How to Know if You Need a Permit to Remodel a Kitchen

Gemma Johnstone
Written by Gemma Johnstone
Updated July 20, 2021
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If you’re making structural changes to your kitchen during a remodel or adapting the wiring or plumbing, it’s likely you’ll need to apply for a permit

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Ready to give your dated kitchen a makeover? From hiring a local kitchen renovation contractor to managing budgets, a kitchen remodeling project can be an exciting and daunting prospect. Unless you’re only doing a basic upgrade, like painting kitchen cabinets, you’ll likely need at least one permit to make sure the work you do is legal.

Understanding the types of kitchen remodel projects that require a permit and how the application process works will help you avoid any complications or fines further down the line.

What Kitchen Remodel Work Typically Requires a Permit?

It can be a surprise for some people when they find out that all but the most straightforward kitchen renovation jobs require permits. Significant modifications that affect the amount of light, ventilation, fire resistance, or exterior exits will need one.

Outlined below are some types of work you might do as part of a kitchen remodel project that typically require a permit. However, this is only a general guide, as exact requirements can vary depending on the state or city where you live, so checking with local officials is a good idea.

  • Structural: Removing load-bearing walls or adding new ones in, adding new exterior doors, windows, or skylights. Sometimes non-load-bearing wall removal also requires a permit 

  • Plumbing: Adding new sinks, changing sink location, adaptations to sewer lines, installing new outdoor faucets, sometimes even replacing a water heater

  • Electrical: Installing electrical wiring, making major adaptations to existing wiring, updating outlets

  • Ductwork changes: New air conditioning installation or rerouting existing ventilation systems

Even if you don’t plan to do any of these things, some cities require a permit if the project costs over a certain amount to complete.

What Kitchen Remodel Work Typically Doesn’t Require a Permit?

If you’re in doubt, it's always best to consult with a professional. However, simple kitchen remodeling projects that you can DIY are usually possible to do without a permit. Generally, replacements that don’t require any new plumbing, wiring, or ventilation aren’t a problem either. Some examples include:

  • Painting walls or kitchen cabinets

  • Replacing countertops

  • Replacing existing windows and doors

  • Replacing a sink

  • Replacing existing light fittings

  • Refacing kitchen cabinets

  • Replacing an existing faucet

  • Adding an island (provided you don’t want a new sink or wired-in dishwasher as part of the design)

  • Re-flooring your kitchen

  • Installation of new appliances (as long as there is no need for extra electrical work)

How Do You Get a Kitchen Remodel Permit?

While you can apply to your local authorities for any required permits yourself, it’s often easier to seek the help of professionals. It may be a more expensive route, but it can take the stress out of the process. 

Not only can a reputable kitchen remodeling company near you advise you on what type of permit you’ll need, but they can also take care of the entire permit process. This process typically includes creating plans, submitting paperwork, collecting fees, and attending any required inspections.

Trade-specific permits (like those required for new plumbing or additional wiring) are easier, faster, and cheaper to obtain than building permits required for major structural work. So the amount of work and extra expenses you’ll have will depend on how big your project is.

Be Aware of Permit Timescales and Inspections

Electrical and plumbing permits can sometimes be issued immediately. Building permits for structural changes, however, typically take around four to six weeks to come through. This timeline can vary depending on the department dealing with the application and the project's complexity.

Delays in work are possible if there is a need for inspections as part of the permit approval process. A final inspection ensures that completed work meets all building codes. Inspectors have the authority to fail the inspection and request changes that require a further visit for approval. Depending on the project scope, they may also visit at key points during the job, and these appointments can also delay work.

Reputable contractors regularly deal with local authorities and can give you an idea of timelines. Work shouldn’t begin until the permit process is complete, as not all applications get approved, and authorities can request changes to the plans.

Factor in Permit Costs

The cost of permits varies depending on your location. Generally, electric and plumbing-related permits are cheaper and average around $300. However, structural building permits can be considerably more—typically around $900 to $1,000. Some cities charge a flat rate, and others will factor in the size of your house, the extent of the changes, or required inspections. There are even some authorities that charge a percentage of the total project budget.

What Are the Risks if You Don’t Get a Permit When You Should?

Lack of permits can invalidate insurance coverage and create problems with the sale or refinancing of your home. You may experience delays while you retrospectively apply for permits, and you could face extra fees and fines too. In addition, when major structural work has occurred, rework may be necessary to comply with local building codes.

No matter how much cheaper their quote is, avoid hiring a tradesperson who is happy to complete the work without a required permit. Working with a kitchen remodeling contractor is worth the extra upfront cost on your kitchen remodel project in the long term.

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