Some towns near where I live (Gresham, Oregon) require a permit just
to change the porch light fixture. I think that is getting
ridiculous and potentially leads to petty situations where your nosy
neighbors might "turn you in" just for replacing the porch light.
My hubby has a buddy who always volunteers to "help" with repairs, and
who does the most assinine, incompetent and hideous looking work I've
ever seen. His work always requires rework. He put down pavers on
concrete walk, used a level to make sure each was level but didn't tamp
them so they are all at different heights :o) Uses spray foam to
remplace rotted studs in a wood partition :o) He offered to help tile
our living room and dining room, which almost sent me to the hospital
with palpitations. Even my hubby knew that was a bad idea :o)
I was concerned that the insurance would not pay up if my house burnt
down, if I didn't have a permit and documentation at the township. The
insurance told me that as long as its done to code and wasn't installed
wrong, the all would be ok. I'm putting in a wood burning central
heating system and chimney liner.
I'd be less concerned with whether the insurance
company would pay and more concerned with whether
the house might burn down. If you do stuff
correctly, whether it is to code or not, you won't
need insurance to fix it. Correctly has nothing
to do with code. For a stove installation, the
primary concern should be that the closest
surfaces don't get hot, not hot enough to burn,
just not hot, like no more than hand touch warm.
There are a lot of ways to do that and most
probably violate code. The second thing you need
to do is burn the stove correctly and clean the
Here is an example for you (a little off-topic but related):
I had an early college job (a long time ago) assisting in the
installation of business telephone systems. This involved running lots
of cable. We had permits to run cable.
We were running cable in a crawlspace above a parking garage that was
underneath the business. An inspector came around and looked at our
cable and said we needed to run plenum cable since this was also an
air space (fair enough). So the job got shut down while a flurry of
phone calls were made.
About an hour later (after we heard the property owner called someone
in the city inspectors office - perhaps even higher up) the problem
went away along with the inspector. Work continued on. Somehow someone
changed the classification of that crawlspace so we could continue on.
Now... who was right? Us or the inspector? Or who pays the taxes?
The moral here: Permit or no permit you can still bend the rules if
you know the rule makers.
When a turd hits the fan, the agency will be in denial saying it was
not authorized. After Hurricane Andrew hit Dade County, FL it was
found that inspectors were on the *take* and some went to prosecution.
They bent the rules!
"My doctor says I have a malformed public-duty gland
and a natural deficiency in moral fiber, and that I am therefore
excused from saving Universes."
We live in North Texas (the DFW area). One of my parent's rent houses
had a fire in a corner bedroom (16 year old girl, unsupervised,
lighting a candle and then talking on the phone. Match not
extinguished and dropped on bed...) Extensive smoke damage and water
damage. We did our homework. We talked with Building Inspections. We
were told we didn't need any permits. So we gutted the home down to
the studs in the walls, did the work to code, and now the interior of
that home, which was originally built in the 1950s, is now only a few
years old. No permits required, except possibly for the electrical
work, but I'm uncertain about that as we hired that job out.
(Remove the Primes before e-mailing me)
Yes "needing a permit or not" varies in different parts of the country. I
think in some remote areas, there is no building inspection whatsoever.
But it is good to still good do things to code if possible. Building codes
are based on accidents which have happened in the past, and are designed to
protect life and property. And that is *your* life and property they are
designed to protect BTW...
Which is why we did exactly that. Rebuild to code. Everything from
sealing up the holes in the top and bottom plates where wires and
pipes go through, to nail guards, to insulation, to the electrical
repairs. All done to code.
(Remove the Primes before e-mailing me)
I've found many city codes, speaking of electrical here, allow for
licensed personel to perform the work without permits if the project
is 'small'. Usually a dollar amount. Not suggesting you shouldn't
obtain a permit, but I use the local codes in this case as a guildline
for what I want to get permited and not.
But officially, I would always contact your local inspectors for their
advice, they are there to help you. ;)
tom @ www.CarFleaMarket.com
On 11/02/05 04:37 pm The Real Tom tossed the following ingredients into
the ever-growing pot of cybersoup:
Our township code says only that a permit is required if the job will
cost $200 or more; nothing about needing a licensed person for wiring,
plumbing, or anything else. And, yes, I did search the code (on line)
for the word "electric." When we had a basement window enlarged to
comply with current "egress window" standards, I asked the contractor
about a permit, but he said not to bother.
On Wed, 02 Nov 2005 17:20:27 -0500, "Percival P. Cassidy"
Well the permit requirements I referred to was a local city, the
little bourgh I live in just required all electrical work be performed
per the accepted NEC.
As for the window resizing, I don't think my little bourgh would
require a permit for that. A little secret I've learned, most permits
might be based on some 'safety' issue, but many towns use it as a mean
to keep track of improvements and raise individual taxes. Oh my I
said it, the secret is out. ;)
Now, anothe thing as a contractor, the permit requirements here have
teh contractor tasked with the responsiblity of obtaining the needed
permits. So, I'm curious why as a home owner you HAD to ask.
On 11/03/05 09:22 am The Real Tom tossed the following ingredients into
the ever-growing pot of cybersoup:
I didn't know whose responsibility it was to obtain the permit, so I
asked the contractor, thinking that perhaps *I* would have to get it and
that any permit fee might be in addition to the price I had been quoted
for the job.
