Thinking about undertaking a DIY home improvement project? Awesome! DIY projects can be incredibly satisfying, but before you pick up that sledgehammer and start smashing walls down, you need to know what home repairs require a permit.
Home Repair Permits: The Basics
Building permits are a legal requirement for any renovation that will change the structure of your home.
Permits are put in place by our municipalities to ensure the safety, structural stability, and health of a structure. They also protect us from unscrupulous contractors that cut corners by using substandard materials and unaccredited tradesmen.
To get a permit, an expert in the sector will review your particular home repair or remodel plans and identify any mistakes in them before the real work begins. As the work goes on, inspectors check up to see that no life-threatening errors are available, and if spotted, they are corrected before the job is completed.
What Home Repairs Require a Permit?
According to the International Residential Code and International Building Code, a permit is required whenever a structure is being constructed, altered, enlarged, moved, demolished or repaired.
All of the following home repairs require a permit:
1 – Window and Door Installation
Permits are usually required when installing an exterior door or window where there wasn’t one before. Some municipalities, however, require a legal permit for a basic replacement. Most building departments demand that the replacement’s dimensions match those of the existing window or door while others insist on a material match or a particular look.
2 – Fencing Installation and Repair
Most people assume that putting up something as straightforward as a new fence can be done without needing a permit. Although this might be true in some municipalities, the majority require permitting and prebuild evaluations before starting the work.
There are cities that require a permit for installing a fence, regardless of its characteristics such as height, aesthetics, and material being used for the fence. Others simply want to make sure that the fence posts are seated properly and firmly on the ground. Some states like Chicago only require a permit for installing fences that are over five feet tall.
3 – Electrical Work
Projects like updating your wiring usually require a permit. Some of the electrical work that needs wiring include:
- Installing or altering any permanent electrical device or wiring
- Running additional wiring, installing a receptacle for a garage door opener, putting in a light fixture or electrical outlet
- Installing or altering low-voltage systems like security alarms, computer systems, or stereos
Fortunately, some of these projects usually reduce insurance premiums
4 – Additions and Remodeling Projects
Additional structures such as sheds and any other outbuilding require a permit. Many municipalities require that they are within specified guidelines like height, distance from property, and footprint. If you decide to run certain utilities like water and electricity to this structure, you will also be needed to provide a permit for that too.
5 – Soil Grading
While most people understand that they need a permit to do work in their house, some fail to realize that exterior projects may require a permit as well. An example? Changing your property’s grading.
Pouring in a truck of soil to elevate a certain section of your yard will require a permit. This is especially important if the alteration will cause all the rainwater to be directed into your neighbor’s basement.
Fortunately, permits for this sort of thing are not too difficult to get. Most engineers require a sketch of them anyway to ensure that you are not making a bigger problem than what you are trying to solve.
6 – Emergency Repairs
The majority, if not all, cities in the United States allows for stabilization without a permit. In other words, if a tree branch falls and dents your roof, you are allowed to patch it with a tarp or a piece of plywood.
However, once you are ready to have the damage permanently repaired, you will need to seek a permit before starting the repair. Luckily, most areas provide fast permits for emergencies whereas others allow you to begin work as the permit is being processed.
7 – Gas Stoves Repairs and Installations
You will need a permit and an authorized plumber to repair or replace gas lines. A poorly repaired or installed gas line poses a hazard not only to you and your family, but also to the entire neighborhood.
In some cities, even installing a gas stove into an existing gas line will require a permit or a licensed installer. This is largely due to the extreme nature and high cases of gas explosions.
8 – Basement Repairs or Renovations
Although basement remodels are popular among DIYers, you will need to go through the necessary permit procedures.
If you plan on finishing your basement, you will need to furnish them with a simple floor plan that shows the proposed finished product and the current condition of the basement.
Make sure to check if there are any requirements on clearance of the areas around the furnace, electrical breaker box, and other mechanicals.
9 – Footprint Changes
Any alteration or modification to the footprint of your home requires a permit. This includes bedroom additions, some sheds, and garages.
10 – Structural Changes
A project that involves making changes to the home’s support system requires a building permit. This includes changes to balconies, porches, and load-bearing walls.
11 – Water Heater Replacement
If you need to replace or install a new water heater, the first thing you need to do is to get a permit. A permit may also be required for ventilation system changes.
12 – Decks
This is another exterior project that requires a permit. Regardless of how simple your deck is, you still need to get a permit before starting the work.
13 – Electrical Wiring
Homeowners are usually surprised by how stringent cities can be when it comes to requiring a permit for basic wiring.
This is true even in states where you do not need to be a licensed electrician to work on your own home. As a rule of thumb, any electrical work that involves working behind the drywall requires a permit.
A great example of this is adding an outlet. Although this is not overly complicated and most DIYers certainly have the knowledge and skill needed to do it right, it could be illegal to do so without a permit.
14 – Installing a Storm Shelter
In areas where hurricanes and tornadoes occur fairly regularly, some people like to install storm shelters for protection. However, if your design does not conform to FEMA specs, it will be anything but safe. Remember, getting a prebuild permit for this job enables you to register it. In an emergency, first responders will have this information and know exactly where to go looking to save you.
15 – Re-Roofing
Many cities require permits for re-roofing while others require a permit for patches over a certain size. This is one of those projects where you definitely do not want to skip getting the required permit since roofing work is visible and noticeable from the street. So take the time out to make it happen!
16 – “Total Cost”
Some cities require you to get a building permit if your renovation or construction project cost surpasses a certain amount of money, which is usually anything above $5,000. Keep this in mind and be sure to total up your expected expenses well before you begin work.
How Do I Get a Building Permit?
To get a permit, you will need to apply for it through the municipal government offices in your area. Depending on the size and complexity of a project, permits can be issued either immediately or may require further inspection of the plans and building site.
During the actual renovation, an inspection of the ongoing works will likely be needed. Projects that involve home additions may require multiple inspections. However, once the project is done and a final inspection is done, your permit will be issued.
What Happens if I Start a Job and Don’t Get a Permit?
Believe me, it can be very tempting to try and skip the permitting process. We all want to just get to it and get started immediately.
However, neglecting to obtain a permit can easily lead to major problems. If the municipality finds out, your project could be halted or you could incur a heavy fine. Although I’ve never seen this happen, some townships claim that they can even destroy the work that has already been completed if you failed to get a permit and there is no way to tell if the work is up to code.
Unpermitted renovations can also hurt you when trying to sell your house in the future. Whenever you are in doubt about this stuff, always contact your municipality to double check the permitting requirements for the project you plan on undertaking.
What Home Repairs Do NOT Require Permits?
Not all renovation projects need permits. In fact, the bread and butter DIY stuff usually does not require a permit. These kinds of improvements are cosmetic and include:
- Painting and wallpapering
- Building decks under a certain height
- Installing new countertops
- Repairing your driveway
- Adding a house fan
- Putting in new cabinets
Most large projects in the home that involve changes to its structure will need a permit. However, since each municipality has different rules, make sure to check your city’s website or call them for clarification.
As the owner of the home, regardless of whether you do the job on your own or hire a professional, it is your responsibility to ensure that the project has all the necessary permits.