Home renovations and repairs often require significant preparation. But as you begin drawing up plans, choosing a contractor (or researching DIY methods) and shopping for materials, don’t forget about one of the most important steps in home renovation: obtaining a permit. Permits are required for most major home renovations, as well as many seemingly minor repairs. The permit process ensures that renovation work meets local building codes, thus making the building process—and the final product—safer.

Check for permit requirements

Local municipal laws and building codes outline which home renovation projects require permits. Since permit laws differ by municipality, the best way to know whether you need to obtain a permit for your particular project is to call your city’s building department or planning office or check their website for a list of permit requirements. A licensed contractor should tell you if you need a permit, but you should always confirm that information yourself.

In general, major renovations, like additions and kitchen and bath remodels, require permits. Other changes to your home’s footprint, including new decks, garages, sheds, pools and fences usually need a permit, too. Most cities also require a permit to install new siding or roofing, tear down walls, make structural repairs, change electrical or plumbing systems and replace HVAC equipment and water heaters, for example. Minor repairs and cosmetic upgrades, such as changing a kitchen faucet, replacing an appliance, painting walls or laying carpet, typically do not require permits, but it’s best to check first.

Submit an application for a permit

In most municipalities, you will be asked to submit an application, a description of your proposed renovations and a fee, the amount of which differs by project and city, to obtain a permit. After your plans are approved, you will be issued a permit (or, in some areas, permits, if your project involves multiple components, like electrical and plumbing) to begin work. Your city may require inspections of the site before, during and/or after construction, again, often depending on the project. Contractors usually secure the necessary permits; you’ll be responsible if you take the DIY route.

While the permit process might seem tedious and expensive, you’ll be out significantly more time and money if you fail to obtain the required permits. You could be subject to hefty fines or be forced to redo the job—and pay a second round of construction costs—as a result of unauthorized renovation work. Moreover, your homeowner’s insurance may not cover accidents caused by faulty work done without proper permits. And if you can’t supply proof of renovation permits, you might not be able to sell your home without making permitted repairs. Most importantly, renovations done without a permit may violate building codes, and that’s a safety risk not worth taking.

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