Many times during my home inspections I have to recommend the potential buyer review with the seller and city if permits were obtained for improvements made to the house. Homeowners sometimes get stumped as to what they are legally allowed to do in terms of home improvement. There are a lot of things that you can do in your home without a permit, but there are some that can present big time problems as DIY projects. For instance, you cannot just build an addition on your home, and you can’t just change all your plumbing around either. You can’t gut your home and reroute the electrical system, either.
This may seem stifling, but it’s for your safety and the safety of others. This may be a bit of a nuisance, but don’t panic. There are a few DIY electrical and plumbing repairs that you can do without having to go to city hall go through the permit process. They include the following options.
Simple Fixture Updates, Upgrades, and Changes: Lighting is something that you can work on without a permit. You could install a new ceiling fan or chandelier, change out bulb styles and fan styles, and much more. You can even do minor drywall cutting to fit fixtures, and things along those lines. You can replace electrical outlets, light switches, and plate covers without a permit as well. However, you will not be able to rewire everything in your home, nor will you be able to undertake a massive lighting and wiring project that requires reconstruction or rewiring.
Plumbing Projects: As for plumbing, you will be able to do a few things. You can unclog drains, repair minor things such as pipe leaks and fixtures. You can install appliances, and connect various types of equipment. However, you are going to be limited as to how far you can go with new piping, and other options.
You will also need help with replacing a water heater, emergency repairs that require digging and extensions beyond 5 feet, as well as remodeling the pipes, plumbing styles, and more. Relocation and reverting of water is also not available to without a permit.
Small Storage Buildings: Structures smaller than 200 sq ft typically only require a site plan, not a building permit. However, if you plan to install electricity or any type of plumbing in the small building, you will need an electrical or plumbing permit. So feel free to build a small storage building the next time you get an inkling to construct something – just keep it under 200 sq ft and keep it simple.
Air Conditioning: Don’t get your hopes up too quickly. The only type of air conditioner you can install, alter, reconstruct, or repair without a permit is a window unit. I know several people who rely on window units for small areas, but to install a full home air conditioning unit, you will be required to obtain a mechanical permit.
Rules of Thumb: There are several rules of thumb to consider here. First of all, consider the scope and nature of your project. If there’s any doubt, call your local permitting office and ask questions. If you’re not sure about any element of plumbing or electrical projects, don’t do them. Instead, call a professional. It’s best to leave certain tasks to the pros, especially when you run the risk of hitting gas lines, or turning power on and off across your whole home.