Building permits are documents issued by a local building inspection office that authorize a builder, remodeler, or DIYer to perform certain home repairs, improvements, or building projects where oversight is viewed as necessary by local authorities. Residential building permits are only valid for a certain period of time, which can vary between localities. Once a building permit expires, renewal or extension is usually required before the work can begin.
Permits Go Hand-in-Hand With Inspection
Building permits are issued for any project where review by an authorized inspector is deemed necessary. The inspector will review the work, sometimes more than once, to ensure the work is done safely and according to code specifications. However, requirements for building permits vary quite a bit from state to state, and even between communities within the same state. The cost of building permits may also vary based on locality, and is typically assessed based on projected project cost or per square foot. In some communities, many repairs can be made with no requirement for a permit or inspection, while other communities are quite conservative and will require permits and inspections for many, if not most, major repairs and improvements.
Typically, building permits are required for any type of work where safety is of particular concern. Wiring, plumbing, and structural work almost always require a permit, while cosmetic work such as painting, replacing flooring, or swapping out existing fixtures usually does not. In some communities, a distinction is made between work that is considered a repair and work that is regarded as an improvement. Repair or replacement projects may be allowed without a permit, while those thought to improve a home or add real estate value usually require permits.
If you are unsure, ALWAYS call your local home inspection office to find out the requirements for permit and inspection for the project you're considering. Trying to bypass this step can only lead to difficulty in the long run. When selling a home, it's not uncommon for projects that were completed without required permits to be flagged, and it can be very difficult and expensive to get the work approved after the fact. In some communities, there may be fines or increased fees associated with after-the-fact inspection and approval.
Once the permit is issued, different jurisdictions will have different time requirements, but it is a common rule-of-thumb and sometimes the law that a building permit will expire if the work it covers does not begin within 6 months or is not completed within one year of the date it is issued. If you let your building permit expire, you should be able to renew or extend it—but it is usually best to get your permit issued as close as possible to the time the work will begin.
Permit and Inspection Responsibility
When you hire a contractor, either a general contractor who is managing all phases of a project or individual contractors to do specific tasks, they should handle applying for permits and arranging for inspections. The permit fees are usually part of the contractor's bid. However, it is wise to discuss this with your contractor and be clear about responsibilities for the permit applications and fees. If you are a DIYer, it is incumbent on you to know what permits are required, to follow code requirements, and to see to it that inspections are completed in the allowed time frame.