Understanding Permits for Home Renovations
November 13, 2009
For the average homeowner, taking on a major home renovation yourself can be rewarding but also overwhelming. Whether you are building a home or doing a renovation, in order to avoid any costly surprises it’s important to understand what is required and what you as a homeowner are capable of accomplishing. They need to consider questions like: Do you need a permit? Who gets the permit and from where? Overall, as the homeowner, you are legally responsible for obtaining any building permits required. However, your renovator can look after this on your behalf. Your contract should specify which permits are required and who will get them. A phone call to your local permit office is a good start to determine if you need a permit. Also it‘s important to understand that some jobs are best left to the professionals especially if it involves gas and electrical jobs.
When do I need a permit?
Generally, a building permit is required for renovations that involve changes to the structure or systems of your home. This includes new additions, reconfiguration of space by moving or removing walls, new window and door openings and installation of fireplaces. Electrical and plumbing permits may also have to be obtained separately.
Some repairs and renovations may not require a permit. These include re-roofing, painting, re-siding, flooring and cabinet installation, and replacement of windows and doors (provided the opening is not enlarged)-in brief, work that does not entail changes to structures or systems. Confirm with your renovator, or check with your municipal building permit office to be sure. Also, find out if you need a permit to demolish old structures such as a garage, shed or porch, or to cut down a tree on your property.
Types of Permits:
Whether you’re building or renovating your home, there are basically five types of permits that may be required:
- Building permit: For the construction of a new home or alterations, additions or repairs to the structure of an existing home.
- Electrical permit: For wiring in a new home, or changes to the electrical system in an existing home.
- Plumbing permit: For plumbing in a new home or repairs or alterations to a home's existing plumbing.
- Gas permit: For new heating or other installations involving the use of natural gas or propane, or for changes to these systems in an existing home.
- Occupancy permit: For the occupation of a newly built or substantially renovated home.
Permits may be required for many repair, renovation and addition projects in existing homes. Below are some examples of when permits are required. Keep in mind it’s important to contact the local permit office that is specific to your area.
Building permits and applicable trade permits are generally needed to:
Renovating a Strata Lot:
- move interior walls and partitions,
- relocate or install new plumbing, electrical and gas lines,
- undertake structural repairs, renovations or additions that are permitted outright, and
- construct accessory buildings (garage, carport, garden shed etc.)that are permitted outright.
Both development and building permits, and applicable trade permits, are needed to:
- build a new home
- undertake structural renovations or additions, such as dormers, lofts or decks, that are conditional,
- add a roof over an existing sundeck or enclose a balcony,
- construct accessory buildings (garage, carport, garden shed etc.)that are conditional,
- raise a building or excavate a basement, and
- erect a fence if it is over height.
No permits are needed to:
- replace fixtures, cabinets and flooring,
- paint the interior of your home,
- paint the exterior of your home or carry out any non-structural maintenance or minor repairs to the exterior of your home (including re-stuccoing, landscaping or installing roofing, gutters, drain-pipes, siding or walkways and driveways within the site.
If you own a condominium or a townhouse, you may be subject to your strata bylaws and restrictions. Condominium and townhouse owners contemplating renovations or alterations to their unit need to comply with not only City by-laws, but their own, particular, Strata by-laws. For instance, the City does not require a permit to change your flooring from carpet to hardwood, but your Strata Council and the person living below you will want a say in what you’re planning. As well, you may meet all the City’s requirements to enclose a balcony or add a window, but your Strata by-laws may not allow any exterior alterations. So, for strata owners, reviewing your Strata by-laws is an essential step in planning your home renovations. Once you’ve established your renovation plans aren’t going to cause a ruckus in your building, you need to determine what, if any, permits the City will require.
Gas, Electric and Plumbing:
The majority of electrical and gas renovations require a permit typically in a detached residential home when installed by the homeowner or a licensed contractor. If it looks like you need a permit it’s recommended to hire a licensed contractor. Here are some common examples that require a permit:
- Any electrical wiring work
- Hot tubs - new or replacement
- Gas fireplaces, water heaters, furnaces, ranges or cooktops
- Gas barbeque piping
Who should get the permit - me or my renovator?
As the homeowner, you are legally responsible for obtaining any building permits required. However, your renovator can look after this on your behalf. Your contract should specify which permits are required and who will get them. You will need to provide a letter of authorization before your renovator can apply for a permit for your renovation.
Before a permit is issued, your plans and drawings are reviewed by the municipality. After the work begins, an inspector may visit your home to make sure it is done in compliance with municipal requirements. There may also be a separate electrical and plumbing inspection.
What happens if I don't get a permit?
If you carry out a renovation project that requires a building permit without having one, your municipality can issue a "stop work" order, which remains in effect until you obtain a permit. If the work doesn't meet the requirements of the Building Code, you may well have to redo it at your own cost. In worst case scenarios, you could be forced to "un-renovate" your home, such as removing an addition. This could happen if you violate setback regulations for instance. Working without a required permit may also affect an insurance claim arising from the renovation. Before any work begins on your home, check with your insurance representative, who can explain exactly what is needed to ensure continuous and adequate coverage, both during and after the renovation.
Information courtesy of Canadian Home Builders’ Association of BC
and BC Safety Authority.