When we first bought our house I had no idea what building permits were or whether we needed them. We didn't do any projects early on that would have required them but eventually I got wind that I would need a permit to do any real work on the house. I looked at our city's website and to be honest, I was appalled! There's a $75 minimum fee for any permit. If I wanted to add a light switch it would be $20 in supplies and $75 in city permits! I thought that was such a rip off, but the more I've learned about permits and why I need them, the more convinced I am that they're worth every penny.
Reasons to get a permit
- It's the law. Any work you do without a permit is illegal and the city can make you undo the work you've done - how much fun would it be to demo a basement or deck after it's finished?
- The purpose of a permit is to make sure the job is done right and done safely. The majority of the fees are the cost of inspectors coming to your house and checking on the work. The inspectors know more about building/electric/plumbing than the average DIYer and they'll catch things that may be missed. If I do something dumb with the electrical wiring that can cause a fire I want someone to tell me about it!
- It catches up to you when you move. If the buyer's inspector finds something that was done wrong you'll most likely have to change it. It will be more expensive and a bigger pain to do it when the project is already done and you're trying to pack up and move.
- It's also a selling point to be able to show permits and inspections on DIY work. A home inspector will look up what permits have been pulled and potential buyers will know whether you got permits. If I'm looking at a house with a DIY finished basement and no permits I know it could be done well or it could be done poorly... even dangerously. If I see permits were pulled I know it's at least up to code and inspected.
- It's cheaper to fix problems before the project is finished. For example, when I wire the basement for electricity I need to have a "rough in" inspection. That means I run all the wires but don't hook up the lights or switches. An inspector comes out and makes sure everything is run correctly. If something's is wrong it's much easier to change while the walls are all open than to find out later and have to tear down sheet rock to fix the problem.
When not to get a permit
- If the project doesn't require a permit then obviously there's no need! Just call your permit office to ask.
- If a contractor, plumber, electrician, etc is doing the work then DON'T pull the permit yourself. The person working on the project will pull the permit and make sure it gets inspected and finished.
- Whoever pulls the permit is the one responsible for fixing the problems. If you pull the permit for the plumber and it doesn't pass inspection, it's technically your problem.
Tips for pulling permits
- Pull one permit for multiple projects. Permits are good for one year (at least in Minneapolis). If you want to change five electrical receptacles, pull one permit for all five. It will cost something like $100 but that's cheaper than doing each one for the minimum $75 fee.
- Plan permits into your budget. It won't feel like a rip off if you already had it in your budget. They're really not that expensive if you're looking at the big picture; it's only 5% of the budget for our basement rennovation.
- Call your inspector if you have questions along the way, they'll be happy to answer them. It's better to find out and do it right the first time than to fail the inspection and have to pay for the inspector to make a second trip.
What do you think of permits? Have you had to pull one for any projects yet?
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