Home Improvements That Require Permits

If you want to put your home on the market and boost your sale price, you may decide to raise the value by taking on some renovations and remodeling projects. After all, a home with a sunroom may fetch a better price than a home without one. And there's an excellent chance that new buyers will be enthralled by a chef's kitchen rather than your outdated galley kitchen.

But if you've ever done any extensive renovations in your home, you know that obtaining building permits is often required and may e expensive, time-consuming, and often frustrating.

Here are some basics of the permitting process and some significant projects that usually require a permit from your local building department.

Key Takeaways

  • Building permits can be obtained through the appropriate municipal office.
  • Making any major changes that alter the footprint of your home requires a permit,
  • These changes may include decks, certain fences, certain plumbing and electrical work, as well as siding projects.
  • Failure to obtain permits—even if you hire a contractor—can stall your project or complicate the sale of your home.
  • Some renovations such as painting, installing flooring and countertops, and replacing faucets don't require a permit.
  • Adding a bathroom to your home, will most likely require a permit.

The Permitting Process

Local municipalities issue permits based on city ordinances. Since there are no federal or state standards, building codes vary from city to city. The only way to know if your city requires a permit for a remodeling job is to go to its website or call.

If you hire a licensed contractor, they should know whether the job requires a permit but as the homeowner, it's your responsibility to ensure that all remodeling is completed lawfully. Don't assume the permits were handled by the contractor.

Some municipalities charge 1% of the total construction costs to issue the permit and it may take up to six weeks to complete the required inspections. That's time and money that many homeowners don't have and just aren't willing to sacrifice. As a result, many homeowners end up sidestepping the permit process. But doing that may be costly.

According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), failing to obtain the proper permits may stop or stall the renovations you have planned, or complicate or cancel the sale of your home. You have to prove that you pulled the proper permits if you have a home inspection or appraisal done. If you put your house up for sale, there's a very good chance that the lending bank won't advance the loan if it learns that remodeling work was done without securing permits. There's also the added hassle of having to pay fines or—even worse—having to tear down and redo the work.

It is your responsibility as a homeowner to ensure all the proper permits are pulled for your project(s)—even if you hire a contractor to do the job.

Renovations That Likely Need a Permit

Building permits are often divided into categories, including those allotted for electrical, mechanical, and structural changes or new construction work. Before you apply for these, you should have plans drawn up that comply with local codes and ordinances. That's because particular renovations will alter the structure of your property as a whole. Municipal authorities want to make sure that your property will be able to support the work you plan to do.

There's a very good likelihood that you need a permit if you plan to make major changes to your home's footprint. This includes things like bedrooms, room additions, most decks, garages, and some sheds. Any project that changes the existing support system of your home—changes to load-bearing walls, decks, balconies, and porches—also requires a permit. Here are a few other cases where you'll probably need a permit:

  • Fences: Not all fences require a permit, but municipalities often place height restrictions on non-permitted fences. The city of Chicago, for example, requires a permit on a fence five feet or higher, while other cities allow for higher structures.
  • New windows: Replacing an existing window doesn't usually require a permit, but cutting a hole for a new window generally does. This includes skylights and new doors.
  • Plumbing and electrical: A permit is probably required if you're installing new or removing existing plumbing. Any job that includes installing a new electrical service to your home also requires a permit. Even something as simple as moving an outlet requires a permit.
  • Siding: Most municipalities require a permit for siding projects.
  • Water heater: You need a permit to replace your water heater. You may also need a permit for ventilation system changes.
  • Total cost: Some municipalities require a permit if renovations or construction projects cost more than a certain amount— usually $5,000 or more.

Every municipality has its own rules on what constructions require a permit. Always check with your local planning or building department before starting a renovation.

How Do I Get a Permit?

Apply for the permit through your local municipal government office. Depending on the project's complexity, some permits are issued immediately, while others may require inspection of the plans.

During the renovation process, inspections of the work will likely be required. For projects involving home additions, multiple inspections may be required. Once the work is complete, a final inspection occurs, and the permit is issued.

Renovations That Do Not Require a Permit

There are some things you can do to your home without going through the process of getting a permit. The majority of them are fairly minor—most of which you can do yourself without having to hire and pay for a contractor. Here are a few of the projects that may not require a permit:

  • Painting or wallpapering
  • Installing hardwood floors or carpeting
  • Minor electrical repairs that don't involve adding new or moving existing service
  • Installing new countertops
  • Replacing a faucet

Do I Need a Permit to Renovate My House?

If you are renovating your entire home, chances are you will need a permit for at least one or some of your changes. A whole house renovation is a major renovation and if you are making structural or electrical or plumbing changes, such as adding a new bathroom, you may likely need a building permit.

What If I Don't Have a Permit?

If renovations to your home require a permit, but you don't get one, the municipal building inspector may place a stop-work order on the work being done, and you may be fined.

Do All Renovations Need a Permit?

There are many renovations that can be made without a permit, including painting interiors or exteriors of your home, putting in kitchen cabinets, installing hardwood floors, or making interior changes that don't require structural arrangements.

The Bottom Line

Most large projects that involve major changes to the structure of your home require a permit. Because each municipality has different rules, it's essential to check your city's website or call for clarification. Regardless of who does the work, the homeowner's responsibility is to ensure that the project holds the proper permits.

Article Sources

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  1. National Association of Realtors. "Avoid Unapproved Renovation Problems."

  2. City of Chicago. "Easy Permitting Process."