DIY and remodeling go hand-in-hand, thanks to the many sites and TV shows dedicated to the subject. It’s easy get carried away, updating away without thinking about whether or not a project might need a permit. Beware! Ignoring local requirements could be a costly problem when it comes time to sell.

Selling a home that has clearly been renovated since the last sale will raise questions by the inspector — starting with asking if there was a permit for that construction. When you use a contractor, they should care of the permit process (make sure they do). But if you DIY, it’s all on you. If you don’t have a permit for certain kinds of construction, banks could even turn down buyer loans for your property.

The permit and approval process can vary depending on where you live. There are regulations for cities, counties and homeowners associations (HOA), so start by knowing what entities have jurisdiction over your property. There are several reasons people are tempted to skip the permit process:

  • The job is “too small” to matter. You’d be surprised at what needs a permit, even something as small as moving a light switch. It’s better to find out before you start.
  • Saving money on permit fees. The cost of permits is relatively low. It will cost you a whole lot more in fines and retrofitting.
  • Delays waiting for permits. This is a legitimate concern, as many municipalities are backlogged. But the delay up front is a whole lot better than the delay when your home sale is on hold.

There’s really no substitute for calling your local governing entity to find out if your project needs a permit. But to give you a general idea of the types of projects that typically need a permit, home how-to site The Spruce came up with some pretty good project permit lists.

Projects that most likely need a permit

With few exceptions, these projects and activities require permits for most areas. Don’t even think about doing these without consulting your local municipality.

CATEGORY PROJECT
Walls Demolishing a load-bearing wall.
Roof Changing house’s roofline.
Layout Changing the house footprint. Whenever you expand the house in any way or alter the house envelope, you will need a permit.
Electrical Installing any new electrical wiring or adding circuits.
Fences installing a fence over a certain height, such as 6 feet.
Demolition Parking your roll-off dumpster on a public street. This is one of the rare permitting instances where your own property is not involved.
Decks Building decks over a certain height, such as 30″ above grade.
Sewer Doing 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.
Addition Building an addition.
Driveway or Garage Carport building.
Windows and Doors Exterior doors, windows and skylights that require a new opening.
Fireplace and Chimney Fireplaces, wood-burning stoves, and inserts.
Garages Garage conversions.
Furnaces New furnaces.
Water Heaters New water heaters.
Plumbing New hose bibs for the outside of your house.
Roofing Re-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).

Source: The Spruce

Projects that might need a permit

These projects could need a permit, but not always (depending on where you live). So check!

CATEGORY PROJECT
Plumbing Moving a sink, as this entails running new plumbing supply and drain lines.
Walls Demolishing 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 Windows Replacing doors or windows on a one-for-one basis.
Landscaping Cutting down a tree on your property.
Landscaping Retaining 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.

Source: The Spruce

Projects that might not need a permit

Generally speaking, these renovation-related activites don’t need a permit. But again, check with the local powers that be (especially HOAs) for confirmation.

CATEGORY PROJECT
Roof Laying in a new roof of similar materials.
Demolition Parking 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.
Flooring Putting in any kind of hard flooring (wood, laminate, vinyl, etc.) or carpeting.
Plumbing Replacing an existing sink.
Painting Interior or exterior painting.
Kitchen Replacing your countertops.
Siding Freshening up the exterior with new siding, as long as it is non-structural.
Electrical Minor electrical work, such as replacing a light fixture or an electrical outlet.  Replacing a circuit breaker in-kind will not require a permit either.
Decks Decks below a certain height (such as 30″).
Exteriors One-story detached buildings like workshops and storage sheds as long as they do not receive electrical or plumbing services.
Landscaping Building tree houses.
Fences Fences below a certain certain height, such as 6 feet.
Property Boundaries Permitting departments are not concerned with matters involving your boundary with your neighbor.  Disputes are civil matters for the courts.
Landscaping Retaining walls below 4 feet tall.
Decks Decking surface replacement, as long as you are not replacing structural materials.
Bathrooms and Kitchens Bathroom and kitchen fixture replacements without plumbing line modifications such as sinks and toilets.
Appliances Appliance 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.

Source: The Spruce

Don’t get caught renovating without a permit. It will cause fines, hassles, extra costs re-doing work, and possibly prevent you from selling. Take the time to do your project right by following your local municipality’s procedures for permits. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Call to find out if your project or reno activity needs a permit;
  • File the proper paperwork and pay the fees;
  • Know and follow the permit office’s procedures for inspections;
  • Complete the process with the proper final approvals; and
  • Call in a contractor if the job is beyond your ability.