Understanding permits for home improvement projects

It can be confusing for homeowners to figure out permit requirements for home improvement projects, but permits shouldn’t be ignored.

“We’re removing an inside wall to make a more open space and actually moving the kitchen to the opposite side of the room, making it an open kitchen with an island,” said homeowner Mark Stauffer.

Stauffer has lived in this home for 35 years and he decided it’s time to make some updates.

“There is electrical, plumbing, and structural work being done, and those all require permits,” Stauffer added.

Whether your home improvement project requires a permit or not varies depending on where you live, but most laws require that you not build, move, or significantly alter or add to a building without a permit.

“It actually provides you important protection,” said Angie’s List founder Angie Hicks. “For example, in some scenarios, a contractor must be licensed in order to get the permit, so it adds an extra layer of protection for you.”

Remodeling contractor Thomas Pearson says a fair amount of planning must be done before pulling a permit.

“It’s very important that if a room addition is being built that the setbacks are correct,” Pearson said. “There’s a certain amount that you are supposed to have, and planning is the most important part of the job. If the planning is done very well in the beginning, the rest of the job will run well.”

A permit for a small project may cost $100 or less, while a bigger project like a home addition can cost more than $900.
If you skip the permit process in order to save a few bucks, Angie’s List warns that you could end up paying more in the long run.

“If you skip pulling your permit, you might end up paying fines,” said Hicks. “They could stop the work that’s being done. They might actually make you re–do it, and in some scenarios when it comes down to electrical work and the electrical work causes a fire, your homeowner’s insurance may not cover it.”

Angie’s List says that if a contractor asks you to pull your own permits, that could be a red flag indicating that the contractor isn’t insured or doesn’t have the required license to do the work.

So where do you go to learn if your project requires a permit? Whether you are hiring a contractor or doing the work yourself, check with your local building department. Do your own research and question any contractor who remodels without pulling a permit.