Home renovation projects are an exciting undertaking for any homeowner — it’s one step closer to reconfiguring space and turning it into the house of their dreams. Of course, there’s plenty to do to prepare a home for demolition, including hiring a reputable contractor, picking out finishes and obtaining the necessary permits.

Permits are required for just about any major home renovation, from updating the kitchen to adding extra square footage to taking down a load-bearing wall. In fact, getting the proper permit for a renovation — or multiple permits — is likely the most crucial component of any home construction.

Do You Need a Permit for Your Renovation?

An expert contractor will refuse unpermitted projects — advise homeowners not to try to work around obtaining them. In addition to racking up ample fees for non-compliance, you need a permit for the renovation for several valid reasons.

Every major home improvement project gets recorded at the local Register of Deeds Office and referred to when listing the home. Discrepancies between what’s on file for the property’s deed and your home’s renovations could raise red flags.

For example, if an inspector conducts a land search query and finds the renovation project doesn’t meet building codes, a potential buyer can back out of the contract. Not all hope is lost in this situation — homeowners can apply for a retroactive permit with the building authority. However, it’s always best to be upfront.

Sometimes, building officials will tell homeowners to rip out the unpermitted work — this is often the case with electrical, plumbing or structural projects they did themselves. Of course, this extreme rule is founded on safety for household residents. According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International, electrical fires account for nearly 51,000 residential fires annually, meaning an expert should come in and do it right.

Permitting for Home Renovation Projects

Every municipality maintains updated building codes each home project must adhere to — these codes ensure your work results in a safe, efficient home. Permitting informs different parties of the ongoing construction and finished projects, holding you accountable for following the latest specifications.

You usually will require a permit for the renovation if you’re working on any of the following projects:

  • Electrical and plumbing: Adding new wiring or circuits in a home must first be approved to reduce the risks of an electrical fire. Replacing drain lines and water heaters or working on sewer lines also requires permits.
  • Parking equipment: Larger renovations may require heavy equipment like excavators that move heavy natural debris and dirt to prepare for a renovation. You may need a permit to park construction machinery and equipment on the street or the property.
  • Additions: Any project that alters your home’s original structure — such as an addition — requires permitting.
  • Garage conversions: Building or converting a garage into a livable space will need prior approval.
  • Wall removal: Removing a load-bearing wall could spell danger for your household. Permits ensure the wall gets removed correctly and a beam is adequately placed in the ceiling.
  • Roof replacement: Most roofs have a 20-year life span before needing replacing, depending on the climate and wear and tear. Most roofing projects require a permit to ensure it’s done correctly.
  • Fireplaces and chimneys: Adding a fireplace and chimney poses a fire hazard if not done to code, so permits are necessary.
  • Swimming pools: In-groud and above-ground swimming pools require several permits.

Homeowners might grow frustrated with the wait to obtain permits — the process often stalls plans to renovate by a couple of weeks or months. However, it’s not a step you want to bypass. Many of the most current building standards align with global efforts to reduce emissions and protect the environment.

For instance, the United States generates 1,238 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of electricity annually. The latest residential modalities seek to save energy using the latest technologies and construction operations.

You might also offer to submit the necessary forms on the homeowner’s behalf to the local building department. Remember that homeowners must usually pay a fee for different permits — HomeAdvisor says the average permit costs between $448 and $2,446, depending on where you live.

Not All Home Improvement Projects Require Permits

Depending on the home improvement project you’re tackling, you may not need to obtain permits. For example, if the renovation is more cosmetic and won’t compromise the structure of a home, you’ll usually be able to pursue the project without prior approval.

New floors, countertops, a fresh coat of paint and replacing light fixtures are simple fixes with little need for oversight. Adding a small shed in the backyard may also not need a permit — it’s a good idea to double-check on this if you live in a conservation area.

Landscaping is another home improvement project you may not need permits for — however, suppose your client lives in a homeowner association or similar private community. In that case, it may have outlined specifications for exterior work to the home, including whether you can paint your house a particular colour or take down trees. Not following those guidelines could accrue fees people would much rather avoid.

Getting Permits for Your Renovation

If you’re unsure if you require a permit for a renovation, play it safe. The worst scenario is violating the municipality’s building codes.

Call local building officials to discuss the project and determine their permit requirements. Many local governments are willing to discuss and inform you about the necessary permitting you may need.

You can also do your own research by visiting the town’s building department website. Many sites have permitting requirements online, including information about what happens if you’re found non-compliant.

A Permitted Renovation Is a Wise Choice

The last thing you want to do is pursue a home renovation project without the proper permitting. Unpermitted home improvements could mean trouble if the owner plans to sell or if something needs fixing. Obtaining the appropriate permit for a renovation is a wise choice to protect you and the household.