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Home Improvement Guide 2007
Get ready
Before starting any home improvement project, research and planning is the key to successful results.
Building-permit basics
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Do you need a permit?
How do you know if you need a building permit?

You'll need a building permit to:
Add, remove or relocate interior walls.
Build a room addition, garage addition, patio cover, skylight or large shed.
Install or replace siding and certain types of windows.
Build a masonry or retaining wall.
Demolish an existing structure.

You will need an electrical permit to install, relocate, alter or repair electrical wiring, and a plumbing permit to install, relocate, alter or repair water, sewage, draining or gas systems and to replace or install water heaters, dishwashers and fixtures. If you use a general contractor, these subcontractors will usually pull their own permits.

In most cases, you do not need a permit to:
Paint the interior or exterior of your house.
Replace window glass.
Change existing fixtures such as ceiling fans and track lighting.
Lay carpet, vinyl or other types of flooring onto the subflooring.
Mount shelving.
Replace existing doors.
Replace a sink or toilet.
Replace kitchen appliances.

To obtain a permit, you submit design drawings or blueprints to the inspection office. By law, they must accept or reject your application within a given time period, usually 30 days. Once you pay the nominal fees, you are given a checklist of different individuals who must sign off on your work: zoning officer, city planner, fire marshal, wetlands director, tax collector, etc.

Fisette notes that some projects, such as a bedroom addition to a house with a septic system, may require approval from the local board of health because septic systems are usually regulated by occupancy, and occupancy is usually based on the number of bedrooms.

What happens if you don't obtain a permit? Some jurisdictions will fine you double the fees, but all have the power to "red flag" or shut down your project and even force you to undo your work if they can't determine if it's been done to code.

Fisette says for best results, bring your building inspector into your plans early and always save him a doughnut.

"They have a lot of power. If you're nice to them, they will be nice back and they will instruct you through the process," he says. "If you're nasty to them, they will make your life a living hell."

The delicate dance
Next comes the delicate dance: Who pulls the permit?

-- Posted: April 4, 2007
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