Above all, building permits are meant to keep people safe. No city officials want their residents living in a house with a disintegrating foundation, or where the electrical system is a sparking, fire-starting disaster waiting to happen.

But many homeowners find that those efforts to keep them safe often only serve to frustrate them. If you’re planning a new home improvement project, make sure you get the lowdown on how to comply with your area’s building codes and construction laws.


Responsibility is a tricky issue when it comes to building codes. Many homeowners who hire contractors feel that it is that professional’s duty to follow all codes, and for most contractors that is the case. However, ultimately, it is the homeowner that has to deal with the consequences. The most important first step is hiring a professional who has a proven record of successful home improvement projects. Checking things like the Better Business Bureau can help ensure that your professional doesn’t have any previous code violations. Furthermore, if you live in a district or city outside of your professional’s normal working area, you may want to make sure that they are familiar with your local building codes. Rudy Nino of San Antonio Building & Remodeling says,

“Rules on permits, how they are enforced, and how the fees are set vary by locality. ”


Not following building codes can create a host of problems for homeowners, contractors and realtors. City officials have the power to halt any construction project if they feel that its code violations are serious enough. You can also get slapped with violation fees and penalties, not to mention the money lost on repairing aspects of your project that are in violation.


For DIYers, your projects should always start at your local building department. Bring any plans you have about what you hope to do and talk to an official about possible permits and inspections you may need. Many homeowners think they need extremely official plans drawn up digitally, but even simple drawings can help illustrate your project well enough to suffice for a building permit. You may even find out that your project doesn’t require a permit. If nothing else, you’ll have the assurance that your project won’t get interrupted by violations.

Even the best home improvement products in the world can be bad if they are used incorrectly. Before you buy anything, make sure you understand the product’s proper uses and any installation methods that might be involved.

John Braun of Thomas Law Group points out,

“Building department types want to see you improve your home: that increases your tax base. They will be much more helpful than you might imagine, even going so far as to make the necessary corrections on your plans to get the work into compliance. ”

Installing or using a product in the wrong way is not only frustrating and inefficient; it can prove to be downright dangerous.

Eric Corey Freed of Organic Architect says,

“Many older existing buildings are grandfathered into the code (non-compliant, but legal). But if you remove that old staircase that no longer meets the current code, you will not be allowed to build it back the same way. Any new construction will have to comply to the current codes.”

The exact age of your house and how it is grandfathered in will depend on your local building department’s rules. This type of problem only emphasizes that you should always check with officials before you start building. With a little research beforehand, your projects will go smoothly and quickly.

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