Home Remodeling: When You Need a Permit & When You Don't

[fa icon="calendar"] February 05, 2021 / by Home Services Expert

home remodeling permit approvalSome homeowners who undertake their first home remodeling project register the news better than others: Before work can begin, Experts in Your Home must secure a building permit on their behalf.

After months of planning, these homeowners are understandably eager for work to begin and view the permit process as an unnecessary delay – and sometimes even a form of governmental intrusion.

We have capably navigated the permit process hundreds of times in many different communities. So let us explain why a building permit is necessary, as well as when you might need one and when you might not. Once you're informed and know what to expect, you're bound to face your home remodeling project with greater confidence.

Building Codes Protect Homeowners

State and local building codes are designed to protect homeowners' health, safety and welfare. A seismically active state like California has certain building regulations on the books that are absent from building codes in Naperville, Illinois, where the threat of major tremors and earthquakes is remote, at best. At the other end of the spectrum, an exclusive, gated community might restrict which colors homeowners may paint the siding on their homes – even though the rules of the local municipality do not extend that far.

We've all probably read of incidents of noncompliance that could have resulted or did result in injuries or even fatalities.

And local real estate agents can regale any willing listener with stories about how house sales have been foiled because a home's reported square footage didn't conform with that computed by an appraiser who discovered a hastily built room addition in the backyard. These homeowners, too, probably dreaded delays – and encountered nothing but as they suffered through fines, demolition work and the costly repetition of construction work (work that ideally was carried out “by the book” the second time around).

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When Permits are Required

In California, the construction of new buildings as well as most home remodeling work requires a permit. The California building code states that:

  • “Any owner or authorized agent who intends to construct, enlarge, alter, repair, move, demolish or change the occupancy of a building or structure, or to erect, install, enlarge, alter, repair, remove, convert or replace any electrical, gas, mechanical or plumbing system, the installation of which is regulated by this code, or to cause any such work to be done, shall first make application to the building official and obtain the required permit.”

This loaded statement means that you will need a permit for any modifications that alter either your present living space – known as your home's “footprint” – or the roof line of your home. This includes:

  • Building or changing detached structures, such as garages and sheds
  • Cutting new holes for doors, windows and skylights (and even enlarging the existing openings)
  • Installing a fireplace
  • Making major electrical or plumbing changes (including installing a new water heater)
  • Installing a fence (but sometimes only those that exceed a certain height)

When Permits are Not Required

In case you're focusing on the word “alter” in the state building code – and are getting nervous about projects you've already completed – a permit usually is not required to make cosmetic changes indoors. You might refer to these projects as “remodeling,” but you do not need a permit to:

  • Hang wallpaper and paint (unless your community's bylaws legislate it)
  • Install carpet and flooring
  • Install countertops
  • Install trim (baseboards, crown molding) and paneling
  • Make minor electrical repairs
  • Make minor plumbing repairs

When Permits Might be Required

Depending on the nature and scope of the work, you may – or may not – need a permit to:

  • Add a deck
  • Install a fence
  • Make landscaping improvements (including retaining walls)
  • Replace siding

Rest assured that Experts in Your Home operates in what we call "a guess-free zone." This means that in the interest of ensuring that your home remodeling project goes as smoothly and efficiently as possible, we:

  • Stay apprised of building code changes (many of which now address issues related to energy efficiency).
  • Always check with the local municipality on which projects require a permit, knowing full well that building codes can vary among Chico, Durham, Oroville, Paradise and other communities located within close proximity of each other.

When all is said and done, you, too, may resent the building permit process. But when you call the Experts for a home remodeling consultation, you can put the worry of applying and securing permits in your rear-view mirror – exactly where it belongs.
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