When Do You Need a Permit for Your Renovation Project?

Building Permit
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Determining if you need a permit for your home remodeling project can be difficult.

Permitting departments often frustrate homeowners' attempts to sort out rules. These departments traditionally have served commercial interests over those of do-it-yourselfers.

While all cities and counties are different, certain themes emerge to clarify permitting requirements. These themes, expanded below, can be generalized as: public and personal safety, plumbing, ​electrical, and natural gas.

Projects touching on those areas will require permits.

This leaves the question: After all that, what's left? Answer: Not much.

With a need for greater revenue, cities and counties shift more projects to the "Permit Required" list.

Permit Required

Few localities will not require a permit for the following activities.

TopicProject
WallsDemolishing a load-bearing wall.
RoofChanging house's roofline.
LayoutChanging the house footprint. Whenever you expand the house in any way or alter the house envelope, you will need a permit.
ElectricalInstalling any new electrical wiring or adding circuits.
Fencesinstalling a fence over a certain height, such as 6 feet.
DemolitionParking your roll-off dumpster on a public street. This is one of the rare permitting instances where your own property is not involved.
DecksBuilding decks over a certain height, such as 30" above grade.
SewerDoing anything with a sewer line. This permit action concerns not just your personal hygiene, but the health of the main sewer line down from your house.
AdditionBuilding an addition.
Driveway or GarageCarport building.
Windows and DoorsExterior doors, windows and skylights that require a new opening.
Fireplace and ChimneyFireplaces, wood-burning stoves, and inserts.
GaragesGarage conversions.
FurnacesNew furnaces.
Water HeatersNew water heaters.
PlumbingNew hose bibs for the outside of your house.
RoofingRe-roofing involving structural elements, including but not limited to sheathing, skylights, change of roof pitch and change of roof material where the total weight exceeds 10 psf. (pounds per square foot).

Permit Might Be Required

TopicProject
PlumbingMoving a sink, as this entails running new plumbing supply and drain lines.
WallsDemolishing a non load-bearing wall. Even though this type of work does not structurally compromise your home, some permitting agencies want to be overly cautious and make certain that do-it-yourself homeowners do not undertake dangerous repairs.
Doors and WindowsReplacing doors or windows on a one-for-one basis.
LandscapingCutting down a tree on your property.
LandscapingRetaining walls over 4' tall.  Four feet tends to be the magical number that triggers permits, as retaining walls have a tendency to topple above this height.

Permit Often Not Required

TopicProject
RoofLaying in a new roof of similar materials.
DemolitionParking your roll-off dumpster on your own property. However, if you happen to live in an association-controlled neighborhood, make sure you do not run afoul of your own housing association's rules.
FlooringPutting in any kind of hard flooring (wood, laminate, vinyl, etc.) or carpeting.
PlumbingReplacing an existing sink.
PaintingInterior or exterior painting.
KitchenReplacing your countertops.
SidingFreshening up the exterior with new siding, as long as it is non-structural.
ElectricalMinor electrical work, such as replacing a light fixture or an electrical outlet.  Replacing a circuit breaker in-kind will not require a permit either.
DecksDecks below a certain height (such as 30").
ExteriorsOne-story detached buildings like workshops and storage sheds as long as they do not receive electrical or plumbing services.
LandscapingBuilding tree houses.
FencesFences below a certain certain height, such as 6 feet.
Property BoundariesPermitting departments are not concerned with matters involving your boundary with your neighbor.  Disputes are civil matters for the courts.
LandscapingRetaining walls below 4 feet tall.
DecksDecking surface replacement, as long as you are not replacing structural materials.
Bathrooms and KitchensBathroom and kitchen fixture replacements without plumbing line modifications such as sinks and toilets.
AppliancesAppliance replacement in the same location as long as you are not modifying gas, plumbing lines, or electrical circuits such as dishwashers, ranges, ovens, gas logs, washers, and dryers.

For Definitive Answers

A phone call to your local permitting office is the best–and only–way to determine if you need a permit. Many permit officers are happy to discuss permitting issues with anonymous callers as a way to ward off future code violations.