Ask whether the building department can send you printed information about the ordinances that apply to your remodel and the various types of permits you will need.

Be aware that only certified electricians or plumbers are legally allowed to install or upgrade wiring and pipes in some regions. Check with your local building department before doing any of this work yourself.

Prepare for inspections. Read pertinent sections of the building code so you will know exactly what things the inspector will be looking for. If you hire subcontractors, ask them to be present when their work is inspected.

Featured Resource: Get a Pre-Screened Local General Contractor