What It’s Like to Renovate With Plans and Permits


If you’re taking on a complicated renovation project, you’re going to need to go through the process of having plans drawn up (or doing them yourself, if you’re adventurous) and getting permits. A lot of people think that the process might be really confusing, and it can be a bit overwhelming if you don’t know what you’re getting into. With the help of an experienced contractor, though, it’s not that difficult and can be handled relatively easily.

Here’s an overview of the process from start to finish.

First, you’ll need to get your plans done. Depending on what needs to be done, you can have your contractor do the plans or hire an architect for more extensive work. These plans will be prepared to scale and will show things like the planned changes, where electrical and plumbing will go, and anything else that the city or county might ask for (for example, if you’re installing a retaining wall, they’ll want to see things like the depth and width of the footer).

Once your plans are drawn up, they go to the local code enforcement entity for review. Depending on where you live, that’ll be an office either in the city government or the county, and they’ll have one of their experts look over the plans to ensure (a) everything they need is documented in the plans and (b) the plans meet code requirements. They may send you back to make some changes to the plans before approving them. When your plans are approved, they’ll give you a permit to post somewhere on your property (usually in the window) and a card for tracking inspections.

After your plans are approved, you can start work on your project. There will probably be some additional checks from the city or county code inspectors along the way, though, especially for a big project. For example, if you are renovating a kitchen down to studs and rerouting some water lines, you’ll likely need to have an electrical check and a plumbing check. If you’re putting in a new shower and having the basin hot-mopped, you’ll probably need a check somewhere along the way for that, too.

Once your work is done, you’ll need one last inspection from the code enforcement agency to make sure everything is finished properly and according to the plans. It’s very important to make sure your work matches your plans or, if you need to make changes along the way, that you submit modified plans and get them approved. If there are significant variations between your plans as approved and the finished work, then the code inspector may not be able to sign off on your finished work, and you’ll either have to get the updated plans approved after the fact or, possibly, redo some of the work.

This may seem like a lot of rigamarole, but it’s for a good reason. Building codes are in place to keep your home safe, so that fire doesn’t spread quickly, storms don’t blow it over, and earthquakes don’t knock it down. By following these guidelines and making sure your work is done according to the building code, you’re investing a little time and energy for a big payoff: the safety of yourself and your family.

All in all, the planning and permitting process isn’t that bad, and with the help of an experienced contractor, it can be quite easy.

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