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How to Know if You Need a Building Permit

If you're a homeowner starting a construction project, a local building inspector can make or break it. Know what building permits you'll need before you start.


  • Step 1: Know your liability if you build without a permit. A building inspector can order an illegal structure, like a deck, dismantled.
  • Step 2: Hire a contractor that will "pull," or request, the permit from the local authorities, ensuring that they'll be responsible for code violations, not you.
  • FACT: Building codes first came into use to protect communities from potential earthquake damage in the 1930s.
  • TIP: If you don't want to call attention to your project, most building departments will answer permit questions from anonymous callers.
  • Step 3: Contact your local building department before you start. Ask for hard copies of ordinances that apply to your project, as well as which types of permits required.
  • Step 4: Know which projects require permits in most locales, like changing your home's footprint, moving load-bearing walls, and creating new door or window openings.
  • TIP: Demolishing an existing structure on your property will automatically require a building permit in most locales.
  • Step 5: Know which projects typically don't require a permit, like painting a home's exterior, laying flooring, or replacing a window without altering the house's structure.
  • Step 6: Know the purpose of a building permit. It ensures oversight of a contractor's work, guarding against shoddy workmanship and construction errors.

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