You have had the idea in your mind for months now, and you’re coming out of your final meeting with your contractor. You can’t wait to start renovations; jump in too quickly and you’ll be in for a surprise of upsets. Looking over a permit in hopes of a quicker renovation process could result in some grave consequences.
Understanding and navigating the residential permit process will give you both insight and security when it comes to starting any renovation project on your home. The process might draw out your completion-time, but you can rest easy at night knowing your project is in full compliance with local codes — and that your family is safe because of it.
If you are seriously considering passing on filing for a building permit, you should know that the greatest risk of non-compliance would be the possibility of bodily harm to the occupants. Furthermore, failing to secure a building permit could result in you having to obtain a work-permit retroactively, which will be a costly and time-draining endeavor including but not limited to demolition. Lawsuits, fines and other legal troubles could all be possible outcomes of completing work without the required permit.
Before You Begin
Always check with your local jurisdiction before you begin any work. It may seem too obvious, but always check if you are unsure. This should be the first thing on your list. Even professionals can be surprised by the oddities that surround local building departments. What can be required in a highly regulated city like Houston, Texas, might seem laughable in the rural outskirts of town. If you are ever in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask.
Rules over construction practices and safety regulations change constantly. Even inside a given jurisdiction, the requirements are bound to change over time, usually becoming more stringent and complicated every year. What worked for you or your friend 2 to 3 years ago may not be in code when you begin your most recent project. Energy-efficient requirements, planning conditions and local interpretations of building code guidelines are not always set in stone. By checking in with your local planning and building departments, you will have acted in the most responsible manner.
When is a Permit Required?
If you want to be able to make informed decisions about the renovation process on your home, it is essential to have a general understanding of the International Building Code (IBC). The IBC is a uniform code that has been adopted throughout most of the United States.
A permit will always be required for any addition or structural modifications, plumbing work (even replacing that old water heater), window modifications that enlarge openings and for mechanical system installations. A permit will also be required if you are modifying the roof line of your home. Septic modifications and major demolitions and added fireplaces are more examples of projects that will require a permit.
A permit usually isn’t required for interior and cosmetic changes like new carpet, a fresh coat of paint or the installation of new appliances.
Why Do We Need Permits?
The main focus of permits and the building codes they enforce is to protect public health, safety and general welfare of the occupants. On a broader scale, building codes and regulations have evolved to include a breadth of regulations being implemented for the public good. Energy-efficiency and green-building guidelines are examples that tend to complicate the extent of regulatory control while maintaining that our communities are being built in an environmentally responsible way.