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When is a Building Permit Required?

Updated on March 25, 2014

To those that don't make a living in the construction industry, it can be confusing as to when to get a permit for a project in or around your home. When and why is it necessary to go to the trouble of filling out the paperwork, paying the fees, and waiting on inspectors to show up? Unfortunately, most people don't pull a permit when they should. This can lead to dangerous situations and hassles down the road. Here an industry veteran tries to demystify the permit process.

Pulling a Permit...What Does it Mean?

We hear it daily in the construction industry, but what does it mean to "pull" a permit? Basically, pulling a permit is the same as getting a permit. Because there is typically a process to getting one, people within the industry refer to it as pulling. This is a little crazy...just one of the many industry terms designed to make our industry sound more complicated than it is.

If your project is more involved like building a home or putting an addition onto your home, the process typically requires a little more time, although all municipalities are different. What can take a day in one local town can take six months in another. Yes, it's possible to take as long as six months to get a permit to build a new home.

Advantages to Getting a Permit

To sum the advantages up in a word...Protection. By pulling a permit for your new project, you will get a review from an unbiased group of construction professionals. If your project involves plans, you will first go through a plan review where they look at the details to make sure the project meets or exceeds local building codes. This is a good thing...you don't want to create an unsafe condition in or around your home.

In addition to the plan review, you will get inspections during the building process. Again, the unbiased review of the work is good to have. Even the best builders and subcontractors can miss things. So, having a third or forth set of eyes on your work can save you time and hassles.

When do I Pull a Permit?

You will need a permit whenever your owner builder project alters the structure or mechanicals. There we go with the terms again. What is a mechanical? These are basically the plumbing, electrical and HVAC in your home. In some cases, it's obvious if a permit is required. Building a deck for example is a structural project that always requires a permit. But believe it or not, ninety percent of homeowners don't get a permit when they build a deck. This is one of the reasons so many people are injured around decks each year.

But what about the smaller jobs like replacing a light fixture or faucet? Do these require a permit? Typically no. But the best way to make sure you are following the rules is to ask the local building department. Your tax dollars pay for the building department so they are there to help you. Some other occasions when you may need to pull a permit include...replacing a roof, pouring a concrete slab, or changing your driveway at a public roadway.

Costs

You will be required to pay a fee to your local building department for your permit. This covers the time for administration, reviewing your plans and for inspections. Because the costs vary greatly from one municipality to another, you will want check with your local building department for a list of fees. As a builder I have paid everywhere from $50 to $10,000 for a permit. It really depends on the municipality and the scope of your project.

Inspections can also cost you time in your schedule as you wait for the building department to come out to your home or job site. In some cases the local building department will come inspect the day you call. However, this is not always the case. During busy times, I have seen them take up to three days to get out to the site. Therefore, you may want to ask the typical turnaround times for inspections when you pull the permit. As long as you know it takes three days from the time you call in, you can plan ahead and call early. Just make sure the work is ready for inspection as most municipalities charge re-inspection fees when an inspector comes out and the work isn't ready.

Pulling a permit can also trigger changes to your real estate taxes. As you improve your home, the value will go up. Local jurisdictions handle these differently...I've experienced a few that will reassess your property with any major additions or changes. Meaning, your taxes will go up on the next tax cycle. This probably isn't ideal for most people, but it is the way the system was intended to work.


Always pull a building permit when planning for major projects like building your own home. For any projects that you aren't sure of, put a quick call into your local building department.

Have you ever built a project without a permit?

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Author Bio

Michael Luckado has built, remodeled and repaired thousands of homes over the years in his career as a general contractor. He co-founded ArmchairBuilder.com to help people save money when building their own home.

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