It all started with a shelf.
You just bought your home and, though it needed a little surface work, you were pretty proud of it. It was yours, to do with as you wanted. So the first thing you did was run out and bought some lumber to construct a custom, built-in shelf system in your living room.
Oh, man, that was a breeze, you thought to yourself as you sat watching television and admiring the shelving. That was when you realized how much your house would benefit from knocking the wall out between the kitchen and the living room. After all, if Vanilla Ice can do it, surely you can.
If you had to look back and pick the moment when everything went south for you, that would be it. Thanks, Vanilla Ice. Thank you.
Instead of getting a permit for this major structural modification to your home, you just started smashing. After all, they don’t get permits for this stuff on television, so why bother with it?
Now you know why. Oh, now you know.
Many DIY Jobs Require a Permit
Whether you’re a trained carpenter or a DIYer that binges HGTV, there are certain kinds of home remodeling that will always require a permit. This ensures that someone is looking over your shoulder to make sure that you’re doing the work correctly.
Advanced jobs in plumbing, electrical, HVAC and other specialty fields always require a permit to ensure that the home is and will remain safe for the occupants. Other jobs, like those that involve making structural changes, may or may not need a permit. That’s usually at the discretion of the permitting body.
You’ll want to speak to your municipal planning and zoning department to determine whether or not your job needs to be permitted. Typically, getting a permit requires that you describe the work you plan to do and pay a small fee that covers, in part, the cost of having expert inspectors ensure that your worksite is safe and your repairs are done correctly.
This is Why You Need a Permit
It can be a pain to go down to P&Z (or planning and development in some areas), but it’s really worth the effort in the long run. Despite the amount of documentation these can require, depending on the complexity of your project, you’ll find that going through the process properly will force you to really think about each step in your process.
Of course, that’s just one reason to get a permit, there are plenty more, like:
1. Avoiding serious legal ramifications. In any municipality that requires permits, there’s some kind of severe punishment for not getting one.
For example, in Dallas, Texas, the ordinance reads like this: “Punishment. Any person who knowingly violates a provision of this chapter or the codes is guilty of a separate offense for each day or portion of a day during which the violation is committed, continued, or permitted, and each offense is punishable by a fine not to exceed $2,000. (Ord. 26029; 26286).”
Or, if you’re in St. Paul, Minnesota, you can be charged with a misdemeanor — along with a stiff fine — for any work exceeding $500 that hasn’t been permitted first. Do you really want a criminal record because you wanted to install a bay window where two tiny windows used to be?
2. Being confident the work you’ve done is done right. Unless you have an expertise in construction, you probably have a lot of gaps in your knowledge base, including how to tell if a wall is a load-bearing (aka. structural) wall. This sort of mistake is more common than you might imagine and can be devastating to a home.
For example, when you pulled that wall down in the opening scenario, you didn’t know it was a structural wall. Now, months later, you’ve been noticing an increasingly deep sag where the wall used to be and the floor tiles are cracking here and there. The reason? Your house is under a lot more stress now because you took out a wall it needed and didn’t replace it with something to help carry the weight.
Had you sought a building permit, a housing inspector would have come by to check your work and advised you to put a 10-inch header up to make the project work without compromising the house’s structure. Inspectors aren’t always there to bust your chops, they can actually help.
In addition, when you go to sell your home, you will now have to disclose that you did this work without a permit and that it has caused some pretty serious problems. It’s a complete no-win and it’s going to be costly to have an expert come in and fix what your demo saw or sledge destroyed for peanuts..
3. Ensuring that all work is safe and up to code. If home pros shared some of the most terrifying things they’ve ever seen in homes, you would understand in an instant why permits keep you and your neighbors safe. These are the times when you can’t do much besides shake your head and laugh, because human ingenuity plus human sloth makes some really crazy work arounds.
Had these creative types of work been inspected, of course they wouldn’t have passed. Today’s building inspector and the permit office attached can prevent tomorrow’s house fire, ceiling collapse, or rapid structural degradation.
Not Sure If You Need a Permit…?
If you don’t know if you need a permit, call the authorities that issue building permits for your area. This is typically Planning and Zoning or Planning and Development within your city or county’s offices. They can explain what’s permitted and what isn’t, or at very least, send you some literature.
When the permit process seems impossible, the actual work you have planned may be more than you really are ready to handle. This is a great time to reach out to your HomeKeepr community for help. Recommended pros like general contractors, electricians and HVAC experts are ready to take up the torch, including getting that permit you need.
You don’t need more stress in your life. Relax while trusted pros make your house into a home.
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