When Do You Need a Permit for Your Remodeling Project?

Home remodeling projects can range from simple cosmetic changes to major structural renovations. Depending on the scope of work, you may or may not need a building permit from your local permitting office. Permits are required for many types of remodeling projects to ensure the work meets local building codes and zoning regulations. Knowing when permits are needed can save homeowners time, money, and avoid potential issues down the road.

What is a Building Permit?

A building permit is an official approval from your local permitting office that allows you to proceed with a construction project. The permit process requires submitting detailed plans that are reviewed by the building department to verify the proposed work complies with building codes, zoning ordinances, and other regulations.

Permits are intended to ensure safety and prevent issues that could impact you or future owners. Work done without required permits creates liability risks and could lead to fines, project delays, or even removal of unpermitted work.

Common Types of Remodeling Projects Requiring Permits

While requirements vary among jurisdictions, the following are examples of common remodeling projects that typically need permits:

Structural Renovations

Any work that involves altering load-bearing walls or foundations requires a permit. This includes:

  • Adding, removing, or relocating walls and partitions
  • Modifying door/window openings
  • Replacing floor/ceiling joists or rafters
  • Renovating basements or attics for living space

Structural work impacts the stability and safety of the home, so permits allow thorough plan review and inspections.

Room Additions

Whether expanding your footprint or building onto an existing structure, room additions require permits. This allows the planning office to verify setback requirements and the addition’s compliance with building codes. Electrical, plumbing, and HVAC work will also need permits.

Major Systems Upgrades

Remodeling projects that involve electrical, plumbing, mechanical, or HVAC work require permits to meet code requirements. Examples include:

  • Replacing or moving plumbing lines
  • Upgrading electrical service panel or wiring
  • Installing new HVAC equipment or ductwork
  • Adding plumbing fixtures like toilets or sinks

Kitchen & Bathroom Remodels

Kitchen and bathroom remodels usually require permits since they involve electrical, plumbing, and structural work. Typical permit triggers include:

  • Moving or adding plumbing fixtures
  • Installing new cabinets or countertops
  • Upgrading electrical circuits and outlets
  • Modifying walls and flooring

Converting Attics, Basements or Garages

If you’re looking to convert an attic, basement or garage into living space, permits are required. Creating habitable rooms in these spaces involves major construction, so plans must be reviewed to ensure compliance with building codes.

Major Landscaping Projects

Certain landscaping and hardscaping projects require permits, such as:

  • Swimming pools
  • Retaining walls over a certain height
  • Decks and patios above a specific square footage

Permits ensure proper zoning allowances and structural safety.

Fences and Sheds

Depending on height and design, permits may be needed for fences, chain-link barriers, and storage sheds. Your planning office can advise on specifications in your area.

Home Remodeling Projects That Often Do Not Require Permits

Fortunately, not all home remodeling projects call for permits. Here are some examples of common improvements that typically don’t need one:

Painting and Wallpaper

Changing interior or exterior paint colors and hanging wallpaper are cosmetic upgrades that don’t require a permit. The same is true for refinishing existing wood floors.

Installing Carpeting

Carpet installation or replacing other floor coverings like laminate usually doesn’t require a permit. Just ensure the new flooring meets fire code standards.

Kitchen and Bath Surfaces

Replacing countertops, sinks, toilets or other features with new materials generally doesn’t require a permit if you’re not moving plumbing lines.

Minor Electrical Work

Some minor electrical work like replacing light fixtures doesn’t require permits. But any new wiring would need inspection.


Planting trees, shrubs, flowers or installing simple ground cover doesn’t require permit approval. Just don’t impact drainage or utilities.


As long as you stay within the existing kitchen or bath footprint, altering cabinetry doesn’t need a permit.

How to Obtain a Building Permit

If your remodeling project requires one, here are key steps to obtaining a building permit:

Research Permit Requirements

Contact your local building department to learn about permit needs for your specific project type and scope of work. Requirements can vary, so don’t assume. Ask what needs a permit.

Work with Required Professionals

In some cases, your jurisdiction may require architects, engineers or other qualified professionals to draw plans and you’ll need their stamp for submission.

Submit Permit Application and Documents

Complete the building permit application and submit along with all required documents like drawings, plans, specs, and surveys.

Attend Pre-Application Meeting

Some jurisdictions require a pre-application meeting to review project plans and provide feedback to improve your chances of approval.

Make Any Requested Changes

It’s common for building officials to request revisions during the review process. Be ready to make changes to get your permit approved.

Pay Required Fees

Once your application is approved, you’ll need to pay permit fees before receiving the permit. Costs vary based on project type and location.

Post the Permit

Remember to post the permit placard on-site before starting work so inspectors can access it and verify compliance.

Benefits of Getting Permits for Home Remodels

While permits add steps to the remodeling process, they offer benefits that make them worthwhile:

Ensures Safety and Code Compliance

Permits allow building officials to inspect projects to identify any issues that could impact safety, livability, or structure. This provides peace of mind your remodel meets the standards.

Limits Liability

In the event of an accident, injury, or property damage related to your remodel, having secured proper permits limits your liability. You’ll have verification the work was done to code.

Allows Inspection of Hidden Work

Permits enable inspectors to check in-progress work that gets covered up like electrical, plumbing, and structural components. This catches issues before finish work covers them up.

Can Save Money

Although permits add upfront costs, they may lead to long-term savings. Failed inspections, fines, and tear-out to correct unpermitted work is more expensive than doing it right the first time.

