"Do I really need a building permit?"
It’s one of the most common questions that a homeowner will ask when contemplating a construction project, typically hoping that the answer they’ll get back is "no." People seem to have an unreasonable fear of building permits and the entire inspection process, and since many of your projects actually will require a permit, it might be helpful to look at some common questions that often arise.
Why are there building codes and building permits? Quite simply, building codes — which include codes on structural, electrical, plumbing, mechanical and other components of your home — are in place to help ensure your safety. The codes set a number of uniform standards for the construction industry to follow, and all are intended to help builders, homeowners, and the community have safe and secure buildings.
Building permits are essentially your community’s legal permission to proceed with the project, as well as your agreement to do the work in compliance with current codes.
I’m not a contractor. Why do I have to get a permit for my own home? Once again, it’s to ensure your safety. Even the most well-meaning homeowner can make mistakes when working on a home-improvement project, and those mistakes can put you and your family at risk. By having a qualified, independent person inspect the work, those mistakes can be corrected before a dangerous situation can develop.
If I get a permit, am I still allowed to do the work myself? Absolutely! You can perform any construction work on a home that you own, providing you are not building or remodeling the home with the specific intention of selling it in the next six months. Having a building permit simply ensures that any work done on the house, by you or others, meets the current building codes.
When do I need a permit? The only way to get an exact answer to this is to check with your local building department. However, in general you will need a permit if you expand or structurally alter your home or any of its wiring, plumbing, or mechanical systems.
When don’t I need a permit? Many redecorating and repair jobs do not require a building permit. This includes replacing cabinets; replacing floor covering; painting and decorating; replacing roofing; replacing windows if you are not altering the size of the openings; replacing siding if you are not also making structural alterations; replacing plumbing fixtures if you are not altering the plumbing system; and replacing light fixtures and appliances if you are not altering or replacing wiring.
Where do I get a building permit? Permits are issued through your local building department, which you can find in the phone book. It may also be listed as "Community Development."
Is there a fee for obtaining a permit? Yes. The fees vary, and are based on the size of the project, the number of inspections that will be required, the impact on the overall community, and a variety of other factors.
What will I need in order to get the permit? That depends on the nature of the permit. For example, a permit to install a wood stove might simply require the name and model number of the stove, while a permit for a room addition will require a complete set of plans and other information. Your best bet is to simply call or stop in at your local building department, explain your project, and go from there.
What happens if I’m doing some work without a permit, and I get caught? The first thing that will happen is that the building department will request that you temporarily stop work on the project until you have obtained the necessary permits. Once you have the permits, an inspector will inspect the project and see what you’ve done up to that point. If the work has been done correctly, the inspector will allow the project to proceed. If the inspector finds errors with the work, those errors will need to be repaired and reinspected.
Are there other reasons to get a permit? Other than the fact that you are legally required to have one in many instances, there are several other very good reasons to get a building permit. First and foremost, the permit process ensures your safety and the safety of your neighbors and your community. You also have a legal responsibility to disclose work that’s been done on your house to potential buyers, and today’s buyers are very savvy about building permits — if you didn’t obtain the proper permits along the way, you may at minimum lose your sale, and could even face very costly liability issues. Your homeowners insurance company also requires that work be done with a permit, and if your home is damaged and it’s discovered that work has been done without the necessary permits, the insurance company may deny coverage for the loss.
Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at email@example.com.
What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. To contact the writer, click the byline at the top of the story.