Remodeling and Permits: What You Need to Know

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Home remodeling encompasses a broad scope of projects. Some remodels are as simple as changing out hardware or fixtures for newer variants, while others are much more involved and may require permits. 

If you’re thinking of or about to undertake a remodel, give this article a read. You might be surprised to know which projects usually need or don’t need permits.

Permits and Building Codes

This primer should help you out whenever the question of, “Why does this need a permit?” pops up:

  • Permits ensure a project is safe, legal, and follows specific building codes. It helps guarantee that the job is done up to code and covers the homeowner in case of any potential damage or problems down the line.
  • Building codes ensure the safety of a building’s occupants. They specify things like the maximum number of occupants a building can hold, how many exits a building needs, and what materials can be used in construction, among other things. Building codes also mandate certain fire protection measures.

Though municipal laws may vary, there are plenty of common areas and overlaps when it comes to permits.

Projects That Usually Need Permits

Below are remodels that typically require a permit:

  • Changes to building footprint: House extensions fall under this.
  • Structural changes: This category encompasses anything that alters the load-bearing structure of your home, such as removing or adding a fireplace, altering rooflines, and raising ceilings.
  • Door and window changes: Altering the size of door or window openings will often necessitate permits.
  • Electrical: Replacing an electrical panel or installing new wiring generally requires a permit. Adding or relocating outlets usually does not.
  • Plumbing: Major plumbing work like re-piping or adding new drain lines will need a permit. Installing a new bathroom sink probably won’t.
  • HVAC: Depending on your municipality, you might need permits for installing central air conditioning, furnaces, water heaters, and ductwork.
  • Roofing: In most cases, roofing projects that involve anything beyond simply replacing shingles will need a permit.
  • Driveways and garages: This includes carports and garage conversions.
  • Other: Some other notable examples include installing or relocating a clothes dryer vent, solar panel installations, building swimming pools, and adding or removing stairs.

Projects That Might Need Permits

The following remodels might need permits depending on your municipality:

  • Finish work: Projects like painting, adding wainscoting or wallpaper, putting in new flooring, and adding built-in cabinets usually don’t require permits. However, if you’re planning any type of demolition as part of the finish work (like removing a wall), then you’ll likely need a permit for that.
  • Fences: Most municipalities have regulations about the height, placement, and material of fences. You might need a permit to build one, especially if it’s over a certain height (usually 6 feet).
  • Tree-cutting: If you need to cut down a tree to clear the area up for a remodel, you might need a permit. Some tree species are protected, not to mention there could be safety risks if the tree is near power lines or property.

Projects That Rarely Need Permits

The following remodels almost never require permits:

  • Interior cosmetic changes: This includes things like painting, putting up new wallpaper or wainscoting, and installing new flooring. These projects might need permits if you’re doing any type of demolition as part of the work (like removing a wall).
  • Door and window replacements: As long as the openings themselves aren’t altered, door slab and window replacements are often fine.
  • Cabinetry: Installing new cabinets, shelves, or countertops usually doesn’t require a permit. However, if you’re moving or altering any existing plumbing or electrical lines as part of the project, you might need permits for that work.
  • Decks and patios: In most cases, these projects don’t require permits as long as they’re less than 30 inches off the ground.
  • Detached sheds: These structures usually don’t require permits as long as they’re less than a certain size (usually around 200 square feet) and aren’t hooked up to utilities. You can count treehouses here too.
  • Playground equipment: Playsets, trampolines, swings, sandboxes, and other such equipment usually don’t require permits as long as they’re detached from the structure.

Other Potential Non-Permit Rules and Restrictions

Permits aren’t the only things to note when remodeling. Other entities that may have rules and restrictions on your project include:

Zoning Laws and Property Line Disputes

Zoning laws dictate what types of structures and uses are allowed in different areas. For example, you might not be able to build a second story on your home if it’s in a single-family residential zone.

In a similar vein, if your remodel includes work that crosses onto your neighbor’s property (like a fence or deck), you’ll need to get their permission before proceeding. Otherwise, you risk having to tear the work down or pay for costly legal fees.

Homeowners Associations or Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions

If you live in a planned development or subdivision, there’s a good chance your project will need to go before the HOA or CC&R board for approval. Even if you don’t need their permission to do the work, they may have design guidelines that dictate things like exterior colors and roofing materials.

Historic Preservation Ordinances

These ordinances protect certain buildings and districts from demolition or alteration. If your home is located in such an area, you’ll need to get approval before doing any work that would alter the appearance of the property.

Look for Remodelers That Have an Ear for Legalese

If you live in Maryland or DC, you don’t have to look far. Winthorpe Design & Build can shoulder the permitting process and make sure your remodel meets all the necessary requirements.

Get in touch with us through our new process and you can rest assured that everything will be handled correctly and efficiently—whether a permit is needed or not.

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