What’s the Purpose of a Building Permit When Renovating Your Home?

May 29, 2019

Improving your home is a great way to not only improve its aesthetics and functionality, but it’s also an effective way to add value. Certain projects can bring in a high ROI, adding more value to your property compared to what you spend on the actual project itself.

But before you take hammer to nail, you’ll want to find out if you need a building permit for the specific task you’re undertaking. While certain minor jobs might not need a permit, others will require that a permit is a applied for and approved before you start any work.

What is a Building Permit, and What is its Purpose?

A building permit is an approval issued by your local government that basically grants you permission to take on a specific renovation project in your home. The purpose of a building permit is to make sure that the project you intend to carry out complies with local bylaws. 

The reason why your project needs to adhere to these laws and standards is to ensure that the end result is a safe home for all occupants. Permits will also make sure that the project will result in a structure that’s efficient, accessible, and suitable for habitation. Further, permits will ensure that the changes you make comply with zoning requirements and land use regulations. 

Applying for a building permit will come with a cost, which can range from anywhere between $450 and $1,800. The actual cost will depend on the specific location and the extent of the renovations. 

There’s also a bit of a waiting period from when you apply for your permit to when you’re granted approval. You could be waiting anywhere between two to four weeks for your building permit to be processed, depending on how many permits the city has to process and how in-depth your project is. 

Once you receive the building permit, you’ll need to post it up at your work site as the project gets underway. That way, if any building inspectors show up, you’ll have something ready to be shown to prove that you’ve obtained the necessary paperwork and permission to do the work. 

You may also be required to have an inspector check out your work periodically at different phases of the job, depending on how in-depth and complex it is. After each phase, give the inspection office a call to have someone scope things out so you can move on to the next phase. If anything needs to be modified, you can make such changes as needed before you carry on. 

Generally speaking, the majority of renovations require a couple of inspections throughout the project, including a final inspection once all the work is done. At that point, you can take the permit down from wherever you’ve posted it and enjoy the finished project.

Do You Need a Building Permit For Your Project?

Now that you know why a building permit is required, how do you know if your specific project requires one?

Make sure you check with your local building department to verify if the project you’re intending to take on needs a permit or not, as code requirements may be different from one city to the next. 

That said, there are certain projects that may be exempted, such as:

  • Painting
  • Laying carpeting
  • Installing cabinets
  • Installing countertops
  • Tile work
  • Making minor plumbing or electrical repairs that don’t require the replacement of pipes or wires
  • Installing a fence less than 7 feet high
  • Construction of one-story detached structures, such as sheds or children’s playhouses no larger than 120 square feet and with no plumbing, electricity, or heating

Basically, simple repairs or improvements can be done without having to obtain a building permit. But if your project is more in-depth and involves building additions or making major changes to the major systems in your home, you’ll probably have to apply for a permit from your local building department.

What Happens if Work is Done Without a Permit?

If your project requires a permit and you perform the work without one, you could find yourself in some trouble if the local building department finds out. Many homeowners renovate and update their homes without a permit. And while most may not have any troubles, it’s still a risk. 

Should an inspector catch wind of work done without a permit, you will have to go through the process of applying and paying for one. And if it’s determined that the work performed does not comply with local standards, you might be forced to tear down the project and start over.

Further, if you plan to sell in the near future, you might find that not having a permit for work performed could be an obstacle. Buyers who are aware of updates on your home may ask to see a building permit. And if you can’t produce one, it could throw a wrench in the deal if the buyer insists that you produce a permit. 

The Bottom Line

Having to go through the process of applying for a building permit and covering its cost – which can be hefty – can be a bit of a nuisance. But renovating with the permission of your local jurisdiction will not only make sure that the finished product is safe for occupancy, but it will also help you avoid any hurdles if you ever want to sell in the future.