Most cities and towns require building permits for all new construction and most home remodeling projects. Permits help municipalities raise money and enforce both zoning ordinances and building code regulations. Permit requirements also benefit a homeowner or potential buyer. For a homeowner, post-work inspections can uncover substandard workmanship, building code violations and safety issues that might otherwise remain unseen until a problem occurs. A buyer can check city building inspection records online or in person to find out if a remodeling project or an addition had a valid permit.

Permit Requirements

Although exact rules vary from one place to the next, any project that involves new construction or goes beyond cosmetic upgrades usually requires a building permit. For example, a remodeling project that changes a room's footprint, involves plumbing, heating or electrical systems, or involves roofing and window replacement all typically require a permit. Check with the Department of Building Inspection in your city or town for specific requirements.

Unless a homeowner is doing DIY work on a primary residence, a licensed contractor usually must pull building permits. That said, the responsibility for making sure a project has the right permits typically falls on the homeowner.

Building Permit Fees

Fees for most building permits vary according to the size of the project and total construction costs, including both materials and labor. In some cases, fees for projects that involve utilities such as plumbing or electricity depend on the actual work done. For example, the fee for a project that requires five electric receptacles would be less than for a project that requires 10 receptacles. According to Bankrate.com, costs typically range from $100 to more than $1,000.

The Application Process and Estimated Timeline

Depending on the size and scope of a project, in addition to the permit application, you may also need to submit a site plan and/or a floor plan or blueprints.

The application asks for both basic and specific information. While the exact requirements may vary according to your location, this information typically includes

  • The address of the project
  • Your name and contact information
  • The names, contact information and licensing credentials for all contractors and subcontractors
  • Cost estimates
  • Information about the project, including its scope and a description

The start-to-finish time frame for pulling a building permit depends on whether it requires a formal review. In some localities, a small project such as installing kitchen cabinets might qualify for over-the-counter service. However, Bankrate.com notes that building permits for larger projects can take days, weeks or months.

Once issued, a building permit has an expiration date that usually depends on the type of work and the size of the project. You'll need to complete all work as well as schedule and pass all required inspections within this time frame or apply for an extension.