Do you need a building permit for that?

Jun 25, 2015 at 5:00 p.m. ET
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You've hired your contractor and selected your design, but can you proceed without a permit? (And what will happen if you do?)

A lot of things can go wrong when you're building and renovating, and that includes being in compliance with local codes.

Don't skip the permit. Considering the complexities that can accompany obtaining a permit, it can be tempting to avoid it. What many homeowners fail to realize is that the permit provides protection.

In the worst case scenario, a job completed without a permit could be sub-par (poor electrical work) and present real physical danger to the occupant (house fire).

Work completed without a permit can also have long-reaching consequences: a home sale might fall through or a new homeowner may find herself responsible for obtaining a permit retroactively. No one wants to deal with costly fines and lawsuits that can result from permit problems.

Ask questions. Building codes vary significantly from one jurisdiction to another, so it's important to check with your local authorities. And even if you've gone through a recent permitted project, that doesn't mean that the rules are the same. Permit requirements are constantly changing — do your homework every time. And ask yourself: Do I need a permit, or not?

Yes. You will need a permit when you're performing any of these home improvements:

  • Building an addition to your home
  • Making structural modifications
  • Making electrical modifications
  • Doing plumbing work
  • Installing larger windows
  • Installing mechanical systems
  • Modifying your home's roof line
  • Modifying your sewage system
  • Adding a fireplace
  • Doing major demolition work

No. You probably will not need to obtain a permit for cosmetic changes to your home's interior:

  • Installing new carpeting or hardwood flooring
  • Painting interior spaces
  • Adding paneling or wallpaper
  • Adding crown molding, baseboard or casing

Maybe. Whether or not you need a permit may depend on variables such design, location and the size of the project:

  • Repairing siding
  • Repainting your home's exterior
  • Replacing light fixtures, plumbing fixtures and some appliances

Building codes protect you, your family and the general public. They also contribute to more energy-saving and eco-friendly building guidelines to protect our environment. Skipping a permit is not a small oversight — it's a really big deal.

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