When you're planning any kind of home remodeling project, you should include the process of securing a building permit into your project plans. The process of pulling a permit isn't just for professional contractors. Homeowners benefit from pulling business permits, too. The process includes home inspections that can help reveal substandard or unsafe construction methods, faulty materials or processes and other errors that can result in exorbitant costs if not uncovered and addressed quickly.
The Purpose of Building Permits
In most U.S. municipalities, code enforcement departments mandate the issuance of building permits before many kinds of remodeling and construction projects can begin. The permit issuance procedures serve a few purposes.
First of all, the building permit process lets the city's professional building inspectors know of a new construction project in their jurisdiction. The building inspector assigned to the project can then more easily keep track of the project and ensure it complies with local ordinances and regulations. This improves safety and property values in the jurisdiction.
Secondly, the fees from permits are often a big part of the local government's revenues. The fees can then go towards salaries, programs and enforcement actions to help improve life for the residents of the municipality.
When a Building Permit is Required
If your project is purely cosmetic, you probably won't need a building permit to proceed. This would include such surface upgrades as new paint, new shelving units or a new light fixture.
However, if your project requires any adjustment of the footprint of the room in question or involves changes to the home's infrastructure systems (i.e., plumbing, heating or electrical), you'll probably need to go through the permitting process.
If your project requires the supervision of a licensed contractor, that person will be responsible for pulling any necessary permits. If you're doing the work yourself, you'll need to take care of this yourself. In either case, the ultimate responsibility for complying with permitting requirements usually rests solely with the homeowner.
Some common home improvement projects that may require permitting include:
- Tearing down or constructing new walls
- Conversion of a room from one use to another (i.e., a garage to a bedroom)
- Installing a new roof
- Adding a deck
Small projects such as driveway repaving, painting and staining an existing deck probably won't require you to pull a building permit. However, other regulations and local ordinances may apply to the project, so it's always a good idea to verify compliance with your local code enforcement office.
Building Permit Fees
The exact cost for pulling a building permit in your jurisdiction depends on the size and complexity of your project and will vary (sometimes wildly) from city to city. On average, building permit fees can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, according to HomeAdvisor.
If your project involves work on existing or new connections to city utilities, such as water or electricity, the fees may be higher, but may also be dependent on how much work is actually performed. Additionally, the more complex and lengthy the work process, the larger the fee may be.
The Application Process and Estimated Timeline
The process of applying for a building permit will vary from town to town but generally follows these steps:
- Fill out an application for a building permit
- Create and submit a site plan (may require the assistance of a licensed architect or general contractor)
- Obtain review by code enforcement staff (may take place in person for small projects but usually requires several days for approval)
- Obtain the physical permit prior to beginning work
- Arrange for on-site inspections at various intervals from city inspectors
- After project completion, get the final approval from inspectors
How long the approval and permitting process takes will depend on the scope and size of your project and the size of the jurisdiction in question. Busier offices for cities in the middle of a construction boom can take weeks to work their way through a major permit approval. Smaller offices with small projects can sometimes take care of the preliminary process on a same-day basis.
Be aware that your permit will generally come with an expiration date. You'll need to ensure the work is completed within that time period. Alternatively, you may be allowed to apply for an extension.
Many municipalities provide online access to building permit records, while some smaller towns and villages may require a trip to city hall.
What You’ll Need to Apply
You'll likely need to provide some basic information about your property and your project to apply for your permit successfully. This information will typically include:
- Your name, address and other contact information
- Your property's address (and sometimes a tax map number)
- Names, contact information and license numbers for contractors and their major subcontractors, if any
- A description of the project and scope of intended work
- Budget and costs projections
Annie Sisk is a freelance writer who lives in upstate New York. She has written extensively for publications and websites in the home repair and decor fields, among other topics. A homebody by nature, Annie particularly enjoys Scandinavian and French Country design, and learning how complicated things are put together.