How to get a building permit is one of those things you’ll need to learn when you renovate your home. That’s right—even though you own your house, you still need to get permits for structural changes, to ensure that your changes will be “up to code,” as they say.

Before you start grumbling about all this paperwork, keep in mind that the permitting process is put in place by the government to keep you and your family safe. Building permits ensure that your home meets important requirements that minimize fire hazards, structural failure, electrical shock, and other potential health and safety risks.

Ready to get your renovation rolling? Here’s everything you need to know about how to get a building permit.

Do you need a building permit?

Spoiler: You probably do, unless you’re only doing cosmetic interior upgrades, like painting or updating your kitchen faucet. Any time you are adding square footage, making structural modifications, or significantly altering other building components, you’ll need to obtain a permit, says Brian McHugh of McHugh Construction in Mead, CO.

And don’t think about trying to sidestep the question. Doing the work without a permit is just a bad idea, for a number of reasons:

  • It might be hard to sell the house if you can’t show a permit for your work.
  • A lender can refuse to grant you a mortgage if you have unpermitted work.
  • Your municipality could apply fines or penalties.
  • You might have to do the work again to bring it up to code.
  • A home appraiser might not include the unpermitted work in a future appraisal, lowering your home’s value.

In other words, renovating without a permit is just not worth the risk.

How to apply for a building permit

The great news is that getting a building permit is easier than you think—mostly because you probably don’t have to do it yourself. Unless you’re a pretty slick DIY-er, chances are good that your project is going to require a contractor, and that’s the person to rely on for the building permit process.

First of all, contractors will know the ins and outs of the process for obtaining building permits in your local area, and they’ll also know exactly which permits you need, from structural to electrical…