DIY House Addition: Step 2 – Getting Building Permits*

Sixty hours of sitting through contractors class and this is what I learned: No, you cannot rent an excavator and just start digging a bigass hole in the ground for your basement.

You can’t build a deck….

And in the state of Michigan, you can’t build a donkey barn that is greater than 200 sq ft….


Here’s the good news. You don’t have to be a licensed contractor to pull a permit for your own home.

What it is: Basically it’s a really expensive piece of paper you hang on your construction site. It keeps you from getting even more expensive fines for building without a permit.

Why you need it: So you don’t get fined, didn’t I sat that already? The other important thing about a permit is that it means your plans have been inspected and 1.)  if built to spec, probably the house/addition you’re building won’t collapse on you, and 2.) it meets local building codes so it won’t have to be torn down later.

It also gets you “on the books” for your local inspector who will need to approve the construction of your home at certain times in the building process. More on that bit of fun later in this post…

How you get one: Essentially you need 3 things.

  1. Plans- Depending on what you’re building you’ll need a site plan (with the location of the structure/addition) and a complete set of building plans including foundation, floor plans, and roof plans. A shed doesn’t need to be overly complicated, but if it’s an addition or a house I strongly recommend you read DIY House Addition: Step 1- House Plans and then get yourself a good architect. If you could get yourself Edit Karakas, that would be best, because she’s awesome.
  2. A completed residential building permit application – For those of you who live in Whiteford Township, MI the building permit application looks like this. For everyone else you’ll have to get a permit application from your municipal building department. Or possibly even the internet, if your township is as advanced as mine is. Generally speaking the information you’ll need for the application is the standard name, address, blah, blah, blah, and then the estimated value of your construction (hint: lower is better. See below). You’ll also need to have the information of the contractors that are handling your electrical, plumbing, and HVAC.
  3. A check – In our township (and in most) the cost of the building permit is determined by the cost of the construction you’re undertaking. A permit for an $85,000 addition cost us around $500.

I would say to be safe, start the process of getting a permit 3 weeks or more in advance. It took us a week from the time we turned in our plans until the time we got the actual permit, and that was pretty quick. Also, we had our shit pretty well together since MysteryMan was locked in the dungeon basement with the house plans for the entire winter. If something on your plans ain’t right, it will add weeks to the process.

If you ever “take a break” during construction for more than three months you have to get an extension to the permit or reapply.

In most places you will also need to get additional permits for plumbing, electric, and HVAC which may be through different inspectors.

Building Inspections: Building inspections go hand-in-hand with permits. Most homes/additions will need to be inspected at these stages of construction:

  • After excavation for footings is done, and reinforcements are in place
  • Before you pour a concrete foundation
  • Before you pour concrete flooring
  • Once your “trades” are roughed in (electrical, mechanical, plumbing, etc.)
  • Once the house/addition is framed
  • After the “trades” are finished
  • When it’s all done

This is yet another mechanism to make sure your house doesn’t collapse on you in your sleep, or spontaneously combust while you’re cooking dinner. However as my Residential Building Code instructor said, “Do you know what minimum code requirements are? Just above condemned.”

Once you get that permit kids, jump in that excavator and start diggin!

*Most of my knowledge is based on Michigan (specifically Whiteford Township) regulations. Regulations regarding building permits vary by state and local jurisdictions. Many of them follow the same guidelines, however, and Michigan has the most stringent building regulations in the country. So take what I say with a grain of salt, even though I’m probably right.

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  7. I just bought a fixer upper and, to be honest, the building permits scare me. The last 2 houses I lived in were outside city limits so I didn’t need building permits. Whenever I felt like tearing down a wall or adding a hot tub or moving a toilet, I did so right away. I really don’t want to have the added time and expense of getting a building permit every time I want to remodel a room. Ugh!

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