2022 Boise Idaho Real Estate Blog

What Home Improvement Projects Require A Building Permit

Main Treasure Valley Life

Spring and summer are the prime time for home renovations thanks to warm weather and longer daylight hours. Home renovation covers a wide variety of projects from getting a new light fixture in the kitchen to adding a deck to the backyard. Some projects are large enough that they require a building permit. But where is the cutoff for needing/not needing a permit? We will provide examples of when you will need a permit for fixing up your home.

First of all, it is important to know exactly what a building permit is and who needs to get one if it is needed. A building permit is a legal document issued by the local government that allows construction to proceed. The permit shows that a government official has reviewed and approved plans for a project, deeming them safe and up to code. All of this ensures at potential health and safety hazards such as fire hazards, electrical shock, and structural collapse risks are minimized. Permits are usually obtained by the contractors or company you hire to do the project. If you pull the permit yourself as a way to try to save money or DIY the project, you will be considered the contractor in the eyes of the government (and therefore liable for the project).

This is a case where a few hours and maybe a few hundred dollars can save you scores of hours and thousands of dollars in damages or losses later on.

What if I don't get a permit? What happens then?

Many homeowners don’t get a permit for large projects as a way to save time and money, as well as not deal with government bureaucracy. However, working on your home on a large enough project without approval can result in violation of city codes, which can lead to numerous possible outcomes:

  • Fines and penalties from code enforcement authorities. These can quickly exceed the cost of the project. 
  • Government officials may require you to demolish the project and redo it so it meets code. This will cost much at least double the cost of the project since it has to be torn down and rebuilt, this time by contractors you have to pay.
  • If you try to sell your home in the future, a home inspection will most likely be conducted by the buyers. The inspector could uncover the fact that the improvement or renovation was done without permits and could not be up to code. This could delay or completely derail the sale. If enough buyers walk away, it could become necessary to fix the project to meet the code requirements. 
  • If the worst-case scenario happens and there is a fire, structural collapse, or plumbing problem, homeowners insurance won’t cover the repairs if the original damaged area was not up to code.

Which home improvements require a building permit?

With all of that out of the way, let’s dive into the heart of the article. The rules of thumb for projects that require a building permit are: structural, plumbing, electrical, or mechanical work. Certain requirements vary from city to city, so this is another reason to check with the government which projects require professionals and permits.

Plumbing and electrical replacements: Certain projects such as faucets and new light fixture installation do not require a permit. But when it comes to replacing or installing pipes, installing new wiring, or running new wires, certified professionals should be used and permits should be pulled. 

Structural modifications: Adding or removing a wall, turning your attic into a bonus room, or adding/removing a deck or porch require a permit, as they involve changing the structural layout of the home

Certain window sizes: If you are installing bigger windows than what already exists, turn to a professional since this involves cutting holes to fit them. The same goes for skylights. 

Fencing installation or repair: Certain fence repairs you can do yourself, such as replacing fence boards or painting your fence. However, building a new fence may require a permit depending on your city’s ordinances. In addition, it is a good idea to check with the city before you go digging post holes to make sure you won't be digging into sewage, electrical, or internet lines. 

Additions and remodels: Many remodels involve structural changes, so you will need a permit. In addition, projects totaling over $5,000 will require a permit. This applies to detached garages, mother-in-law cottages, sheds, platforms, and decks/patios. Exceptions to the $5,000 limit are sheds measuring less than 200 square feet, painting, carpeting, and wallpaper.

Home improvement projects that do not require a building permit

Not all home improvement projects require a permit. In fact, most of them are done on a daily basis by homeowners every day.

  • Painting and wallpapering
  • Installing new floors (laminate, hardwood, carpet, vinyl)
  • Installing new countertops on existing counters, and installing new faucets, showerheads, or toilets. 
  • Landscaping work
  • Replacing existing light fixtures with new ones
  • New gardens, flowerbeds, or low berms

Bottom line: If you are planning a home improvement project that will more than moderately improve your home’s value or function, check with your city to see if you need a permit. It will save you a lot of time, money, and stress, regardless of if you need one or not. 

Posted by AndrewS at 5/14/2021 2:14:00 AM

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