When To Get A Building Permit For Home Improvements

So you’ve got some ideas about how making your home a little homier. Not just painting a few walls or rearranging the furniture, no, you’ve got some big ideas.

But watch out! Some home improvements can’t just be approached with a toolbox and a DIY attitude. Some home improvements actually require a permit. Let’s take a look at where, around your house, Uncle Sam might have to get involved.

Home Improvement

The permits you may need for a home improvement project vary by state, county or even city. Since we operate in three Pacific Northwest states, I’ll focus on some common themes between them. If you’re not totally certain, be sure to check with your local municipal authorities. Just remember this – before you hack away, ask away.

Depending on the size of your planned renovation, you might need to get a permit. Many municipalities ask that you get a permit if your renovation costs will exceed $5,000 for example. But that’s rather general. Specifically, building permits are split into four categories: construction, plumbing, electrical and mechanical. Let’s have a look.

Construction Permits

  • If you want to put up a fence on your property, you’ll likely need a permit. Many municipalities don’t require a permit for fencing if the fence is lower than six feet high.
  • Replacing doors and windows don’t require a permit, but cutting a new hole in your house to install either a new door or window does.
  • Any addition to your house will require a permit. Looking to add a bedroom off to the side? A new bathroom? A cover over your patio? A new garage, or even closing off your carport? Maybe a pool? You’re going to need a permit.
  • A small shed – something smaller than 200 square feet might require you to submit a site plan – but anything larger will require a permit.
  • A new roof or new siding requires a permit.



Changing a fixture or replacing a leaky pipe doesn’t require a permit, but anything that alters your plumbing system will. This includes replacing your water heater, altering your plumbing system or installing an addition to your plumbing system, and replacing or installing your sprinkler supply apparatus.

Natural gas systems are also included under plumbing permits. Any alteration of your gas lines will require a permit.


Again, small electrical projects don’t require a permit. But if you are looking to wire an unfinished basement or replace faulty wiring throughout your entire house, you will need a permit.


These permissions apply to systems. If you have an integrated refrigeration system, and you want to replace it, you’ll need a permit. A more likely scenario is that you have a central heating/cooling system that needs replacing – or installed – at which point you’ll need a permit.

Any mechanical device that is portable, such as your average refrigerator or a window AC unit, does not need a permit to be replaced or installed.

Often, a project will require permits from two or more of these categories. For example, if you’re putting in a fancy new pool, you’ll need a construction permit, a plumbing permit and an electrical permit—as a new pool integrates these three systems. Your local municipality might have a catchall permit. Again, be sure to check with them.

And of course, you can call us here at Hayden Homes. This is our business after all, and we like to think we’re good at it.

Good luck and happy remodeling.

About the Author: Tom Kershaw works for a home builder in Northwestern U.S. Named Hayden Homes who enjoy designing and doing handyman work on the side.

Erin Emanuel