12 Jul Building Permits
When they’re necessary & when they’re not
You’re planning a remodel. You know what you want, but you aren’t entirely sure how to get it.
Understanding that you may need one or more permits gives you an advantage over many others with similar aspirations. Going into a project aggressively and blind can lead to very serious consequences. And, no, naiveté is not a valid excuse.
Below is a general overview that may help you understand the logic behind why building permits are so often necessary. Check it out and see if some of your questions have been answered or at least narrowed down. You may have noticed that in the field of home improvement control, there a few gray areas. That’s usually where you should start to ask questions…
Your biggest question may be,
“Why do I need a permit?”
You may even be cynical, but a cynical reply may be what you need to understand,
“Because you don’t want to be sued or sent to jail!”
Without the right permits, you run a great risk of being held responsible for bodily harm suffered by yourself or worse – someone else. Home sales may be adversely affected by improperly permitted work. In such cases, homeowners find themselves forced to get permits retroactively! It’s a hassle you want to avoid. It could require demolition and retracing steps so the work may be redone properly… without the correct permits you could be looking at fines, lawsuits, and big headaches!
So first, before hammering a single nail, check with your local jurisdiction. It is imperative; tell them exactly what you plan. Local building departments may be unintentionally ambiguous in regards to certain info you seek, but at least you can confirm that you covered your bases by going to them. Keep in mind, also, that guidelines vary over time. Try to keep the local dept. informed with what you’re doing, maybe even make a friend there. You’ll want to be updated on planning conditions, “green” requirements, and whatever changes come down the pike. Forewarning is always preferable to surprise.
Make yourself familiar with the International Building Code (IBC), it is recognized as an official resource throughout most of the United States. This will help you to initially identify when a permit is required. Basically, any structural modification to your home will require a permit. Electrical and plumbing modifications both require them as do various mechanical system installations and window enlargements. Roof modifications will need a permit as will sewer changes, serious demolitions and the addition of fireplaces.
Of small relief are the few things that may seem like major projects, but aren’t. It’s the little things, isn’t it? Like home improvements that don’t need permits: the installation of a hardwood floor, new carpet, new interior paint, paneling, crown molding, baseboard & casing… yes, they all have automatic clearance to commence. No worries there.
When it comes to exterior work, there are several ‘gray’ areas to which you will need to confirm yay or nay. Building an add-on deck, cutting down mature trees, and erecting a fence are examples of undertakings that depend on details for approval. Factors such as design, location, and duration of projects all influence the response to your request. For instance, the rules set by your community may exclusively approve or deny certain exterior work such as home painting and re-paneling. Especially in small exclusive communities general uniformity is enforced.
It might seem reasonable to assume that replacing light fixtures, plumbing and appliances would not need permits, but the industry has evolved – it’s become much more stringent. You may feel like you are being unnecessarily hassled, but ultimately it comes down to safety. Obviously the addition of, say, a wood-burning fireplace would need permits, but it would also require documentation of conformance to EPA standards. Additional considerations will arise that must be attended to.
And then there are considerations taken for granted, that may in fact be issues of some consequence. For instance, most homeowners don’t give their staircase railing a second thought. But if they develop a desire to change it, yup, they must again pursue permission. Luckily, railing guidelines are set by the International Building Code and are very easily referenced.
Yes, you’ll endure times of what you may perceive to be overbearing regulations, but it’s all with the public good in mind. Your family will be safer and your home is ensured a trouble free transition when/if you wish to sell, all because you took the time to do everything right.e time to do everything right.