Understanding Building Permits

Posted by

Home renovation projects can enhance the appearance, functionality, and value of your home. However, it is important to ensure that the work is done safely and meets specific standards. This is where building permits come into play. Building permits are issued by local governments to enforce building codes and ensure that all buildings meet minimum safety and structural standards.

The regulations behind building permits are based on the best and safest methods determined by experienced engineers. These set parameters help keep you and your home safe. Building codes and permits have often been responses to disaster, such as the 1992 Hurricane Andrew that destroyed over 53000 homes. The storm could have been prevented if building permits had been enforced more rigorously.

Building permits are not just about safety, but also have positive reasons for following the permit process. Building permits protect future owners if you decide to move. Moreover, it is illegal not to obtain a building permit for work that requires it, failure to do so can result in fines or even the removal of the building or completed work.

In summary, building permits ensure that your home renovation projects are done safely and meet specific standards. This can enhance the appearance, functionality, and value of your home while also protecting future owners and avoiding legal consequences.

The importance of obtaining a building permit cannot be overstated. It serves to keep contractors honest by ensuring that they use safe and secure methods and materials. Failure to do so can result in potentially dangerous and unsound work. Furthermore, obtaining a permit is necessary to guide do-it-yourself projects. By submitting plans to the building department, you can ensure that your project follows modern building practices. Failure to obtain a permit can also result in your insurance policy being deemed invalid and may also hinder the sale of your home. The permit process is a matter of public record, and potential buyers may be wary of buying a property with unpermitted work. Each state or municipality has its own rules and regulations regarding when a permit is required. However, new construction almost always requires a permit, as does any construction activity that involves insulation, drywall, or the addition or removal of walls. Even demolishing a structure may require a building permit.

Many building projects fall into a gray area when it comes to needing a permit. For instance, a deck may not require a permit if it’s less than 30 inches from the ground. Similarly, a shed or gazebo might need a permit, but not if it falls below a certain size. If a retaining wall is taller than 5 feet, a permit may be required, but a fence under 6 feet high probably won’t need one. It’s always a good idea to check with the building department before starting any project. Plumbing, electrical, and mechanical work may require a separate permit, and only licensed specialists like electricians or plumbers can obtain them. Work involving septic, air conditioning, irrigation, and solar power systems typically needs a permit too. However, simple repairs, painting, wallpapering, new carpets, changing a faucet, and replacing a similar door do not require a permit. Replacing window glass is also acceptable but replacing the window itself requires a permit. Green building codes are becoming increasingly popular, with many localities relying on permits to enhance the energy efficiency and water usage of new construction. In New York City, new building codes aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5% before 2030. San Francisco has also implemented ordinances that mandate new homes to meet energy and water conservation standards. If a contractor insists that a permit is not necessary for a significant job, it should be a red flag. If you plan to do the work yourself, you can obtain your permit, but you’ll be responsible for following codes. If you hire someone to help, you’ll need proof of insurance or worker’s compensation coverage.

Before starting a construction or renovation project, it is important to plan ahead for obtaining a building permit. This process involves submitting detailed plans, which can be formal blueprints or simple drawings, to the local building department or building official for review. A site map may also be required to show the location of the building on the property. The permit is typically valid for six months, but can be extended if needed. Fees for building permits vary depending on the scope of the project and cover the cost of professional review and inspections.

Zoning regulations should also be considered before beginning a project, as they can affect building specifications, lot size, occupancy, and use of the property. Compliance with zoning rules or obtaining a variance may be necessary.

The inspections required during the building permit process can be stressful, as an inspector will visit the job site multiple times to ensure compliance with building codes and plans. It is up to the contractor or homeowner to schedule inspections as needed and plan the project accordingly.

If your inspection passes, you can proceed with your construction project. However, if it fails, the inspector will inform you or your contractor about the problem and how to fix it. For minor issues, the solution can be resolved on the spot, and permission may be granted to proceed with the work.

For a large building project, such as a new house or an addition, several inspections are required based on local regulations. The city of Scranton, Penn. follows a schedule that includes footing, foundation, framing, fire protection, and final inspections. The inspector examines various aspects such as soil, forms, reinforcing rods, electrical systems, and fire suppression systems to ensure the project complies with the building code.

Despite the anxiety that comes with inspections, it is essential to remember that inspectors only examine the work covered by your permit. They will not scrutinize your entire home for code violations. For instance, if you are renovating your kitchen, you do not need to upgrade your bathroom features to meet current building codes.

Once the final inspection is completed, and your project meets the building code, the permit process is over. You will receive a certificate of occupancy from the inspector, which verifies that your project meets the building codes.

Building codes only provide minimum standards for your permit. It is advisable to consider building beyond code, especially if you reside in areas prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, or wildfires. For example, some homeowners in Galveston, Texas, survived Hurricane Ike in 2008 because they had built their homes to a higher standard than required by the building code.

Instead of viewing building permits as a nuisance, it is better to consider them a service provided by the local government. Your building plans will be examined and approved by professional engineers, and inspectors will ensure that the work meets the required standard. If you have any questions about the building permit process, your local building department can provide clarifications.

