If you are planning
to do any renovating or new construction around your home or property,
it is very likely that you will need a building permit. Not knowing what
is required when contemplating a building project can be intimidating.
Asking questions and getting the correct information before you begin
can help ensure that your project goes smoothly.
A building permit is a document that grants legal permission to allow
you to begin your building project.
Why is a building permit required?
A building permit is required to protect the health, safety and well being
of you and your community by ensuring that all construction aligns with
minimum safety and community standards.
Most states, provinces and local municipalities have bylaws which require
that homeowners, or contractors working on behalf of a homeowner, obtain
permits for many building and remodeling projects. A building permit ensures
that you (or the person you hire) plan to build, remodel or renovate something
in a way that will be safe and last a long time. A building permit is
also a commitment to have the work inspected and approved when it is finished.
An inspector will make sure that the work complies with current laws,
called building codes, that spell out what is safe and legal.
The basic building code is part of state or provincial law, but local
governments can add to it to make sure buildings are safe in a particular
climate or location.
Building permits and building codes are part of a system for making sure
that what we build, remodel, or renovate will be safe, and that it will
last. This system protects our pocketbooks by making sure work gets done
right the first time. Getting a building permit and getting the job done
right also protect the value of our homes and businesses, and make them
easier to resell.
When do I need one?
The specific requirements for when to get a building permit vary from
place to place. But here are some general examples of the kinds of projects
that do - and do not - require building permits:
DOES require a building permit:
Building a house.
Adding a room or dormer.
Building a garage.
Adding or removing walls.
Adding or changing a porch or sun room.
Installing a swimming pool.
Building a deck over 30" off the ground.
Installing a new furnace.
Altering windows or doors.
Changing duct work or electrical wiring.
Plumbing a bathroom.
DOES NOT require a building permit:
Building a one story garden shed, playhouse or other outbuilding that
is less than 200 square feet.
Building a fence that is not over 6 feet high.
Painting, wallpapering, tiling, carpeting, and other finish work.
Installing swings or other play equipment for a one- or two-family dwelling.
Replacing a fixture (such as a toilet) or an appliance.
You must verify
the exact requirements in your area!
do I get one?
Local governments issue most building permits. If you live in a town or
a city, your municipal government will issue you a permit. If you live
in an unincorporated area, your county government will issue one. The
local office that issues building permits may be called the Department
of Community Development, the Planning Department, or a similar name.
Many local governments have information about building permits on their
web sites. Some also have the forms you will need to fill out, and information
about what to bring with you when you apply for a permit.
It's important to find out in advance what to bring with you when you
apply for a building permit. You may need to bring specific plans and
a legal description of your property, and your permit may be delayed if
you don't have the right documents with you when you apply.
What is a building code, and who writes them?
Building codes are detailed rules for ensuring safety and consumer protection.
They specify how buildings must be constructed, wired, plumbed, and ventilated,
and what materials may be used. Building codes are written by people from
the construction industry and government officials.
Building codes have been around for thousands of years. The first known
building code was in Babylon. It was very simple: It said that if a building
collapsed, the person who built it should be slain. Today's codes are
more complex, to say the least.
Generally speaking, the building industry and governments are working
to make codes more consistent all across the US, and eventually they hope
to have a consistent national code. However, Washington, Oregon and California
have stricter energy codes than other states, designed to reduce the amount
of energy used.
How long does it take to get a building permit?
The time it takes to get a building permit varies, depending on where
you live, and the size, cost, and complexity of your project. You can
speed up the process by finding out in advance what you need to take with
you when you apply.
In the last few years, many local governments have been working to make
getting building permits faster and easier, because citizens and builders
have complained when permits were delayed. Many cities and towns have
streamlined their building permit processes to provide better, more customer-friendly
If you have problems getting a building permit, your local elected officials
want to know about it. They are committed to improving services, and they
need to hear from citizens about whether their efforts are succeeding,
or whether more work is needed.
How much does a building permit cost?
Most building permit fees are based on the size and cost of the project.
Fees range from $20-30 for small, simple projects to several thousand
dollars for building an expensive new house.
What can happen if I don't get a building permit?
If you don't get a building permit for a project that requires one, it
is a violation of the law. Local officials may issue a "stop work
order" until you get required permits. If you complete your project
without a building permit and an inspection, you risk having to make costly
repairs if the job isn't done right, and you risk your own and your family's
safety. If the project doesn't meet building codes, it may have to be
redone. There are additional penalties and fees when this happens. You
may also be required to have the work redone in order to sell your home.
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