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personal stories

DIY how-to help

pitfalls to avoid

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& some sound advice from our experts.


WORKING ON THE "DOWN-LOW" - "should I get a permit for that?"

No on really wants to get permits for work they are doing on their home. Frankly, many steps of the process can be intimidating:

  • filling out the paperwork

  • drawing up presentable and understandable plans

  • navigating the permit office

  • actually doing the work up to code

  • scheduling the inspector to come to you house

  • having the inspector nit-pick everything you've done

  • having to fix the things you missed or didn't even know about

None of this sounds like much fun. And its not.

So, how can you avoid permitting your work?

Well, the real question is should you?

As a rule of thumb - If you are adding something to your home, then yes, get a permit. This would be for things like an addition, a new deck, a new bathroom, a finished attic or basement, etc. You want to ensure you are doing everything safely and to code, as well as reduce your liability if you every have to sell or have to file a claim with your insurance company. The inspector is necessary for this level of work.

Outside of this stuff though, the rest is relatively grey. Unfortunately, permitting is handled jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction. Where one county may have no problem with you replacing all your windows, roof and siding with no permit, the city right next door may require permits for all of it.

So what should you do?


Just call the permitting office in your town and ask for their guidance. This is not going to put you on a watch-list, and they're not going to put a red flag in your yard or post a stake-out across the street in an inconspicuous white van. The folks at the permit office are happy to help you understand what you can do with or without a permit, so just start with a phone call.

Make Friends.

The truth is the folks at the permitting offices deal with contractors and construction professionals all day who think they know everything. So I have found that going to the permit office and approaching these folks with a little humility and a willingness to listen will open communication and doors. You will probably find the permit office staff is happy to provide help and insights into navigating the process, speaking to the right people, and filing the right forms the right way. If you can win over someone at the front desk, especially, then you will have an ardent advocate on your side - use them.

Err on the side of "yes"

Although the permit process can feel arduous and daunting, it is relatively simple to learn, not to mention that it is there for your interest and well-being. It provides you with a highly qualified resource that can ensure your work meets industry standards and building codes. For a relatively small amount of money (usually $50-$250 for small to moderate sized projects), you get an expert to inspect your work and provide quality control. That's well worth the investment and the hassle for any DIY'er. It's peace of mind knowing you did it right!

Ask a Coach

A FIXER UPPER COACH can be an excellent resource for you at any point in the permitting process. Whether it is deciding if you even need a permit, helping you fill out the right forms, or having a pre-inspection walk-through performed before the building-inspector does his thing, a Coach can give you expert advice on a more personal level. Having a Coach on your side who has filed and passed hundreds of permits and inspections can give you the confidence that you can handle the process and the inspector like a pro!

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