Building permits can seem like an annoying legal hoop you have to jump through, but really, the upfront effort will save you from a huge headache and hefty penalty in the end. Not only is building without a permit illegal, it can cost you a lot more and potentially even make your house unsellable.


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When in doubt, contact your city’s building department to be sure if you need one or not, and continue reading below for more information on building permits.

Build Permits 101

1. What Is a Building Permit?

While permits will vary by district, generally, they’re an official approval to proceed with your construction project. It shows that you went through the process to get your plans approved—meaning that they comply with local building codes. Building codes set the minimal standards for safe construction. You need a building permit to show that your new construction meets local standards for land use, zoning, construction, structural integrity, sanitation, water, sewage, fire resistance and electricity. Having the permit proves you followed all of these ordinances and that your home is legal, and resellable.

2. When Do You Need a Permit?

If you’re wondering if you need a permit, you probably do. Otherwise you’ll pay a steep price in the long run. If they city finds out you’ve built without a permit or you try to sell your home, they’ll slap you with a fine. Worse yet, if you’re reselling you will be forced to tear down the new construction and rebuild it with a permit regardless how long ago the construction was. It’s really not worth it.

You will need a permit if you want to:

  • Alter the main building
  • Alter or add to your garage
  • Do major electrical or internal plumbing work
  • Work on or install your roofing, siding, fences, decks, patios or sheds
  • Install new windows, wood burning stoves or wood burning fireplaces, a pool or spa
  • Enlarge or build a new driveway

You don’t need a permit for:

  • Painting
  • Carpeting or hardwood floors
  • Installing cabinetry
  • Landscaping

3. Why Do You Need a Permit?

As mentioned above, if you build without one you’ll be in deep financial water. But you can also get in trouble before you finish the build. Keep your permit on site because city officials may stop by to make sure you’re complying with codes. They come pretty regularly.

4. What Kinds of Permits Are There?

Depending on what you want to do, you may need more than one permit. There are permits for site plans, building permits, electrical permits, mechanical (heating and A/C) permits, plumbing permits, and concrete permits to name a few.

5. Who Gets the Permit?

If you’re working with a good contractor, they’ll get it for you or guide you through it. You can also apply for it yourself.

6. How Do I Get One?

Get an application from your local building department. Call city hall if you’re not sure where that is. Some cities even have the permit application available online.

7. How Long is My Permit Valid?

This will vary by jurisdiction, but it’s a temporary document. Generally, work should start within six months of receiving a permit and conclude within a year. You can always extend or renew your permit if you need more time or it’s expired.

8. How Long Until I Get My Permit?

Receiving your permit (if your plans are to code) will take a couple of weeks to a few months. However, if your neighborhood has a historical designation the rules are much stricter as to what you can and cannot do, so it can take a significantly longer time.

This can all seem like a lot, but with a trustworthy contractor by your side it’s a lot easier. Unsure where to start? We can help you find the pro you need and that you can rely on.


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About the Author: is a full-service home remodeling and construction general contractor serving the greater Seattle, Denver, Phoenix, San Francisco, and San Jose area. Home improvement is hard, and we make it easier for you every step of the way. That starts by understanding your goals, whether it’s making a space more livable, expanding your home, repairing damage, adding room for relatives, or something completely different. We’ll work with you to ensure you’re happy with the project from start to finish.