Why Should You Permit Your Home Remodel?

Why Should You Permit Your Home Remodel?

Additions and Remodels
Bathroom Remodeling
Kitchen Remodeling
Small Projects and Repairs
By Contractors.com Team June 09, 2021

If you’re planning to remodel your house or build an addition, you’ve probably got a lot of questions you don’t have easy answers to. Perhaps you’ve got all the tools you need, everything is fully planned out, and you have the skill to do it all yourself. But it’s not exactly intuitive to figure out if you need a permit for your project. You may even wonder why you even need a building permit to complete work on your property. 

Why, you ask, does my local building department care about whether I’m modernizing my kitchen or remodeling my bathroom? What is the reason for all this paperwork, time, and expense? Does working with a licensed contractor make this whole permitting process any easier? Building permits are a very necessary part of many home remodeling projects, and while the permitting process can appear tiring to some, it is ultimately pretty simple for most projects. 

Whether It's a Bathroom or Kitchen Remodel, You Will Most Probably Need a Permit

Whether It's a Bathroom or Kitchen Remodel, You Will Most Probably Need a Permit

Plus, there are a lot of good reasons to get a permit before you start any construction work ranging from avoiding unnecessary expenses to keeping your home a safe place to live. Building permits are important for your local building department because they are designed to maintain the safety and security of residential buildings. Working with a permit is therefore as much about keeping yourself safe as well as keeping your neighbors and future residents safe, too. 

Reasons You Need to Work With a Permit

Because Things Can Get Really Expensive If You Don’t 

Building without a permit is always a risky gamble. Getting caught building without a permit will lead to your municipality giving you a “stop work” order. Some building departments enforce a $500 daily fine until you comply, and you will likely have to demolish whatever you built. But it doesn’t end there, because your building department will then make you get building permits anyway, and the building permit cost can be doubled as a penalty. 

If you manage to finish your project without getting caught, you can still get found out afterward. If this happens, your municipality can still issue a fine and have your work inspected. Walls will have to be torn up so that the changes you made can be checked. If your renovation isn’t up to code, you’ll have to do corrections. So, be prepared to tear it all up and start again, after getting a permit for renovation, of course. 

But you won’t just have to worry about the city finding out. If you decide to refinance a home mortgage, you will need to get an appraisal, and if an appraiser finds that you have done significant work on your house without city permits, this could disqualify you for a loan. 

Working Without a Permit is Dangerous 

When you work with a permit, your work will be regularly inspected by an official from your local government. This helps ensure that whatever changes or additions you make comply with building codes and environmental regulations. If you work without a permit, you won’t have the benefits that come with these inspections, and that means that your DIY renovation will effectively be an exercise in flying blind. You’ll have no way of knowing if your work is fully compliant with local building codes and that can lead to some serious safety issues. 

This is especially true if your work involves altering electrical circuitry, plumbing, taking down a wall, or other technically demanding projects. Even if these issues don’t immediately become apparent, they can rear their ugly heads later in the form of leaks, structural problems, and fire hazards. In the end, working without a permit means that you are vulnerable to unforeseen negative consequences that an inspector could have detected and corrected. 

Why You Shouldn't Work Without A Permit

Why You Shouldn't Work Without A Permit

You’ll be Protected From Unscrupulous Contractors

Most licensed contractors are quite skilled and dependable in their respective fields, but some unlicensed contractors will be more concerned about cost-cutting than about building codes. These unlicensed contractors are often uninsured, unregistered, and will be keen to cut corners by avoiding pulling permits. As with a DIY project, this means that your contractor’s handiwork may not comply with local building codes and might even have serious mistakes. 

Without regular inspections, you won’t be able to tell if your contractor is scamming you until problems emerge months or even years later. If this happens, you will almost certainly be left to foot the bill and fines with basically no means for holding the unregistered contractor accountable. Therefore, a permit is just as crucial to have if you work alone as when you work with a contractor. By contrast, a licensed contractor will know which permits to get for your project and can even pull them for you. 

