If you’re going to do a home remodeling project, determining if you need a building permit can get tricky. Permitting departments are also notoriously frustrating, largely because of their many rules that are complex and difficult to figure out.
If you’re going to do the work on your own as a homeowner, it can be especially frustrating. Often, these departments prioritize contractors and builders at the commercial level since these make up the large majority of their applicants.
Building permits can be time-consuming and expensive, but they’re also something you have to have in a number of cases.
You may be wondering what the harm would be if you didn’t get a permit for your home renovation or remodel.
Along with the physical safety element, permits protect you financially and legally.
If you don’t get a permit, you may pay a fine that can be in the thousands of dollars.
There are cases where it can be within the rights of the inspection department of your city to demolish your entire project if you don’t get proper permits.
You might have a hard time selling your home if you don’t pull a permit. Sellers are legally required to let buyers know any renovations or remodeling projects they did. If you did major work without a permit, it could scare off buyers. You might also be legally required to get permits to move forward with a sale.
Finally, another consequence of skipping the permits is that it can void your homeowner’s insurance. If something were to happen, not having a permit could be a legitimate cause for an insurance company to deny your claim.
So, with those possible consequences in mind, the following are things to know about the projects likely to require a permit.
Renovations Where You Probably Need a Permit
Usually, building permits are broken up into several categories. These can be structural, mechanical, and electrical.
If you’re going to make a major change to the layout of your home or its footprint, chances are high you need a permit. For example, decks, garages, and room additions probably require you to get a permit.
If you’re doing work that requires changes to the current support system of your home, like changes to porches or load-bearing walls, again, plan on needing a permit.
If you’re going to build a fence, you may not need a permit, but there are often limits on how tall one can be.
If you have to cut a hole for a new window, door, or skylight, permits are probably required, as is true if you’re removing existing plumbing or electrical work and adding new.
In some municipalities, whether or not you need a permit is based on the project's cost. For example, if the project is expected to cost more than $5,000, you may need a permit.
Every municipality has its own set of rules, and the only way you can know for sure what’s required is to check with them directly.
How Do You Get a Permit?
You apply for permits through the local government office of your municipality. Some permits might be issued immediately, and others require a plan inspection.
Then, as the renovation process moves forward, inspections of the work will be needed in most cases.
If you’re adding onto your home, you may have to go through multiple inspections, and once the work is finished, there’s a final inspection at which point you may be issued a permit.
When Do You Not Need a Permit?
There are plenty of minor things you can do without a permit.
For example, anything cosmetic only generally doesn’t need a permit. This might include installing new hardwood floors, adding new countertops, or painting.
If you’re making any structural change, you should check to make sure you’re compliant with permit requirements.
It doesn’t matter who does the work. If you’re the homeowner, it’s your responsibility to ensure the project has the needed permits.
Even if you think you don’t need a permit, it’s better to check and stay on the safe side.