How to Get Building Permits for Your Home Renovation

Wondering how to get building permits for your home renovation but don’t know where to start? It can be a daunting task, especially if you have never renovated a home before.

There are many steps involved in obtaining the permits necessary for a home renovation. This article will walk you through the process of getting building permits and what you need to know.

What are Building Permits and Why do I Need Them?

Building permits are required when you want to start a construction project on your property.

A permit is needed so city/county can ensure the property owner is not violating any building codes or zoning ordinances.  It ensures that necessary inspections have been completed prior to issuing occupancy certificates for new buildings, additions, alterations and repairs.

A certified survey is usually also submitted with the application in order to verify lot lines if there has been no previous recorded plan filed by an engineer or architect.

how to get building permits

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How to Get Building Permits: The Seven Step Process

  1. Determine what permit(s) your project requires
  2. Obtain building permit application
  3. Complete necessary requirements listed in the building permit application
  4. Turn in completed building permit application
  5. Pay building permit fee
  6. Start construction
  7. Schedule/complete required inspections throughout your project

Determine What Permit(s) your Project Requires

Step One: Determine how extensive your project is and if you need a permit. If you are doing some light updates such as painting or replacing old flooring, then no permits should be necessary.

For more intensive projects like adding an addition onto the back of your house or changing the layout of rooms on one level this will require a building permit.

Obtain Building Permit Application

Step Two: Call up your city hall (or whichever governmental body regulates construction) and ask the best way to get the permit application. If you are unsure who to contact, do an online search for “Building Permits (insert your county here)”.

I recommend either setting an appointment with them or asking any questions you have over the phone. Let them know this is your first time working with building permits. Share your project and ask what will be required for your project.

Once all question are answered, get the correct building permit application. You may need to go it to get it, or they could have a downloadable copy available online.

Complete Necessary Requirements Listed in the Building Permit Application

Step Three: Complete the items listed on the building permit application.

Each project and city/county will vary. Below is a list of what we needed to provide for our garage conversion:

  • General personal and project information on the application
  • A drawing of the current layout and future layout.  Including measurements and location of all new windows/doors.
  • A drawing of the door and window headers
  • Clearance from the city saying that our area could handle an additional bathroom (ie: sewer line) and confirming that we had ample parking elsewhere and did not need the garage for parking

If you live in the county, requirements may be different than living in the city limits. Additionally, expect to have a much longer list if you are building a new home.

how to get building permits
The layout plans we drew up and submitted with our building permit application

Turn in Completed Building Permit Application

Step Four: Present your completed building permit application to the building department.

They will review your application before deciding how much it costs to get a building permit. They should also let you know how long they expect the process of approval to take.

If they have any questions or concerns with the project, they will typically let you know with a phone call. In some cases, you may need to call them for an update.

It’s always best to ask how long to wait for the application to process. If you have not heard back within the timeframe they set, give them a call.

Pay Building Permit Fee

Step Five: If all is a go, your building permit will be approved and you are ready to pick it up.  This will also include any other important documentation.

This is the point where we received the list of required inspections.  We were instructed on how to schedule each inspection. Be sure you are clear when you should be calling in an inspection.

Cost of building permits vary.  For our 500 square foot garage conversion, the building permit fee was just over $600.

Start Construction

Once your building permit is on-site, you’re ready to start demolition! Be sure to keep the building permit on-site at all times, especially when inspections are scheduled to happen.

Not having the building permit on-site is often a violation and you may fail an inspection because of it.

Schedule/Complete Required Inspections throughout Your Project

When you pick up the building permit, make sure you are crystal clear with regard to what inspections you should be scheduling.

For a garage conversion, the following inspections were required:

  • Framing (frame built, windows installed)
  • Electric Rough-in
  • Plumbing Rough-in
  • Insulation
  • Final

Can I do the Construction Work Myself?

This varies by state or county, but typically yes, the home owner may do the construction work themselves. That’s what we did!

Just make sure you know what you’re doing before you get into a big project like a home renovation. This will help prevent wasted time on potential failed inspections.

Failed inspections could lead to additional fees and, if bad enough, may lead to the city/county requesting you a hire a professional to finish the work.

building permit for home renovation

Who is Responsible for Getting Building Permits?

Whoever is taking responsibility for the construction work will generally be the one who pulls the building permit.

When doing the work yourself (as like in our case) you would be responsible for pulling the permit.

If you hired a general contractor, they will likely be the one who pulls the building permit.

For smaller, more isolated home renovation project that require only one trade to come in (ie: a plumber), they will likely be the one to pull necessary permits.

When hiring out part or all of the work, always be clear on who is pulling what permits. This is especially true when multiple changes will be made (ie: framing, electric, plumbing, et…) and multiple parties are brought in to help with the construction.

It could make for a bad situation if you thought the plumbing company was pulling permits only to find out they never did after the fact.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Building Permit Approved?