I used to think it was a combination of safety and taxes. Not as
Watch "Holmes on Homes" sometime[+].
Permits/inspections are primarily a method by which you the homeowner
doesn't get screwed by sloppy/incompetent/unethical contractors.
In most areas, anything more complicated than simple redecorating
needs permits (unless there's specific exemptions for it).
If the contractor says "you don't need a permit to add a new room"
for example, you'd better trust him a lot, because if he screws
up, you're screwed too.
Holmes says "if he says a permit isn't necessary, _run_!".
Holmes periodically has examples where the contractor
said "no permit is needed" (or lie and say "one's on the
way"), they botch the job thoroughly, and when you start
trying to get the contractor to fix it, they report you to
the municipality for not getting a permit.
The definition of chutzpah...
Think of a permit as an insurance policy. It doesn't ALWAYS
protect you, but, especially if you're not familiar with
proper building techniques, it has a very good chance of
catching something wrong before it becomes a major disaster
that costs more to fix than the original job cost in the first
Unethical contractors will obviously prefer you didn't get
a permit, figuring that they won't get caught for poor
It isn't even necessarily unethical ones. Contractors have
their strengths and weaknesses. One that can build a good
house may suck at foundations.
There are times where I understand the work to be done well
enough (especially if I'm doing it myself) that I can
identify a good job, and I don't think I need a permit. But
if it's something I'm not competent enough to inspect it
properly myself, I'll insist on a permit.
[+] Mike Holmes is a Toronto-based contractor who has a TV
show on HGTV and a few other stations. His show is all
about the disasters contractors make, and their consequences.
A fascinating show. We've had our own "Holmes moments"
while renovating our bathroom (plumber practically severed two
adjacent joists to put a drain in, the tub shutoff valves were
hidden behind a "permanent" plywood wall. I'm having to
sister lumber in to reinforce the joists, and the shutoff valves
will be behind a door). The irony being that the plumber
who did the plumbing was building the house for himself...
[Holmes has been responsible for several contractors losing
their licenses and even one or two arrests for out-and-out
Chris Lewis, Una confibula non set est
It\'s not just anyone who gets a Starship Cruiser class named after them.
On Thu, 03 Nov 2005 15:08:09 -0000, email@example.com (Chris
Oh I do, love the show. I'm a strong believer that the line of
defense for a home owner is education.
1. Inspectors are your friend(no seriously). Give one a call and ask
them directly. One might even come out and check out what the work
will involve and give you an educated answer to your questions.
2. Even if a permit is NOT required, only use contractors that are
referred by real customers. Seek suggestions from work, church,
3. USE THE BBB. Example: There is a contractor in a nearby city.
Some inspectors want to get their hands on him, but he always covers
his arse. He tells the home owner to pull the permit to save money.
If the home owner says no, he leaves. If the home owner does, they
have a deal. The contractor does shoddy work(because he subs it out
to unqualified people), and when it comes to inspection time, the home
owner is hit for the violations. Home owners embarrished when they
find out what happened do not legaly fight the contractor, often hire
a real one to come in and finish the work. This 'bad' contractor has
three hits on the BBB, and he finds victims.
4. Once you get a contactor, ask hime for example work and previous
Now we don't have to beat this dead horse, but the above will usually
protect you from bad work. I've even thought about using escrow
services for really big projects as a fall back. When someone asks
about my work, I am proud to tell them, and after I'm done with a
customer I ask them politely if in the future I can use them as a
referral. But then, I like working and making customers happy, a big
Oh, so I still sincerely stand by my leaning towards getting a permit
if borderline. Also, some homeowners let me have access to their
properties, so I deal 100% with the inspection and permit process.
All Electrical work in my area is supposed to be permitted and inspected.
I've always gotten permits for new service installations, but for a simple
outlet addition, minor circuit modification, or "maintenance" (i.e.
replacing a light or outlet), I wouldn't waste my time or theirs. Of
course, I always make sure my work is up to code or better, regardless of
whether I obtain a permit.
As for building permits, our local building department has a web site that
details when a permit is needed:
Any residential non-structural project valued under $1,500 does not require
a building permit. However, mechanical (heating, ventilating) and plumbing
alterations or additions require a permit from the first dollar of value.
Just because a permit may not be needed for your project, there are still
minimum standards of quality which apply. For example, if you replace your
old windows with new double or triple-glazed windows, you will not need a
building permit as long as the value of the project doesn't exceed $1,500
and there are no structural changes to the residence. However, the windows
and installation must still meet energy code requirements for new window
installations. If you are employing a contractor to build your project,
you'll need to include the contractor's charges when determining whether or
not you meet the $1,500 threshold.
Building permits are not required for the construction or alteration of
agricultural buildings. However, mechanical (heating, ventilating) and
plumbing alterations or additions require a permit from the first dollar of
value. To qualify as an agricultural building, the use of the structure
must be limited to storage of feed, agricultural equipment such as
tractors, and the housing of animals. If you park your recreational vehicle
or personal vehicles in the building, it no longer qualifies as an
agricultural building. While permits are not needed for these buildings,
there are still zoning regulations which require a minimum distance from
the building to the property line and other structures. In most cases,
setback standards for agricultural buildings are greater than setbacks for
garages and houses. You should call or visit the county Development
Services Division to obtain setback information prior to starting your
agricultural building project.
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