How to Get a Building Permit for Your Project

Evelyn Long

Jun 11, 2019


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Lots of work goes into a home renovation project, and much of that happens before you even lift a power tool or paintbrush. One of the first orders of business should be obtaining the proper permits for the work you plan to do. Of course, not all of us know how to get a building permit — here are the steps to follow to make sure you can safely and legally get the job started.

When Do You Need a Building Permit?

Not every home-related project requires this documentation, so you might not have to worry just yet about how to get a building permit. You can feel free to helm minor cosmetic changes to your home without alerting the proper authorities. Think projects like repainting kitchen cabinets, replacing countertops or even swapping out exterior siding.

However, any project that extensively changes your home’s structure requires a permit — adding square footage or altering your home’s layout, for instance. On top of that, electrical work, plumbing, roofing and garage conversions all fall on the list, too. Every town and city will be different, so be sure to inquire with the proper authorities to confirm you need the paperwork.

If your home improvement project is at all significant, then it can’t hurt to check. This is particularly true if you’re DIY-ing the project without a contractor’s input. Even seemingly minor updates, like fencing, may require a building permit in your area.

Your Contractor’s Role in Getting Building Permits

Now that you know whether you need one or not, you need to know how to get a building permit. If you plan to hire a contractor to help with the job, you’re in luck — they should take care of the permit process for you. To that end, your contractor should include the cost of permits in their bid for the job, so make sure they will cover it before you sign any pre-project contract.

Plus, they’ll know exactly the permits they need and how to get them, which will be a comfort to you as you oversee the renovation process. You don’t have to worry their work isn’t up to snuff, since they should have all the necessary checks done.

How to Get a Building Permit on Your Own

If you want to oversee the process yourself, though, you can follow a series of similar steps everywhere to get a building permit. You’ll start by reaching out to the staff at your local building office. You can describe to them the work you plan to do, and they’ll advise you which permits and applications you need before you start. Some tasks will require more than one permit — for instance, a kitchen renovation might require a construction permit as well as a plumbing one if you plan to move pipes around.

Secondly, you’ll have to fill out applications, of course. Some might require additional information from you, such as a detailed plan of the project you’re proposing. With that done, you can submit it, as well as any money required to pay for your permit. Then, the building office will review your plan and either accept or deny your application. Once they give it the green light, you’ll get your permit, and you can get to work.

It doesn’t end there. You must display your building permit in a window or outside your property so inspectors know the work happening has received the OK from the proper authorities. To that end, an inspector will have to come out throughout the building process and make sure work is and continues to be up to code. A final inspection will confirm you’ve done the job right.

Once you complete your construction project, you no longer need a permit. You can take it down from the window and enjoy the beautiful new space you’ve created.

How Much Will It Cost?

Permit costs vary from state to state and city to city. In 2019, the average price for a home-renovation permit is $1,036, although the average range swings from $363 to $1,730. Of course, this price depends on the size of the project, as well as the number of inspections it will require.

Fortunately, once you do hand over the money to pay for your permit, you won’t have to give the building office anything else down the line — you will have already paid the cost of inspecting your property.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Permit?

Once again, there’s no clear-cut answer here. If you’ve got a small project on deck, the building office might be able to hand over your permit on the same day you apply. With larger jobs, though, they have to review what you submit, so the decision process can take weeks. In most cases, though, the building office should provide a time frame in which they’ll tell you yes or no.

With a permit in hand, you can and should start working as soon as possible. Your permit will eventually expire, so be aware of the dates through which you’re allowed to work. You can apply for an extension in most cases, though.

Do It Once, Do It Right With a Building Permit

Now you know how to get a building permit, you can be sure you’re doing the job the right way. And, with that guarantee, you won’t have to worry about renovating anytime soon — you’ve done it properly, so all you have left to do is enjoy your labor of love.

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