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4 Useful Benefits of Building Permits

Blueprints with a paper laying on top with the words "building permit"

You planned out the project. You hired a contractor. You bought the material. Now, all you need is to get the proper building permit. But, what exactly is a building permit and why do I need one?

A building permit is a document that is issued from your local building department that gives you authorization to start construction. In other words, if you want to build a deck, then you need a building permit to build it. As far as why, or the reason for building permits, for most projects, it's the law. But, there are several benefits to obtaining a building permit, which I will discuss in more detail in this article.


Ensures Safety

The first, and foremost, purpose of a building permit is to protect the homeowner. Below is a fictitious story to help illustrate how building permits ensure safety.

Bob is a local homeowner who decided to hire a contractor to build a beautiful, 500 sq. ft. wood deck. Bob didn't want to bother with permits, so he never filled out the paperwork or obtained a building permit from the local building department. So he hired a "contractor" to build the deck and the "contractor" began constructing the deck. After 2 weeks, the "contractor" finished the project and the deck was aesthetically pleasing.

About one year later, Bob took a job out-of-state, moved, and sold his home. The new homeowners moved in to the home and after a few months, they began noticing that the deck was shifting, railing was coming away from the deck, and deck boards were popping up; so, they asked a deck builder to take a look at the deck. What they found out was that the post holes were not dug to the proper depth of 42" (below the frost line), so during the winter when water would freeze and thaw, the water got underneath the post and began pushing the deck upwards, skewing and contorting the deck. The homeowners also found out that the railing was not secured properly to the posts. And, they also discovered that the deck was built with undersized nails, which are only supposed to be used in the interior of a home. Unfortunately, the new homeowners had to have the deck removed and rebuilt properly.

In this illustration, the homeowner may have been easily leaning against a section of rail and fallen to the ground because the rail was not secured properly. Or, the homeowner could begin to see damage to the patio door threshold, side of the home, or even see the deck collapse. These are horrendous outcomes and nightmare situations for homeowners. Especially since the all of the issues could have been avoided if the homeowner made sure to use building permits. In short, a building permit protects the current homeowner and a future homeowner.

Adds Value

Building permits are track-able and record-able; and, they are public record. This means that if you want to move and sell your home, then the new homeowner will have documentation, proving the work was legit and completed to local building code regulations. Also, your realtor will have the ability to market your home as a "home with extras". In other words, if you purchased the home without a deck, but now the home has a large, Trex (composite) deck with a pergola, then your realtor can use the approved project as a tool to negotiate for a higher selling price. So, building permits add value.

Keeps Contractor Honest

Along with building permits, there are inspections. This is where a certified, building inspector inspects the project. Most projects have 2-3 inspections. For instance, a deck will have 3 inspections:

  1. Post-Hole Inspection (which takes place after the holes have been dug and before the concrete is poured)

  2. Rough Framing (which happens after the rough frame has been installed and before decking or railing is installed)

  3. Final Inspection (which occurs after the decking and railing have been installed)

In other words, a building permit ensures that the contractor's work will be inspected and verified by a certified individual. So, you can rest easy knowing that the contractor you hire cannot cut corners or build an unsafe structure.

Built-In Payment Schedule

You don't pay for a project in-full, up front; you pay in increments. As you meet a threshold; i.e., demo and post-holes complete, you make the next payment for the project to progress to the next phase; i.e., rough framing. So, the inspections that go along with a building permit provide an easy-to-follow payment schedule. For instance, if you hired a contractor to build a deck, and the permit has 3 inspections; e.g., post hole, rough frame, and final, then, you can ask for a payment schedule that follows the 3 inspections. For example, the first payment would be a down payment of 30% of the contract, then the second payment would be 30% and only initiated after the post hole inspection was passed. You can follow this pattern all the way to the end whereby passing the final inspection would initiate the final payment of 10%. In all, the payment schedule would be 30/30/30/10. So, building permits provide a "calendar" for a payment schedule.


Building permits are good. They are good for safety, adding value, keeping contractors honest, and creating a payment schedule. If you are considering a home remodeling project, then your first step is to contact your local building department to find out if a building permit is required. If so, then hire a contractor and ask him or her to get it for the project. Your project is better with a required building permit than without.

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