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Know When to Obtain a Building Permit for Your Project

José R. Mendoza
Written by José R. Mendoza
Updated December 9, 2021
New screened-in porch addition to a home

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Getting a building permit for your next home improvement project will save you headaches and money down the road

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Home improvement projects are an opportunity to add value and a personal touch to your house. However, as a homeowner it is important to know what construction projects require a building permit and what ones don’t before getting started. 

For starters, anything that will alter or change the structure of your property needs a building permit. Note that every jurisdiction has its own requirements and it is important to check with yours before starting a major project. The good news is that it is not as complicated as it sounds to get the proper permits and not all home projects need a permit.

What to Know About a Building Permit

A building permit is a document that your local city or county official issues for a given project you apply for—whether it is a new construction or a modification to your existing home structure. This permit allows you to be in compliance with your local construction and safety regulations and for the new improvement to be covered under your homeowner’s insurance policy. As part of the building permit, you will also get a final inspection of the work performed by a city inspector to make sure everything has been built to code.  

Getting the required permits has more pros than cons and you will be happy you took the extra effort to get them, especially if you are selling your home. Failing to get a building permit can result in monetary fines, work not being up to code, and potentially having to remove or redo the work you have done already.

Who Issues a Building Permit? 

Most of the time, your local municipality or county office is in charge of approving and issuing building permits. They are your one-stop shop for any questions you have when it comes to building permits. They also know everything about what kinds of projects need a permit and which ones don’t. A great number of cities have all of this information readily available online so you don’t have to go in person or call to talk to someone. 

Should I or Should My Contractor Get the Building Permit?

This is a very important thing to know because whoever gets the building permit is the sole person responsible and liable for the work done in the house. So, if you are performing a renovation in your property that needs a building permit, make sure to get one before you start the work. Whether you are DIYing it or hiring a pro to do the project you are the one who pays for the permit, so don’t skip it. 

DIY

When you are DIYing a home improvement project you may think that you don’t need a building permit because you are doing it yourself, but the fact is you do, of course if it qualifies for one. For example, converting a garage to a living space would require a permit but painting your walls doesn’t. As a homeowner, you can definitely get the permit yourself and doing so shouldn’t be an issue at all, unless it is a type of project that needs licensing, like electrical or plumbing work. All you need to do is fill out the permit application, provide a plan of the work, and pay the fees.

Contractor 

When you are working with a home remodeling contractor already, it is best to let them pull the permits since they have the experience and know the process. They will bundle the permit fee into your overall project cost. 

Keep in mind that if your project requires a permit and your contractor tells you that a building permit is not needed and you can skip it, this is a big red flag and you better find a different pro for the job. More likely than not they lack the licensing required for the job or they aren’t qualified for the work.

Cost of Getting a Building Permit

New addition living room with hardwood floors

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The cost to get a building permit ranges from $424 to $2,291. Prices vary based on the physical location where you live and the type of construction project you are working on. In most small towns, the cost of a permit is relatively low compared to big cities. The most expensive permits are those for big projects like new structures.

What Home Improvement Projects Require a Building Permit? 

Building permit requirements vary from city to city and it is best to always check with your local office to make sure you are in compliance with the building codes of your jurisdiction. In general, projects that add living square footage to your home or alter the structure of your home count. Here are some projects that require a building permit: 

  • Building a new or home addition

  • Erecting or removing walls 

  • Adding a new bathroom 

  • Installing or replacing the roof

  • Placing an inground pool  

  • Converting a garage into a living space 

What Home Improvement Projects Do Not Require a Building Permit? 

The great news is that there are many small projects that don’t need a building permit at all. Most of these tasks fall under the esthetic umbrella of the house. These are great examples:

  • Painting the house 

  • Removing or installing carpet 

  • Installing new cabinets 

  • Adding a small fence 

  • Building a small storage shed under 100 sq/ft*

*This is a common practice among cities, but before you install a brand new shed make sure to check with your local building authorities.

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