GUEST POST: How to Permit a DIY Home Project

A note from Emily: Guest posts are a rarity here, but when Zillow contacted me about doing a post on getting permits for a DIY home project I jumped on it. This has been a major hangup for us because our house -- being very old -- is already not to code, yet every improvement we made had to meet our county's standards. Tricky! Hopefully this information can help someone else who is new to renovating or dealing with this nerve wracking but important task. 

How to Permit a DIY Home Project

By Tali Wee of Zillow

Building permits are often overlooked when homeowners decide to tackle their own home improvement projects. Replacing a deck seems like a simple upgrade any homeowner could do, but most decks require building permits to ensure their structural integrity. Building without required permits can result in skyrocketed project costs due to fines and added building expenses. Plus homeowners risk their unpermitted additions being demolished if the upgrades don’t meet building standards.

Why Obtain a Permit?

Most do-it-yourself (DIY) projects on a property require permits to ensure additions are structurally sound and the original building can withstand the additions. Building according to permit regulations upholds safety standards, confirming the additions are not hazardous – and won’t cause fire or water damage – or potentially harmful to occupants while in construction or after completion. Permits are often required for insurance purposes too; for some projects such as installing a wood stove, the homeowner needs proof of permit or an insurance carrier won’t cover it.

Completing a permitted DIY project is also beneficial when it comes time to sell. Permitted additions are more likely to be approved by home inspectors, requiring no improvements to meet buyers’ safety standards. Savvy DIY enthusiasts must understand that building permits are required to avoid resale value concerns in the future. Just because a project requires a permit doesn’t necessarily mean the homeowner must hire a licensed contractor to complete the work.

Where to Start?

Before beginning a DIY project, get familiar with the different types of permits. Permits are available for building, electrical, plumbing and mechanical projects. The standard rule is any project larger than painting or wallpapering most likely requires a permit.

While many permits follow the same guidelines, regulations regarding building permits vary by state and local jurisdictions. The local city website, development and planning site or permitting site should give step-by-step instructions to obtain a permit for each type of home improvement project.

How to Prepare for Permit Application?

Based on the instructions of the municipality building department, homeowners may need to draw up site plans and construction notes before applying for a permit. Hiring an inspector to make recommendations regarding the addition is an integral step to preparing a construction plan. Building inspections go hand-in-hand with permits. Most additions need to be inspected before construction and after completion to ensure additions are structurally sound and safe for residents.

It’s also a good idea to speak with contractors and builders beforehand to get a cost estimate of the project. Their expertise helps plan the electrical, plumbing and HVAC services necessary for the project, which needs to be included on the permit application.

How to Apply?

Enter the permit application process with as much information as possible. Begin with the property blueprints and plans including foundation, floor and roof plans. Such documents can be sourced from the home builder or architect. Depending on the project, a site plan may also be required to indicate the location of the new structure or desired addition. Next, complete a permit application from the local municipality and pay the application fee which varies by location and project size.

Notable Permit Rules

·         Some municipalities may require the home owner to hire an architect rather than a home inspector to assess the site and advise on construction requirements/draw up site plans.

·         Permit applications can take one to three weeks to process depending on location.

·         Check the “break time” on a project. Some municipalities require an extension or reapplication if the project is delayed for more than three months.

·         Confirm all information on the plans and application forms. If something is incorrect, it can result in additional time and money required to complete the project.

Whether homeowners are making upgrades to their properties because they’re new owners trying to settle in, or they’re ready to sell and attract home shoppers, researching local permit guidelines is a must. 

Responsibly pursuing building permits for home remodel projects allows homeowners to save money they’d otherwise pay to a general contractor or pay toward project corrections to bring the remodels up to code after completion. 

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