Contractors and Permits: The Basics for Homeowners

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When do I need to pull a permit?

Technically, you need permits for damn near everything, including painting your house. But some stuff is just more hassle than it’s worth.

Say you want to do a renovation project around the house. Add a deck and convert a window to a door in the back of the house in order to access it. Take down some walls. Redo the plumbing etc…Chances are you’ll need a permit and will want to work with a general contractor.

You’ll want to make sure that everything is done by the book and that your city or county approves the work so that there won’t be any issues should you ever decide to sell your home.

If there is un-permitted work on your home, it will get exposed when you’re looking to sell and lead to unnecessary difficulties and delays.

What Kind of Permit Do I need?

Generally speaking, permits fall into two categories: building permits and speciality permits.

A specialty permit, as the name implies, is for specific work: You’re doing plumbing work specifically, or electrical work, or roofing. Work that a GC normally subcontracts out these specialty professions.

illustration of building permits

If you’re doing a large job that involves multiple contractors, you’ll probably need a building permit. For these more general permits, either you, the homeowner can apply for and obtain this permit, or it can be “pulled” by a licensed general contractor. Note: if they’re not licensed, they can’t pull permits – red flag.

Steps to Obtain a Permit

Step 1: Get an Architect

This is because you need approved plans or drawings that they will provide to the GC for work to begin and the city to sign off on. In some cases, it can be a simple sketch, but in other more involved and larger projects, it will require detailed plans and multiple revisions. As with most things, it depends (on the work being proposed).

Filing The Permit

Again, this can either be done by you or your GC. You actually have to deal with the city and get the paperwork.

Depending on your city, this could be a quick and painful process, or it can be a long drawn out process involving multiple layers of bureaucracy..cough…New York City.

renovated kitchen

Inspect the Work

Do the work. Do it right because if not, the city will probably make you do it again. And oh, if you’re doing plumbing or electrical work, have the work inspected before you close up the walls and put up sheetrock. Otherwise, you’re probably going to have to take it down anyway.

The city basically wants to ensure the work was done safely and properly. If you’re renovating a kitchen or bathroom for example, they care about the plumbing an electrical, not the finishes or design of your kitchen.

And that’s it you’re done. Sound annoying? Yeah, a bit. But we’re talking about improving the value of your home, not getting new tires for your car. The stakes are higher, but the payoff in increased home value is well worth it.