The time it takes to get a building permit approved varies depending on how busy the department is.

It typically takes anywhere from about a week to 10 days for smaller projects in smaller counties.  In some cases- especially if they do not have anybody else working there who can review your application- this process could take much longer than that.

What Type of Building Permit Should I Apply for?

The first step in obtaining building permits would be deciding which one will best suit what you need it for. Residential addition/accessory dwelling unit (ADU), exterior alterations of a structure, new residential building, or demolition.

As a homeowner, you are not necessarily expected to know off hand which permits you need. Simply tell the building permit staff what your project is and they will be able to help you determine what you need.

Do I Need to Hire an Architect to Get a Building Permit?

If you are planning to make any changes that will be structural in nature then an architect is likely required. They know how to calculate square footage and how much it costs for the permit.

In our case, there were no structural changes so we did not need to hire an architect.

do i need an architect for home renovation

How to Get Building Permits: General Building Permit Guidelines

The following are guidelines that help keep Americans safe when renovating their homes.  Please read them thoroughly before starting any home renovations project!

Do not start any renovation without first calling up your local building department.  Talk with someone who can walk you through how to complete paperwork that is necessary. Get all your questions answered pertaining to what needs done on the property.

Make sure to create and submit diagrams that are detailed so the person reviewing your application can see how everything will look when completed.

A building permit is required for any construction project that does not meet municipal criteria of minor repairs or improvements such as painting or replacing old flooring.  This includes projects with more intensive renovations like adding an addition onto the back of your house or changing how rooms on one level are laid out.

What is an Inspection? Why do I Need Them?

Inspections are required when you meet certain conditions such as adding square footage to a house that will increase its value by more than a certain dollar amount.

There are also specific inspections needed if you plan on doing any work with water lines near fire hydrants or gas pipes under sidewalks. Keep this in mind before starting construction so that all necessary precautions can be taken!

The inspectors will make sure that all the required permits have been obtained and will ensure there is no structural damage to your property.

How do I Know When Inspections are Necessary?

Check with a building authority or surveyor if you’re not sure whether an inspection is needed for your project.

The Building Authority can provide information about what permit they need as well as any other requirements so be vigilant in checking up on them throughout the process of renovating your home.

What Happens if I fail an Inspection?

Check with your local building permit for the process.  Typically, you are allowed one to two failed inspections per category before you are assessed additional fee.

Let’s say you forget to install a new smoke detector (that is required by code).  The electric inspector catches this on the inspection. He/she will likely “fail” the inspection and tell you what you need to do to pass. In this case, install the smoke detector.

Simply complete the list of things the inspector told you to do and call in the inspection again.

But again, make sure you know what you are doing going into the project. If the list of “to-do’s” from the inspector is too long, they may require you to hire out the work to a the pros, costing you more time and money.

how to get building permits

Penalty for Not Pulling a Building Permit

If you do not pull a building permit, it is illegal to continue work on the property.

You will also need an inspection from your city’s inspector before you can receive occupancy permits for how many people are allowed to live in the house at one time and how much square footage each person has (i.e., bedrooms).

The penalties vary depending on how serious of violations there are. For example, if someone dies as a result of unsafe conditions during construction or houses catch fire due to faulty wiring then fines might be increased up into tens of thousands dollars.  But usually they range anywhere from $50-$1000 per day which increases with every day that passes without pulling a building permit.

It is worth the effort and expenses to get a building permit before you start your home remodeling. You will avoid trouble with the city than waiting until after-the-fact.

Secure building permits before construction starts. The city may force you to obtain a permit and could double or triple the permitting fees.

They also have the right to shut down your project or make your tear down the existing work if there is a question as to whether work was done according to building code. In short, it’s safer than taking a risk.

Why Should you Care about Getting Building Permits?

Pulling building permits offers peace of mind for you and for if/when you decide to sell your home.

A potential buyer may back out of a deal if permits were not pulled for remodel work. The buyer would not be assured that the remodel was done to code and may not want to take the risk of moving forward with the purchase.

How to Get Building Permits Conclusion

There are a lot of benefits to pulling your building permit for your home renovation.

It will save you time and money in the long run.  And, if something were to happen with one of your renovations that required an inspection or another type of professional assessment, having all permits pulled could help alleviate some headaches down the road.

Of course this doesn’t mean that every project needs a permit.  Some projects may not require them at all, like installing new kitchen cabinets or repairing broken windows.

But as mentioned earlier, these inspections might be necessary during certain phases of construction when hazardous materials are being used like lead paint removal or asbestos abatement.

Have a question want to share a tip? Drop it in the comments section below!

Until next time,


Shop My Top Recommended DIY Renovation Resources on Amazon: 

Ultimate Guide: Plumbing

Ultimate Guide: Wiring 

Understanding National Electrical Code (NEC) 

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