Prevents Delays

Unpermitted projects risk being shut down, which leads to lost time and money. It’s less hassle to get permits upfront than face delays from failed inspections later.

Adds Value and Marketability

Remodels done with permits are more attractive to buyers and can increase property value. Permits verify livability, safety, and code compliance.

Consequences of Skipping Required Permits

Attempting a remodel without needed permits comes with several risks, such as:

Project Shut Down

If officials become aware of unpermitted work, you may receive stop work orders. You’ll have to halt construction until you secure permits and pass inspections.

Fines and Fees

Work done illegally without permits can lead to hefty citation fees. You may also need to pay double permit fees when applying retroactively.

Delayed Home Sale

Many mortgage lenders and home buyers will not move forward with purchasing a property that has unpermitted work due to liability concerns.

Invalidation of Home Insurance

If you file a claim for damage related to unpermitted work, your insurer may deny the claim since you violated permit regulations.

Removal of Work Done

In some cases, homeowners have been court-ordered to tear out unpermitted construction if the work violates building codes or zoning laws.

Limited Access to Rebates

Utility rebate programs for upgrades like HVAC or water heaters often require proof of permitted installation. Skipping permits risks rebate eligibility.

Tips for a Smooth Permitting Process

Here are some tips for making your permitting experience as quick and hassle-free as possible:

  • Read permit requirements thoroughly and pull all needed permits. Don’t miss obscure ones like electrical, plumbing or mechanical.
  • Be ready to make revisions. Building officials commonly require changes before approval, so build in buffer time.
  • Keep the lines of communication open with inspectors throughout the process. Discuss any questions.
  • Post permits on-site in a protective sleeve where they are visible but won’t get damaged.
  • Don’t cover up work until inspections are complete to avoid delays from tear-out.
  • Review permit guidelines as you go to ensure work meets code. Don’t wait for inspectors to catch issues.
  • Consider hiring experienced contractors who are knowledgeable about permits. They can advise on requirements.
  • Keep copies of all approved plans and permits on-site. Have them handy for each inspection.

Key Takeaways on Permits for Home Remodels

  • Many remodeling projects require building permits, while minor renovations like flooring may not. Know your local requirements.
  • Permits ensure safety and prevent liability issues, fines, project delays and uncovered work.
  • Submit detailed plans for review and make any requested changes before approval.
  • Building inspectors verify compliance with codes throughout the project, not just at the end.
  • Skipping permits risks major headaches, so don’t chance it on a remodel. Take the time to do it right.

FAQs About Permits for Home Remodels

Do I need a permit to remodel my kitchen?

Most likely, yes. Kitchen remodels typically require permits because they involve structural, electrical and plumbing work. New cabinetry, appliances, flooring, and moving plumbing lines all fall under permit requirements. Building officials will want to review plans and inspect to verify safety and code compliance.

Can I do my own electrical work without a permit?

Generally no – electrical permits and inspections are required when installing new wiring, circuits, outlets or other components. Minor repairs like replacing a switch may not need a permit. Unpermitted electrical work creates major safety risks and is illegal. Always consult your local permit office first.

What if my remodel project is a DIY job – do I still need permits?

Yes, permits are based on the type and scope of work, not who does it. As a homeowner, you’re usually allowed to pull your own permits for DIY remodeling projects. But you still must have plans reviewed, secure approvals, and pass the same inspections as a contractor.

Can I get a permit after the remodel work is complete?

In some cases you can get an after-the-fact permit, but retroactive permitting should be avoided. You may be required to tear out work for inspection or pay double permit fees. Any unpermitted work discovered later could jeopardize selling the home.

How long is a building permit valid once issued?

Permit validity periods range 6 months to 3 years based on local regulations. If the work isn’t completed before expiration, you’ll likely need to reapply and pay new fees. Check with your permitting office regarding exact permit terms.

Will I need a permit for a minor kitchen or bath remodel?

It depends on the scope. Refinishing cabinets, replacing countertops orsinks may not require permits. But moving appliances or plumbing lines, electrical upgrades or structural changes would need permits regardless of project size. When in doubt, call your local building department.

Can my permit application be denied?

Yes, building officials can deny permits if plans don’t meet code requirements or zoning rules. Common reasons for denial include incomplete applications, unqualified contractors, or designs that violate ordinances. Address any identified issues and re-submit for approval.

How much do permits cost for remodeling?

Permit fees are based on project details and location. Costs typically range $200-$500 for smaller jobs up to 2% of total costs for large renovations. Complex plans also involve document review and inspection fees. Contact your local permit office for specifics.

Should I pull all permits at once or just as needed?

It’s best to pull all required permits together upfront so everything is reviewed comprehensively. Piecemeal permitting risks having to redo work if plans aren’t coordinated. Discuss all aspects of your project with the building department for proper permitting.


The question of whether you need a permit for your remodeling project largely depends on the type and extent of work being done. While simple cosmetic makeovers and minor repairs likely don’t require permitting, many larger projects involving construction, electrical systems, plumbing, HVAC or major landscaping features often need permits to meet building code compliance. Always check with your local permitting office to determine specific requirements in your jurisdiction before commencing work. Pulling the necessary permits may take more time and money upfront, but saves headaches, delays and liability risks down the road. With proper planning, patience and working closely with building officials, you can make the permitting process go smoothly and successfully improve your home within the established regulations.