Learn about construction permits

Renovating? Ask permission first

So, the stars have aligned, and you’re ready to turn your house or property into everything you dreamed it could be. You’ve drawn up the plans, so you’re ready to go, right?

Well, not quite. As with most other jobs, you might have to do some paperwork.

What’s a building permit?

With renovation projects, “paperwork” means “permits.” Building permits are an assurance that the improvements you’re planning meet your community’s building codes and you’re not making modifications that put anyone in danger or compromise the structure’s integrity.

After an inspector has reviewed your plans, your local government’s building department will issue the necessary permit(s). Each permit authorizes a specific scope of work so a large renovation project may require multiple permits. It’s usually up to the person doing the work to get the necessary approvals. If you’re hiring a contractor, they will likely be responsible for doing the paperwork; if the renovation work is DIY, so is the permitting process.

Not all projects require municipal approval. For instance, replacing your HVAC system or removing a load-bearing wall usually requires a permit because these are structural changes that could impact the home’s safety. Replacing an existing door or putting new flooring in your living room probably won’t since they are cosmetic changes. However, requirements vary geographically, so check with your municipality.

Safety net

There are a few other things to know before you darken the building inspector’s door.

  • You can apply online. In many cases, the application forms will be available on your town’s municipal website. You can print them out, or you may even be able to submit them online.
  • Have blueprints ready. You’ll have an easier time getting the permits you need if you can prove that you’ve thought things through.
  • Be ready to write a check. Fees can vary from $50 or so to several hundred dollars.
  • Be ready to be inspected. You’ll need to be prepared to have your work inspected at any point in the project — sometimes multiple times. For example, if you’re adding a deck, you’ll need to have the excavations for footings inspected before you pour the concrete. And if you’re opening walls for plumbing or electrical work, the installation will need to be inspected before you put the drywall back up.
  • Don’t worry if you flunk. Getting a failing grade on your plans doesn’t mean your new kitchen can’t be built. It just means you’ll need to correct the design’s deficiencies, then apply again.
  • Show your work. Once you’ve got the permits in hand, post them where they’ll be visible to building department personnel — in a window or on an external door.
  • Don’t cheat. You may be tempted just to do the work without getting official permission — particularly if you’re doing the work yourself. But there’s a good reason for going through the effort. Building codes are there to protect you.

Sources: housebeautiful.com; thespruce.com

The information included here was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, however Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company and its employees make no guarantee of results and assume no liability in connection with any training, materials, suggestions, or information provided. It is the user’s responsibility to confirm compliance with any applicable local, state, or federal regulations. Information obtained from or via Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company should not be used as the basis for legal advice or other advice, but should be confirmed with alternative sources.