Building Permits for Home Improvement Projects

Did you know that adding on to your deck or turning your garage into a hobby room may require a home improvement building permit? Fall is the perfect time to complete home improvement projects. Find out if you’ll need a building permit to complete yours. What’s a building permit? Where do you get one? How long are you covered? Home improvement projects can easily be completed in the fall. In most parts of the country the weather is still warm enough, but not too warm, to complete most any home improvement project indoors or out. If you’re planning an extensive project, or even a small one, you may need a building permit.

Why Do You Need a Building Permit for a Home Improvement Project?

Building permits for home improvement projects may seem like a pain in the neck but they protect the home owner and any future home owners should you sell your home. The purpose of a building permit for a home improvement project is to ensure that safety standards are met and the public is protected from unsafe construction. If there is a fire or other accident, your insurance company may not cover the accident if you bypassed getting a building permit for your home improvement project.

Which Home Improvement Projects Need Building Permits?

The types of home improvement projects that require building permits vary from county to county. Minor projects may not require a building permit: blowing insulation into your attic and walls; building a fence that is lower than 6 feet tall; or replacing doors and windows if you aren’t cutting additional ones or making the existing ones larger are examples of home improvement projects that don’t require building permits.

New buildings and additions (bedrooms, bathrooms, family rooms, decks, storage buildings, fences and pools, for example) almost always require a permit. Specific permits may be required for electric, plumbing and HVAC systems. Renovations such as garage conversions, basement finishing, kitchen expansions, and some re-roofing will also require a permit.

Where and How Do I Get a Building Permit for a Home Improvement Project?

Trying to determine where and how to get a building permit for a home improvement project can be frustratingly complicated if you aren’t familiar with the process. The best thing to do is call the main telephone number for your city or county government and ask to speak to the office that handles building permits for home improvement projects. Be prepared to tell them the type of work you plan to do, the square feet affected, if it is heated, and if you or a contractor are going to do the work. A tip: if you are hiring someone to help you, name yourself as the contractor so you can avoid some licensing requirements.

A trip to the local building department of your county or city will probably be required since you will need to make a payment and pick up the building permit for your home improvement project. If you are lucky, your locality may allow you to apply on-line and maybe pay on-line. When you check the website, search for “building permit” or building department or community development to find the right spot. You may need to research zoning ordinances and your subdivision restrictions, too. If you’re lucky, you can find this online. If not, ask when you go to pick up your permit.

How Much Does a Building Permit Cost for Each Home Improvement Project?

Cost of the building permit is usually based on the type of work, the number of inspections required, and the square feet of the home improvement project. Building permit fees are designed to recover the cost of the building inspection process. You will have to see what you locality charges.

Building permits are normally good for 180 days. You will need an extension if you don’t complete the work during that time frame.

What If I Complete My Home Improvement Project Without a Building Permit?

In some municipalities, not getting a building permit for a home improvement project could land you in jail. In Atlanta, Georgia, for example, undertaking a home improvement project without a building permit could get you a fine of $1,000 or 30 days in jail. Not to mention that the unauthorized work (especially plumbing or electrical) may be torn out if it does not meet code.

It’s easier just to get the building permit.


Personal experience in obtaining building permits in three different cities.

Building Permitting Procedures and Guidelines, City of Atlanta Online

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