The article provides information on building permits and how they work. If work has been completed without a permit, it may still be possible to get a permit depending on whether the work can be inspected. If an inspection is needed urgently, it is best to contact the inspector in advance. If changes need to be made to the building plan, it is important to contact the building department beforehand. The final inspection is essential, as failure to get it may result in the building permit lapsing. Deed restrictions may be enforced in the building permit process, and it is important to check with the homeowners association before making building plans. The author shares some personal experience building an addition to their own home and emphasizes the importance of following building codes, being good to the inspector, and measuring twice before cutting.

Other Relevant Articles

  • Test Your Knowledge: The Ultimate House Building Quiz
  • The Top 5 Common Mistakes in Overly Quick House Construction
  • 10 Eco-Friendly Materials for Kitchen Construction
  • How Can I Responsibly Get Rid of My Construction Waste?
  • When is it Better to Use Untreated Lumber?
  • Can Home Renovations Decrease Your Property Value?
  • 10 Tips for Managing Your Homeowners’ Association

Sources for Further Reading

  • Barker, Bruce. “Codes for Home Owners.” Creative Publishing International, 2010.
  • The Building Department, LLC. “Permits protect the safety and value of your home” (Feb. 24, 2012) http://www.thebldgdept.com/commonquestionspage.htm
  • Buyer’s Choice Home Inspections. “History of Building Codes.” (Feb. 24, 2012) http://www.buyerschoiceinspections.com/history-of-building-codes
  • City of Houston. “Deed Restrictions General Information.” (Feb. 24, 2012) http://www.houstontx.gov/legal/deed.html
  • City of Redondo Beach, California. “Applying for Permits.” (Feb. 24, 2012) http://www.redondo.org/depts/eng_build/building/building_services/applying_for_permits.asp
  • Dehring, Carolyn. “The Value of Building Codes,” Regulation, Summer 2006. (Feb. 24, 2012) http://www.cato.org/pubs/regulation/regv29n2/v29n1-2.pdf
  • Hadhazy, Adam. “Extreme Building Codes: Protect Your Home From Natural Disasters,” Popular Mechanics, April 9, 2010. (Feb. 24, 2012) http://www.popularmechanics.com/home/improvement/outdoor-projects/extreme-building-codes
  • New York City Buildings Department. “History.” (Feb. 24, 2012) http://www.nyc.gov/html/dob/html/about/history.shtml
  • Oregon Association of Realtors. “Building Permits.” (Feb. 24, 2012) http://www.oregonrealtors.org/Legal/Building_Permit/
  • Scranton.gov. “Permits and Inspection Process.” (Feb. 24, 2012) http://www.scrantonpa.gov/lips_permits_inspections.html
  • Worell, Carolina. “Mayor Says Green Building Codes Will Help City Meet PlaNYC Goals,” ENRNew York, February 7, 2012. (Feb. 24, 2012) http://newyork.construction.com/new_york_construction_news/2012/0207-mayor-says-green-building-codes-will-help-city-meet-planyc-goals.asp
  • Zarella, John. “On hurricanes and building codes, and living in harm’s way,” CNN.com, June 10, 1999. (Feb. 24, 2012) http://europe.cnn.com/SPECIALS/views/y/1999/06/zarrella.hurricanes.jun10/


1. What is a building permit?

A building permit is an official document issued by a local government agency that allows you to begin construction or renovation on a property. It is a way for the government to ensure that the work being done is safe and up to code.

2. When do I need a building permit?

You typically need a building permit for any construction or renovation work that involves structural changes, electrical or plumbing work, or changes to the use of a building. This includes things like building a new home, adding an addition to an existing home, or installing a new heating system.

3. How do I apply for a building permit?

You can usually apply for a building permit through your local government agency’s building department. You will need to fill out an application, pay a fee, and provide detailed plans and specifications for the work you plan to do.

4. How long does it take to get a building permit?

The length of time it takes to get a building permit can vary depending on the complexity of the project and the workload of the building department. In some cases, you can get a permit in just a few days, while in other cases it may take several weeks or even months.

5. What happens if I start construction without a building permit?

If you start construction without a building permit, you could face fines, penalties, and even legal action. In addition, you may be required to stop work and obtain a permit before you can continue.

6. How long is a building permit valid?

The length of time a building permit is valid can vary depending on the local government agency and the type of work being done. In some cases, a permit may be valid for just a few months, while in other cases it may be valid for several years.

7. Can I make changes to my plans after I’ve been issued a building permit?

You may be able to make changes to your plans after you’ve been issued a building permit, but it will depend on the nature and scope of the changes. In some cases, you may need to apply for a new permit if the changes are significant.

8. What happens after the work is completed?

After the work is completed, the building department will usually inspect the property to ensure that the work was done according to the plans and specifications submitted with the building permit. If everything is up to code, you will be issued a certificate of occupancy, which allows you to occupy and use the property.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *