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What home improvements require a permit?

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Years ago, when each Florida county or city adopted their own building codes, there was often a minimum of around $500, below which a permit was not required for non-structural home improvements. Those days are long gone. Here’s what the 2014 Florida Building Code—which covers the entire state—has to say about work that needs a permit: 

[A] 105.1 Required.
Any owner or authorized agent who intends to construct, enlarge, alter, repair, move, demolish, or change the occupancy of a building or structure, or to erect, install, enlarge, alter, repair, remove, convert or replace any impact-resistant coverings, electrical, gas, mechanical or plumbing system, the installation of which is regulated by this code, or to cause any such work to be done, shall first make application to the building official and obtain the required permit.

   The primary exemption to the requirement to obtain a building permit is for repairs. Unclogging a drain or changing out a plumbing fixture or valve (as long as the fixture or piping is not relocated) are examples. Replacing switches, receptacles and light fixtures at existing locations also do not require a permit.

    Most jurisdictions do not require a permit for fences under 6-feet high. Also, installing a small prefab shed (usually defined as less than 100 square feet) does not need a permit, but must be within the zoning setbacks for the property. 

   Here’s our “Top 7” list of home improvements that really do need to be permitted and inspected, but often are not, and the safety and livability of the home suffer as a result:

  1. Water heaters - This is the #1 project that we often see done by a homeowner or handyman without a building permit. An improperly installed temperature-and-pressure relief valve drain, bad vent connector, exposed electrical splices, and missing collision protection in a garage are all examples of an unsafe water heater installation.
  2. Roofing - Roof sheathing has been required to be re-nailed to meet higher hurricane-resistance standards for the past decade when a roof is replaced. When we see that there hasn’t been a nailing upgrade and the roof penetrations are poorly flashed, it’s a sure sign there was no professional supervision.
  3. Decks - Once you visualize that a deck is an elevated platform that people stand on, the importance of safe installation comes into focus. The priority in deck building is to provide a series of strong and secure connections to transfer the weight of the deck and its occupants to the ground. To learn more, go to our blog post “What are the warning signs of a dangerous deck?”
  4. Garage and porch conversions - Converting the garage to a master bedroom suite or family room, and changing a screen porch into an enclosed sun room are popular home upgrades. Because they can be done out of view of any nosy neighbors, they are popular weekend-warrior projects. Lack of adequate insulation, air conditioning ducts and wall receptacles are typical problems with conversions done without a permit. See our blog What are the most common problems when a homeowner encloses a porch without a building permit? for more on this subject.
  5. HVAC system - While the change-out of a furnace is rarely tackled as a homeowner project, sometimes a tradesman will do the work without a permit to avoid the newer safety and efficiency requirements. 
  6. Electrical wiring - Luckily, most people are scared of being shocked while doing electrical repairs and leave the work to a licensed electrician who pulls a permit, but the main safety issue is fire prevention. Amateur electrical work is painfully obvious to a home inspector. Check out our blog What are the most common homeowner electrical wiring mistakes? for more details. 
  7. Kitchen remodels - Because relocation of plumbing and electrical is often part of a kitchen remodel, the work should be done professionally and with a permit. Loose wires, P-traps installed backwards, and blocked range hood vents are typical problems.

   Proof of building permits for improvements, and ensuring that they have been closed out with a final inspection, are now a required part of many real estate transactions. See our blog post Should I buy a house that has been remodeled/renovated without building permits or has open permits? to learn about the complications that come with buying home with non-permitted work or open permits. Beyond safety, it makes good sense nowadays to get permits and inspections for home improvements just to make things go smoother when it’s time to sell.

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Here’s links to a collection of our other blog posts about REMODELING:

What are the problems to look for when buying a homeowner remodeled house?

Does it make sense to buy an older mobile home and remodel it?

Can I leave a gas water heater in place when remodeling a garage into a family room or bedroom?

How can I tell the difference between a renovation project house and a tear-down? 

Do I need a building permit for a backyard shed?

What are the most common problems when a homeowner encloses a porch without a building permit?  

How can I tell the difference between a fixer-upper with potential and a money pit?

How difficult is it to change a window to french doors or a sliding glass door?

Should I buy a fixer-upper?  

• How do I find a good contractor?

• What home improvements require a permit? 

      Visit our REMODELING page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

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