To play things safe, consult your state’s labor department database to make sure your contractor is licensed. If you want to be safer still, you can do the permit application process yourself. If you choose to do so you should be aware that you will be considered the general contractor by most states including California, and the contractor you hired will be considered a ‘subcontractor’. This is known as an owner-builder arrangement, and you can read more about it here.

Unlicensed Contractors Can Get You Into a Bit of Trouble - Less Costly When Avoided

Unlicensed Contractors Can Get You Into a Bit of Trouble - Less Costly When Avoided

Working With a Permit Gives You a Better Idea of What’s Possible

If you think your home renovation project might need a permit, it’s always a good idea to get in touch with your local building department for clarification. Inspectors are more than happy to fill you in on what you need to do to comply with building codes, and this can also help to give you a better understanding of what’s possible. This may sound minor, but it’s important to know whether the plans you have envisioned for revamping some part of your home are viable. 

Your home might not be able to support certain building projects due to its structure or configuration. Your local building inspector might also be able to fill you in on issues that could present an obstacle to any work you plan to do. For instance, millions of homes in the United States still contain lead and asbestos, and if you happen to live in one of those homes a lot of home improvement projects may not be possible until abatement and mitigation measures are undertaken.  

Home Improvements and Renovations That Always Require a Permit

Home Improvements and Renovations That Always Require a Permit

Home Improvements and Renovations That Always Require a Permit

  • Walls: This is based on height restrictions. In a lot of states, a fence that is five feet high or more requires a permit to be installed. In California, a permit is required for any fence that is higher than seven feet. Walls made from masonry or concrete always require permits regardless of height.

  • New Windows: This doesn’t apply to replacing an existing window but also to any project that requires making an opening for a new window. The same goes for any project that creates a new doorway or a skylight.

  • Plumbing: If you’re putting in new pipes or changing the setup of existing plumbing, you’ll likely need a permit.

  • Electrics: Any job that alters your electrical wiring setup, including something as simple as moving a power outlet, will need a permit. 

  • Siding: If you’re planning on purchasing some new siding and installing it, that project will most likely require you to get a building permit.

  • HVAC or Water Heaters: You’ll need a permit if you want to put in a new water heater or replace your existing HVAC system with something more modern. Many other major projects concerning your water heater or HVAC will also require that you get a building permit. 

  • Structural Changes: This includes demolishing any section of your house, renovating your roof, knocking down a wall, and adding a wall. It also includes room conversions, such as converting a garage into extra living space.

  • Major Lawn Projects: A wide array of projects you can do in your backyard need a permit, ranging from building an inground swimming pool to installing an underground sprinkler system. Some regions even require you to get a permit for a garden shed, building a deck that is more than 30 inches off the ground, or building a treehouse. The best way to know for sure if your project falls under this umbrella is to ask a contractor or a local regulator. 
Installing a Swimming Pool Is One of Many Home Projects You'd Do Well to Get a Permit For

Installing a Swimming Pool Is One of Many Home Projects You'd Do Well to Get a Permit For

Home Improvements and Renovations That Don’t Require a Permit

Most of the home renovation projects that do not require a permit fall under the umbrella of ‘cosmetic changes’: 

  • Minor Lawn Projects: Repainting any part of your house or building a deck below 30 inches in height doesn’t require you to pull a permit. Likewise making repairs to a driveway or building a fence that is below your state building code’s specified minimum does not require any permitting before work can begin.

  • Kitchen Stuff: If you want to put in some new countertops or kitchen cabinets, you’ll be happy to know that these projects do not require a remodeling permit (unless you plan on rewiring electrical circuits or reconfiguring plumbing).

  • Repainting: If you want to repaint the interior or exterior of your house, you do not need a permit. 

  • House Fans: There is no permit required for buying and installing a whole house fan. 
Home Improvements and Renovations That Don’t Require a Permit

Home Improvements and Renovations That Don’t Require a Permit

Written by
Contractors.com Team

Written by Contractors.com Team

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