File this under “hidden costs of home improvements”. When budgeting for their renovations, most people don’t include the cost of permits, even though permits can add up to 5% to the cost of your home improvements.
Below is a quick guide to building permits – what they are, why you need one, and where to go to get one.
What is a building permit?
A building permit is essentially a license to allow you to build or renovate a home. All construction and renovation projects must apply for (and be granted) a building permit before any work can start. Always apply for a permit before construction begins.
Why is a building permit needed?
Building permits ensure that structures comply with zoning requirements, fire and structural safety standards, and various other standards in the Building Code. In sum, they make sure that your home is safe to occupy.
What does a building permit cost?
The fee for a building permit will depend on (1) the floor area and type of building being constructed or altered, and (2) where you live. Contact your city government for the fees in your area (see the list of city offices and their websites below).
Who should apply for the building permit?
The contractor who is building or renovating your home is usually responsible for obtaining the building permit (make sure to state this in your renovation contract). Keep in mind that you could be fined if you’re caught constructing, renovating, or demolishing a building without a permit. Ultimately, it’s up to you (the homeowner) to make sure that the correct permit has been obtained.
What kinds of project require a building permit?
According to the Building Code Act, a building permit is required for the construction of any structure with a building area of over 10 m2 (107 square feet) including additions, alterations and renovations. This includes plumbing not located in a structure, a sewage system and other designated structures. Here are some types of projects that require a building permit:
- Adding or removing walls e.g. changing room sizes
- Installing porches, sunrooms and carports
- New fireplaces or wood stoves
- Attached or detached garages or sheds
- Installation of irrigation systems
- Installation or repair of storm, sanitary or water services
- Finishing a basement
- Plumbing and/or drains
- Dormers or finishing of attic space
- New or alterations (increasing opening size) to windows or doors
What projects DON’T require building permits?
The Building Code states that a building permit is not required for a “detached accessory” structure measuring 10 m2 (107 square feet) in area or less. (Keep in mind that although you might not need a building permit for your renovation project, you still must comply with zoning by-law and building code requirements.) Here are some types of projects NOT requiring a building permit:
- Fences (swimming pools excluded)
- Decks not forming part of a principle entrance to a building (less than 24 inches above grade)
- Adding air conditioning units or heat pumps to existing forced-air systems
- Installing kitchen or bathroom cupboards without plumbing
- Replacing an existing forced-air furnace
- Replacing siding or a window
- Painting and decorating
- Garden landscaping
- Roof shingles
- Eave troughs
How can I get a building permit?
- Submit an application
Certain information about the planned project is mandatory. The exact requirements appear on the application form. This includes “who”, “what”, “where” and “how”. Scaled drawings, plans, or other documentation related to the proposed work are required to be submitted for review. Staff at the relevant office of your city government can help you complete the application form, but be sure to keep the following handy:
a) Building plan(s)
b) Your property survey or site plan
c) Building permit fee
- Review process
Permit reviews involve checking the project for zoning, structural and mechanical acceptability. Review times listed on city government websites range from 10 to 25 working days, during “normal” times. During times of the year when more construction and renovations are taking place (like during spring), review times can be much longer. Keep this in mind when planning (and budgeting for) your renovation.
- Award of the permit
Once compliance with the Building Code, zoning and other applicable regulations has been determined, the application is approved and a permit is issued. The building permit is the document granting legal permission to start construction. The owner of the property is then obliged to follow the procedure as approved. Any changes to construction/renovation have to be brought to the attention of the city government.
Each major phase of construction must be inspected by a building official to ensure the work conforms to the approved plans. The building permit will state when this should be done. It is your responsibility to ensure that either you or your contractor contacts the city to request an inspection at least 24 hours before work proceeds from one inspection stage to the next. Failure to have inspections performed may result in having to uncover and expose work already done!
When can renovations start?
No work can start until a building permit has been issued. The Building Code requires you to post the building permit in a window or other prominent place at the construction site, to keep a copy of the building plans at the site, and bring any proposed changes to the attention of the building officials immediately.
What inspections are required?
Each major phase of construction must be inspected by building officials to make certain the work conforms to the Building Code, the building permit and the approved plans. The mandatory inspections required for the project will be indicated on the permit.
Where Can I Apply for a Building Permit?
We’ve provided direct links to building permit websites for the 100 largest cities in Canada below.
If you don’t see your city in the list below, the quickest way to find the building permit application for your city is to type the term “City name building permit” into a search engine such as Google.