Permits and Inspections

Making improvements to your home involves more than just a hammer, some nails and a few friends. Whether you’re adding a deck, turning your garage into a man cave or gutting your kitchen, paperwork will be involved, from permits to start the work to inspections to end it.

Your contractor should be able to take care of this for you, or at least guide you through the process. But if you’re going at it alone, these tips should get you on your way.

Why do I need a building permit in the first place?

Building permits protect the homeowner and any future homeowners should you sell your home, and they ensure that safety standards are met and the public is protected from unsafe construction. No one likes shoddy work, especially when you can’t see, like electric within the walls that could pose serious, or even deadly, risk.

Which home improvement projects need building permits?

These vary from county to county. Most minor projects may not require a building permit. Blowing insulation into your attic, building a fence lower than six feet tall, or replacing existing windows are examples of home improvement projects that often don’t require building permits.

New buildings and additions (bedrooms, bathrooms, family rooms, decks, storage buildings, fences and pools, etc.) almost always require a permit. Specific permits may be required for electric, plumbing and HVAC systems. Renovations such as garage conversions, basement finishing, kitchen expansions, and some re-roofing will also require a permit.

Where and how do I get a building permit for my project?

Start by calling your city or county government and ask to speak to the office that handles building permits for home improvement projects. Be prepared to tell them the type of work you plan to do, the square feet affected, if it is heated, and if you or a contractor will be doing the work.

A trip to the local building department of your county or city will probably be required since you’ll need to make a payment and pick up the building permit for your home improvement project. If you’re lucky, your locality may allow you to apply and/or pay online. When you check the website, search for “building permit” or building department or community development to find the right spot. You may need to research zoning ordinances and your subdivision restrictions, too. If you’re lucky, you can find this online. If not, ask when you go to pick up your permit.

How much does a building permit cost for each home improvement project?

The cost of a building permit is usually based on the type of work, the number of inspections required, and the square footage of the home improvement project. Building permit fees are designed to recover the cost of the building inspection process. You’ll have to see what your locality charges.

Building permits are normally good for 180 days. You’ll need an extension if you don’t complete the work during that time frame.

What if I Complete my project without a building permit?

In some municipalities, you can actually be fined or jailed for undertaking such work without a permit. In addition, unauthorized work (especially plumbing or electrical) may be torn out if it doesn’t meet code.

Once your permitted construction is finished, you’ll need to have it inspected to make sure it meets code(s) according to your area’s regulations.

St. Louis City and County government offer sites for information regarding construction permits. This can give you an overall feel for what may be required in your area.

Happy home improving!