Do You Need a Permit for That Home Renovation?

Whether you take on a home improvement project solo or hire a professional, it’s important to make sure all the bases are covered before you even get started. If you forget to obtain the right permits, you risk breaking municipal building code. Yes, permits can cost from about $200 to somewhere in the low thousands, depending on the project. But that number is insignificant compared to what will happen if you’re caught making renovations without a permit: you’ll have to have whatever it is removed, losing you valuable time and effort.

Here’s what will happen when you request a building permit: you’ll pay the application fee, submit two copies of the site plan for the project, wait about 10-30 days for a decision, and the city will either approve or deny your permit. If you’ve got the green light, a city inspector will come in at different times (expect about 6 visits) during the renovation to make sure what you’re doing is in line with city building code.

Remember, even if you’re leaving all the heavy lifting to a contractor, it’s ultimately your responsibility to make sure you have a permit. Don’t just take their word for it that they went and got one—until you have the document in your hands, assume there’s no permit. Below is a handy list of common renovation projects and whether or not you’ll need a permit to take them on:

Do I Need a Permit For…

  • Painting or putting up wallpaper? No.

  • Replacing a water heater? Yes.

  • Replacing a faucet? No.

  • Adding new siding? Usually. It depends on the city you live in, but in most cases you will need a permit.

  • Adding an addition? Yes. Any time you’re planning on adding square footage to your home, you’ll probably need a permit first.

  • Installing countertops? No.

  • Adding a window? Yes…but sometimes no. If you’re just replacing the glass on a window that’s already built into the house, you can proceed without a permit. But if you’re knocking out part of a wall and adding a new space for a window or door, you’ll need permission. This includes skylights as well.

  • Putting in a new fence? Sometimes. Some cities require a permit to put in a fence, and some just place restrictions on height.

  • Installing carpeting or flooring? No.

  • Moving an outlet? Yes. Any changes to electrical wiring will likely require a permit.

  • Structural changes (like adding a balcony or porch)? Yes. If it affects the property’s support system in any way, you’ll need a permit. 

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