When do I need a building permit?
This is a question I often hear when meeting with homeowners. The building code in California says: almost always. Of course, there’s a bit more to it than that.
The basic rule
If you want a taste of the California Residential Code (the building code for single family houses), try this out:
Any owner or authorized agent who intends to construct, enlarge, alter, repair, move, demolish or change the occupancy of a building or structure, or to erect, install, enlarge, alter, repair, remove, convert or replace any electrical, gas, mechanical or plumbing system, the installation of which is regulated by this code, or to cause any such work to be done, shall first make application to the building official and obtain the required permit.
That covers just about everything from the sound of it. But the next section lists exemptions including:
- detached sheds (up to 120 square feet)
- fences (up to 6 feet)
- decks (up to 200 square feet, separated from house, no more than 30 inches above the ground)
- painting, cabinets, countertops
- playground equipment
- sidewalks and driveways
There are exceptions listed for certain electrical, heating, and mechanical items as well.
The local angle
If you want to go by the book, so to speak, you need to go beyond the code book and call your local building department. They may have a slightly different take on the exemptions. You can google your local building department, or use the convenient list at the California Contractors State License Board’s webpage.
Of course, lots of folks do small remodels (or even large projects) without a building permit, even when they figure they’re supposed to get one. Know anyone who’s done that? How did it turn out?
photo by Nate Hofer