When I started my garage renovation, a building permit was the last thing on my mind.
When I was talking with a friend about some projects around the house. He mentioned that he was getting a permit for the pool he was installing.
Which got me thinking…do I need a permit to drywall my garage?
The answers are a lot harder to find than you’d expect.
There’s a lot of general advice on the Internet. It’s usually from random people in forums that may be giving you the wrong information. So I did some research and this is what I found out.
Do I need a permit to drywall my garage? As a general rule, as long as you’re not changing your garage into living space, you shouldn’t need a permit. Some municipalities have strict requirements, so a quick phone call to your city’s building permit office is always a good idea.
I’ll admit…that answer sucks. But let’s talk a bit about why you need to do a little research with your city offices before you start a garage renovation.
You might need a building permit if…
Building permits ensure that the construction work meets a basic level of structural, electrical and plumbing safety standards.
Depending on where you live, you may not need a permit unless you’re doing major structural work or adding electrical or plumbing to your home. On the other hand, you may need a building permit for anything over a certain dollar figure.
That’s why I always recommend giving your local building office a quick phone call or email to find out. They’re there to help make sure you’ve got everything you need. The people I spoke to at my office were super-helpful and even gave me some quick tips on ways that I could make the process easier.
In general, you’ll need a permit if you want to do any of the following:
- Structural changes
- Plumbing work
- Electrical work
- Adding new structures to your property (sheds, garages, swimming pools, etc.)
- Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) work
- Replacing windows or garage doors (yup…that one surprised me too)
Some things are usually exempt from needing a permit:
- Adding a ceiling fan
- Repairing your driveway or patio
- Replacing cabinets or countertops
- Replacing carpeting or adding hardwood floors
These lists aren’t exhaustive by any means, but they should give you an idea of the kinds of things that will require building permits. I’ve said before, check with your local municipality’s building permit office before you start any work on your house.
If you don’t, you may regret it.
Why you should get a permit (if it’s required)
Why would you regret it?
Building permits are a matter or public record. That means anyone can pull a building permit just by typing an address into a website or making a quick phone call. A building inspector who’s looking at another house in your neighborhood or even a nosy neighbor can tip the city off that you’ve done work without a permit.
Let me give you three scenarios that this could end up being a big (and expensive) deal.
You could lose your home insurance
I couldn’t find any record of claims being denied because a homeowner didn’t have the correct permits. But i did find a couple of cases where the insurance agency paid the claim and then immediately cancelled the policy.
Insurance companies are in the business of managing risk. If a homeowner willfully ignores permit requirements, or doesn’t hire a reputable contractor who pulls the permits themselves, they’re taking unnecessary risks with their homes. They’re probably going to end up costing the insurance agency more money later on as well.
You could be fined
If the city finds out that you did work without a permit, you’ll usually have to pay a fine.
The initial fine is usually a $200-$500 plus the cost of the permit itself. They also tack on an additional fine per day until the work is brought into compliance.
You’ll have to re-do the work
In addition to the fines, you’ll also have to rip out the work and start over so that it can be inspected. That just doubled the cost of your renovation project…in addition to the fines.
You may not be able to sell the house
Here’s the big one.
Doing work without a permit may not come back to haunt you for years after the renovation. One of the big reasons why we do home improvement projects is to try to increase the resale value of our homes. If the buyer, or worse the home inspector, go looking for building permits and don’t find them, that could send them running to the next house on their list. (Check out my article on Does a finished garage increases your home’s value?)
Basically, if you have any thoughts of EVER selling your house, you should make sure that you have the appropriate building permits.
How long are building permits valid for?
It usually takes 5-10 business days for the permit application process. Most building permits are valid for six months (180 days) from the time that they’re issued.
That doesn’t mean that the work has to be completed in that time, but the city wants to make sure that the work is progressing. That usually means an inspection.
At least in my municipality, you’ve got 180 days from the time that you pull the building permit to schedule an inspection. The type of inspection depends on the type of work being done. For example, you may need an electrical inspection when you’re adding new outlets and a structural inspection if you’re adding a new wall.
Once you pass the inspection, if there’s more work to be done, you’ve usually got an additional 180 days to complete it.
How much do building permits cost?
The cost of a building permit can vary a lot depending on where you live and what type of work is being done.
Simple permits can cost as little as $30 and as much as $4000. HomeAdvisor.com lists the national average at just over $1000, but that covers all building permits – jobs both big and small.
My city uses a “cost of renovation” calculation for determining the building permit’s cost. For smaller jobs, the fee is $30, which covers renovations up to a total cost of $1000. The permit fee maxes out at $3,000 for half-a-million-dollars worth of renovation expenses.
Oh…the custom garage I could build with $500K. 🙂
What I’m trying to get across is that building permits aren’t a huge expense. They’re cheap enough so that homeowners will pay the permit fees and still have enough money left over to actually do the renovation.
Remember, the building permit is designed to give the homeowner the piece of mind that any work on the house has been done safely and correctly.
As a new homeowner, there’s a lot that I’m learning every day. I thought I’d only need a permit if I was doing something major like adding a swimming pool.
I’m really glad I looked into getting a building permit before I started any work on my garage. It actually changed the plan for my garage slightly, which ended up saving me money in the long run. In my case, I didn’t need a permit to drywall my garage wall, but I would need a permit to add any additional electrical outlets.
Not only that, but this research gave me a much better idea of what I can and can’t do to my house without a permit and inspection. I hope it helps you in your garage renovation project too!
If you don’t want to go through the permit process, there are several other ways you can add that finishing touch to your garage. I recommend checking out my article How to Finish Your Garage Walls for some more ideas.