How Building Permits Work

The Building Permit Process

Should you obtain the building permit or leave it to the contractor, if you're working with one? It's a common question and the answer is simple: Let the contractor handle the permit. He knows about the process and can accurately answer questions about the project when applying. He can address issues that might come up during inspections. And he becomes the contractor of record listed on the permit, meaning he's liable for fulfilling its terms. If a contractor insists that you take out the permit or tells you a permit is not needed for a major job, it should raise a red flag.

If you're going to do the work yourself, you can get your own permit. Then, however, you'll be the one responsible for following the codes. If you plan to hire someone to help, you'll also need proof of insurance or worker's compensation coverage.

Obtaining a building permit does require some planning. You'll need plans showing in detail what you'll be doing. Sometimes these will be formal blueprints or shop drawings completed by an architect or engineer. For small projects, a simple drawing can be enough. If you're putting up a new building or altering the footprint of an existing one, you'll also need a site map to show the location of the building on the property.

You'll first submit the plans and your building permit application to the local building department or building official for review. For a big project, this could take two weeks or more, so plan ahead. Once your permit is issued, you usually have six months to start the work. If you continue building, the permit is good until the project is done, but if you have to suspend work for more than six months, you should request an extension or your permit might lapse.

Sometimes, permits can be pre-approved, if you agree to standard plans. For example, your municipality may offer a basic design for a carport or deck. As long as you follow their plans, you don't need to submit your own. If you're building from a kit, as in the case of a prefabricated shed or solar room, the documentation from the manufacturer becomes the plan. For simple projects like installing a water heater, you can often be granted a permit the same day you apply.

Fees for building permits vary widely. They often depend on how extensive your building or renovation project is. A permit might cost you anywhere from $50 for a small improvement project to $500 or more for a new home. Keep in mind that you're paying for professionals to review your project and for inspectors to come out and examine the work. That costs.

On the next page, you'll find out about one part of the building permit process that often makes homeowners nervous.