featured image for a blog post about building permits and how to pull them for a construction project

What is a Building Permit?

An architect scale laying on top of a construction blueprint. Contractors must submit blueprints in order to get building permits

A building permit is an official document issued by a government agency approving the construction or alteration of a piece of property.

  • How a structure is built or remodeled not only effects the safety of the structure itself but also the area that surrounds it. 
  • Before a homeowner or contractor can begin a construction project, they must pull all necessary construction permits.
  • The term building permit and construction permit are often interchangeable, and virtually identical in meaning.
  • In some cases, a building permit refers only to a permit allowing the ground up construction on a plot of land.

A construction permit can sometimes be used in the context of a remodel project. A job site that has been issued a permit must be periodically checked by a building inspector to ensure that everything is being built up to code.

Types of work that require Building Permits

New Construction Projects:

Building on a piece of land that was before uninhabited typically always requires a construction permit. In addition to residential homes and apartment buildings, other structures including garages and gazebos also need construction permits.

Additions:

Some of the different types of additions that would require construction permits include: sunrooms, garage conversions, extra rooms, , and bump outs.

Renovations:

This can include kitchen, bathroom and full remodels of dilapidated homes. This type of work is one of the most common in the construction industry and will require a construction permit before work commences.

Structural Changes:

Improperly executed structural changes to a property can often create a significant hazard to the occupants of the structure itself and the surrounding occupants.

Pulling construction permits before making structural changes to your property is highly recommended as the job will be checked regularly by a building inspector throughout the project ensuring that everything is being done up to code.

Trade Specific work:

This type of work is typically work associated with specific trades like electrical, plumbing, roofing, etc.

Conditions resulting from an improperly built electrical or plumbing system can quickly become fire hazards and public health risks.  

Building Permit Exemptions

A handyman painting a wooden fence. Building permits are not required for certain construction duties

A licensed contractor should be able to identify which type of work does not require a building permit.

Below is a few examples of work that would be exempt from a building permit.

  • Cabinets, paneling, floor coverings, countertops, and molding
  • Certain fences under 4 feet and retaining walls under 2 feet
  • Storage and Tool sheds under 120 feet
  • Swing sets and other non-motorized
  • Repair and replacement of windows that does not involve structural modification

Why Building permits are needed

Building permits create uniformity and help to maintain building standards which ultimately service public safety. Construction permits to protect property owners and contractors in different ways.

For a construction business, being forced to halt construction or rebuild a particular part of a structure that was not permitted can create additional expenses and cripple a business in some cases.

Risk for homeowners

A residential home

The risk for homeowners is obviously that non-permitted construction work can affect the sale price of a home years after the project has been completed.

Qualified home inspectors brought in before a house is put on the market or sold can uncover code violations that will force you to lower your asking price.

In some cases, insurance companies will not cover damages to a property if they find that the problems are related to un-permitted work.

Building Codes

Building codes are agreed upon standards for construction.

Each region may have different building codes which are enforced locally. 

Typically, most modernized areas adopt similar code standards. Building codes exist for every phase of the construction process including framing, electrical, plumbing, concrete, roofing and more.

Local governments enforce codes differently city to city and state to state.

For a more in-depth look at Building codes, Building Inspectors and the International Code Council check out this article. 

How to Pull Building Permits

Although this process may vary depending on where you live. Typically getting building permits follows the following process:

Contacting the building department to inform them of the type of project you intend to do.

  1. Filling out the required applications (which can differ region to region) in some cases building departments may require plans and a list of materials you intend to use
  2. Paying all necessary fees associated with the permits you need. Your permits can either be approved immediately, undergo a review or require changes to be made.
  3. Typically, you will be given a permit certificate that you will want to be visible on your construction site
  4. There will be designated points throughout the project where you must call the building department to have a building inspector come to your job site to check the quality of the work done.
  5. Generally, most projects require two inspections
  6. If a section of your project is not up to code, you will need to make the necessary changes and have the building inspector return again.

Building Permit Costs

A calculator and pen laying on top of a construction budget. Building permits vary in price depending on various factors

The cost of building permits varies depending on the city where the work is taking place and the type of permit needed.

The current national average, based on information provided by users who submitted data to home advisor for 2018 is $1061.

Many factors go into how much a building permit will cost. Permit fees are sometimes calculated based on the entire value of the work. This can either be a fixed fee or in some cases a percentage. 

A reputable licensed contractor will know exactly which building permits to pull and will include these fees in the bid they present to clients.

What is a Permit Service?

Two business men shaking hands. Building permit services are a vital tool for general contractors to scale their businesses

A Building permit service is a company that offers various application services for construction professionals engaging in projects.

A general contractor may be running several jobs and does not have time to fill out all the necessary building permit applications for his projects.

Some of the services offered by these types of companies can include: necessary building permit applications for his projects.

Some of the services offered by these types of companies can include: 

  • Plan examination
  • Application Preparation
  • Permit Records Research
  • Due Diligence
  • Representation 
  • Status Reporting
  • Insurance and Bonding requirements
  • Permit Submittals
  • Submitting equipment use permits
  • Scheduling of Building Inspector Walk Throughs
  • Sign offs

Part of scaling your business is buying time.

If your construction business has reached the level where your time is better spent on your job sites or getting more clients than hiring a building permit service may be right for you.  

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