How Building Permits Work

Building Permit Questions

Instead of looking at the building permit process as a nuisance, it's better to see it as a service provided by your local government. And a relatively cheap one, in spite of the fees. Objective, trained engineers will examine and approve your building plans. Experienced inspectors will assure that work is up to standard. Any corner-cutting or shoddy workmanship by a contractor will come to light.

Your building department can clear up any uncertainties you have about the process. Here are some questions that often arise about building permits:

  • What if work has been completed without a permit? Maybe it was done by a previous owner. Maybe you did it without knowing a permit was needed. You may still be able to get a permit, depending in part on whether the work can be properly inspected. You may have to pay an extra fee, but the local building department will usually try to work with you.
  • What if I can't wait for an inspection? If you have a pressing reason to continue with work before a scheduled inspection, contact the inspector in advance. He may allow you to record the work in photos or videos and go on. Today's digital cameras make the process easy.
  • How do I make changes in my building plan? If you change your mind about any important part of your project, make sure you contact your building department before you go ahead. They issue the permit for a specific plan. If you don't get approval for the change, you may not pass the final inspection.
  • Is the final inspection important? Sometimes work is delayed and the homeowner or contractor forgets that one more inspection is needed after the finishing touches are applied. But the final inspection is essential. If you don't get it, the building permit may lapse. You may have to apply for a new permit or comply with codes that were enacted after you began work.

It always helps to take a positive attitude toward the building permit process and to understand that most inspectors are knowledgeable and want to help. With luck, you'll never face a hurricane, tornado or flood. But if you do, you'll rest easier knowing you got your building permit and followed local codes.