If you’re thinking about renovating your home, you may need permits before you can start. It may seem frustrating or like another delay after you’ve spent so much time finding the right contractors, choosing the designs, and saving the money, but they are often necessary.
The good news is that not all renovations require a permit. The not so good news is many renovations do require one and if you’re caught without one it could cost you money.
What Renovations Require a Permit?
Most major changes to your home require a permit. If the changes will affect the home’s structure, then a permit will be required. This includes changes to load-bearing walls, cutting holes for new windows or doors, installing new plumbing or electrical systems, or changing your home’s siding.
You’ll also need a permit for any additions or complete renovations, such as knocking down your family room and building a new one or adding a bedroom. Even adding a deck or patio requires a permit.
What Renovations Don’t Require a Permit?
The good news is that not all renovations require a permit. Simple renovations you do yourself or even if you hire someone may not require a permit, such as:
- Installing new flooring
- Changing the color of the walls or removing wallpaper
- Installing new cabinets or countertops
- Replacing light fixtures
- Replacing faucets
How to Get a Permit
You must go to your local city or municipality to apply for a permit. Each county has different rules when applying. Most have an application you must fill out and many charge a fee. Depending on the complexity of the renovations, you may also need to submit blueprints or drawings as well as any plans from the contractor.
Permits for minor renovations may be issued right away. Any complex renovations that require blueprints, however, may take a while as management reviews them and ensures all renovations are within city code.
You shouldn’t start any work until you have the permit to hang in your window.
What do you do if you don’t have a Permit but you Need One?
If you think you’ll be fine and decide to skip the permit process, you could be in for some unpleasant surprises.
- You’ll pay a fine – Most municipalities charge a fine for not getting a permit. The amount depends on the complexity of the renovations you did and the work the county must do because of the lack of a permit. The fees can get hefty.
- You may have to undo the renovations – The county or city has the right to tell you to ‘undo’ the renovation if it doesn’t meet city code. If they catch you mid project, they may be nice enough to tell you to stop all work until you go through the permit process.
- You may have a hard time selling – When you sell your home, you must disclose everything you’ve done to renovate the home. If the buyers find out you didn’t have permits, they may not be willing to buy the home for fear of the consequences coming down on them.
- Your homeowner’s insurance may not hold up – If you have an insurance loss in an area of your home that you renovated without a permit, it could void your homeowner’s insurance and leave you with an even larger financial mess to handle.
Simple DIY Renovations that Anyone can Do
Whether you need permits to remodel a kitchen depends on what you’re doing. Any electrical or plumbing changes require permits, as do any changes to load-bearing walls. But cosmetic changes, like changing the paint color, painting cabinets, or even installing new countertops don’t require a permit.
If you’re replacing existing drywall because it was damaged or needed replacement, you may not need a permit. But if your work involves any changes to electrical or plumbing, you will need a permit.
Like the kitchen, a bathroom remodel may or may not need a permit. It depends on what you’re doing. If your work involves any electrical or plumbing work, then you need a permit. If your work involves any structural changes too, it will require a permit.
Small changes like painting the bathroom, changing the lighting, or even the faucet don’t require permits.
Yes, you always need a permit for a fence whether it’s new or you’re replacing an existing fence. This is even true if the new fence is the same material as the old fence.
As a general rule of thumb, err on the side of caution and ask for a permit. If you don’t need one, your city will let you know and you can start your project right away. If you need one, though, you’ll protect yourself.
Not getting a permit when you needed one can be devastating to your finances down the road and you may even need to take it down, which isn’t what you’d want to hear. If you’re unsure if your renovations require a permit, ask. You might waste a few days waiting for an answer, but a few days wasted is a lot better than losing thousands of dollars.