"Do I Need a Permit for That?"

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When you're getting ready to take on a home renovation project, you've got a ton of expenses and responsibilities to worry about… Is everything going to fit into your budget? Did you buy enough paint? Is the tile guy going to show up on time? What happens if you find a ton of mold when you knock down that wall?

Even though you hate the thought of adding anything else to the list, there's one more question you need to answer before you begin -- "Do I need a permit for that?"

You may think that because you're not actually adding on a new room that you don't need a permit. However, home renovation permits come in all shapes and sizes. According to the International Building Code and the International Residential Code (known to those in the industry as "I-Codes"), you need a permit anytime you plan on constructing, enlarging, altering, repairing, moving, or demolishing something.

If you think you're the only one worrying about permits, think again. In fact, the number of permit applications hit a four-year high back in July. That's not only a sign that people are following the rules, but that home constructions (both new constructions and renovations) are on the upswing -- a good sign for an economy that's desperately trying to recover.

So, when DO you need a permit?

In addition to new constructions and major renovations (like room additions), you might be surprised to find that you may need a permit if you plan on:

- Adding a window or door

- Moving one of your sinks

- Installing new wiring

- Bringing in a dumpster to deal with construction waste (especially if you have to park it on a public street!)

- Knocking down a wall

Just remember, permits aren't meant to be a hassle (even if it may feel that way!). Instead, they are designed to make your home renovation as safe as possible.

So, how do you actually get a permit?

You'll have to make a list of every change you plan on making -- including a list of all the materials that will be used during the project. And, remember, some projects may be split between several different permits. For example, if you're renovating your bathroom, you may need one permit for the plumbing upgrades and another for the electrical changes.

Luckily, if you work with a quality licensed contractor, he'll be familiar with the permit regulations in your area. He can tell you which specific projects require a permit. Then, he can even help you cut through all of the red tape of getting one!

What happens if you don't actually get one?

You're taking on unnecessary risk. For all you know, your contractor is going to do something that's not quite right. Then, years later when you go to sell the home, you could wind up with some inspection issues.

Or, let's say you don't get a permit for that new staircase you're installing. If someone trips and falls on the stairs, they may be able to sue you for having a staircase that wasn't up to code.

Bottom line -- if you need a permit, get one. The risks of NOT getting one are too great!

So, when DON'T you need a permit?

You'll have to double-check with your local permit office, but generally, you can move ahead with these projects without getting any kind of permit:

- Making "green" improvements (Although, if you're building an entire green building from scratch or building a green addition, you'll have to get the normal and customary permits. You just won't have to worry about getting any additional permits because you're going green.)

- Replacing old windows and doors with new ones (As long as you're going one-to-one, you're OK.)

- Minor electrical jobs, like replacing a single electrical outlet

- Upgrading your floors

Here's the general rule of thumb -- if you're making purely cosmetic changes, you probably don't need a permit. If you're going beyond that, you'll need to do some checking.

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