Basement renovation projects can be an excellent value to your home. According to Remodeling Magazine, a basement remodel had a recoup cost of about 70%, with an average project cost of $61,300. Before you install your ultimate man cave, craft room, game room or home theater, you’ll want to check to see if this project requires a permit. This permit, filed with your local government agency, is to ensure that your project is built to code and approved by the city or local governing body. Permits are a way to make sure that structures are safe and adhere to current standards and practices.

Do I need a construction permit to refinish my basement?

As a general rule, remodeling a home, which includes new construction, additions (making changes to the exterior of your home like adding square footage) or alterations (making changes to a home’s interior like moving moving walls), requires a permit. Specifically this permit would be considered a construction permit. The exact type of permit required depends upon the scope and scale of the remodel, the codes, zoning rules and regulations of where you live, and what type of structure or home you plan to remodel. The codes and regulations established by your city, town or county will determine what types of projects require a construction permit and what what types of permits you’ll need to file. Your first step should be to contact your local government agency and search their department of planning and development website or office. There are generally two types of construction permits available: Subject To Field Inspection (STFI) or Plan Review. Your local agency can provide the requirements for each. In the City of Seattle, for example, remodeling projects involving roof repair, foundation repair and demolition (just to name a few) would only require an STFI permit. Remodeling projects such as major structural renovation, second story additions, or steep-slope work would require a Plan Review. STFI permits are generally less expensive, have a faster turnaround time and require less information for permitting. Plan Reviews are in-depth and require greater review times, more information and may require variances or environmental impact review.

What information do I need to file for a construction permit?

The specifics required may vary slightly from county to county but in general, several items will be necessary to obtain a permit. For an STFI, the information required by the local government agency may be minimal (you’ll want to verify exactly what type of information is require before filing). A full plan review is thorough and as such, will require more information at time of filing. Your local government agency can provide you a full list of all documents needed but may include providing several sets of drawings (these are official drawings provided by the architect and may require the stamp of the engineer or architect), site plan details, environmental impact studies, construction storm water control drainage plans, financial responsibility plans and other necessary documents and verifications. Because construction permits require so much verification and review, it’s highly recommended that you have a professional (like a remodeling contractorarchitect or interior designer) file on your behalf. Not only will a professional know what type of information needs to be filed, they have experience with procedures, timelines, costs and expectations for the review.

Can I file a construction permit on my own?

The short answer is “yes” however the scope and scale of your remodel will determine the type of permit you need and therefore will determine how much information is required to file along with your permit application. The basic rule of thumb is the more straightforward and “easy” the project, the less details you’ll need to provide, making it easier for you to file on your own. More complex or complicated remodeling projects require more information (sometimes provided by a team of professionals). It may be in the homeowner’s best interest to have the home improvement professional file the permit on the homeowner’s behalf. When in doubt, check with your local office to verify if you can file this type of construction permit without the need of a professional.

How do I file for a construction permit?

Before you do anything, check with your local government agency regarding what you need to provide during the permit filing process. A simple web search, phone call or in-person Q&A will save you a lot of time right from the beginning. Start by going to the website of your local governing agency and search for the Department of Planning and Development. Very often this site will host a number of frequently asked questions and answers, online brochures or other tips to help get you started.  Once you have all the information in place, and have your designs and materials specified, you will need to fill out a form with the permitting office (usually available online). After you fill out the application there is an intake meeting, during which the review of the application occurs as well as the payment.  Wait times for the intake appointments vary seasonally – if you are approaching a major holiday you may want to allow for more time.

How long does it take to receive construction permit approval?

Again, the answer will depend on the agency where you live and the scope of your project. Once the permit application is reviewed, and an intake interview has occurred, you may receive “corrections” to your application. A correction is another way of requesting further information from the homeowner. The approval process can vary greatly in length of time but a very general guideline is approximately 2-3 weeks for review and approval. Some government agencies have an online permit tracking program in which you can actually track the progress of your permit.

How much does it cost to get a construction permit?

Permitting fees vary from region to region and may depend upon the size and scale of the project. Most government agencies have a specific fee formula based on type of home (i.e. Single Family Residential), type of project and square footage. To get the most accurate information contact your local agency.

How do I receive my construction permit?

Permits are usually picked up in person upon approval. Most agencies will contact the filer (by phone, mail or email) regarding pick-up time.

What happens if I don’t get a construction permit?

If your local governing agency requires that your renovation project requires a construction permit and you fail to obtain one, a stop-work order may be issued. If work continues against this stop-work order, fines or other legal action may take place.  Check with your local Department of Planning and Development to ensure your project abides by the rules.

Other considerations before starting your basement remodel

Are you planning on adding a bedroom in a non-conditioned space (i.e. no heating or air conditioning)? You may need to add HVAC to a dwelling space. Thinking of turning your garage into a bedroom? Check with your local zoning laws as this may not be approved and could come back to haunt you at time of resale. Want to add an entrance to your basement? Check with local codes to ensure your construction doesn’t interfere with a load bearing wall. Need to add an extra bathroom or laundry room? Hire someone who can work with your basement’s plumbing and electrical system. Want to add an in-home movie theater? A home theater contractor can help add soundproofing or sound absorbing materials to make the ideal movie-watching experience.

Need to find a home professional to complete your basement remodel? Search on Porch for a basement professional, interior designer or remodeling contractor.

Top image credit: The Inman Company