Do I Need a Permit to Structurally Modify My Home?

Permit: In regards to structural modification or addition of new structures, building permits are a type of authorization that must be granted by a government or other regulatory body before the construction of a new or existing building can legally occur. – Investopedia

In other words, permits are the law, and they were put in place to protect you and your family.

How To Determine Whether You Need a Permit or Not

Many people are left in the dark when it comes to deciding if their project requires a permit or not.

“If I am just removing a wall, why would I need a permit?”

There are many different factors that play into permits by your local jurisdiction. For instance, if you are choosing to paint your house or do maintenance, that is likely not a concern of the laws of the local jurisdiction, but can be regulated by your HOA.

If you want to remove a wall to open up your floor plan, you should consult a structural engineer because the local jurisdiction will require structural modifications to be designed or overseen by a Licensed Structural Engineer.

“Is that wall structural?”

Here’s a Short List to Consider

Please note: each jurisdiction varies, each city/county has different codes to follow.

Need a Permit:

If you are changing the ‘bones’ of the house you should consider hiring a structural engineer to inspect the modifications that you would like to make.

Your local jurisdiction may require your design to be overseen or modified by a licensed structural engineer. The structural engineer has specialized training and knowledge about modifying the structural aspects of homes. They are licensed by the state to follow building codes and confirm that new builds or modifications are safe.

Structural engineers calculate the forces required to hold up a structure, environmental factors, and the different materials being used to build. The load path of a home can be very complicated and it is critical for a professional to take a look.

So why do you need a permit?

Pictured below is Port-au-Prince, Haiti, shortly after the 2010 earthquake. Haiti does not enforce building codes and they do not require people to obtain permits to build. The lack of structural codes leads to devastation after natural disasters.


This picture reflects the reason you should consider obtaining a permit. If there was a natural disaster, the damage inflicted could be prevented. The government and local jurisdiction have made permits the law to create the safest environment possible.

Furthermore, it is very important to get a building permit to protect your investment. If you modify structural elements of your home and do not obtain a permit, it could dramatically reduce the value of your home. It’s better to obtain a permit now and save yourself from a potential headache down the road.

“The building official is hereby authorized and directed to enforce the provisions of this code. The building official shall have the authority to render interpretations of this code and to adopt policies and procedures in order to clarify the application of its provisions.”

“The building official shall receive applications come review construction documents and issues permits for the erection, an altercation, demolition and moving of buildings and structures, inspect the premises for which such permits have been issued and enforce compliance with the provisions of this code.”

-International Building Code Book, 2015

Since most homeowners lack structural engineering knowledge, homeowners should submit a design to the city to make sure it follows the code. Depending on the building official, the design you submit will need approval by an engineer, it may need tone show calculations for each modification, and it has to abide by the city’s code.

The jurisdiction governing the home, the homeowner, and the engineer have a common goal– the safety of the occupants of the home–you and your family. To ensure the safety and stability of the project, you need a permit that proves an engineer and a technician has reviewed the plan in full.

Common permit questions:

Disclaimer: Each project is unique. We recommend that you consult a professional before tackling any type of structural modification.

“Do I need a permit for a home renovation?”

If you changing the ‘bones’ of your house [structural modifications], you may need to consult an engineer depending on your jurisdiction. The engineer can assist you in determining permitting requirements. Most home renovations that involve removing walls do require a permit. In order to sell your house, all of the renovations made need to be permitted or the process of selling will be prolonged.

“Do I need a permit for an addition to the home?”

Yes, adding any type of structure to a home requires permits. Other elements including HOA requirements, zoning, electrical work, plumbing, etc., will require a permit, too. It is helpful to hire a professional to do a home inspection before you start any designing.

“Do I need a permit to finish my basement?”

The quick answer is yes. Most cities require you to get a permit to finish your basement, but it depends on how much work you are planning to do with the space. It would be beneficial to get your basement inspected specifically for any foundation problems. If you don’t do this you can have serious problems when you try to sell your house. You should also get approval from your HOA for any modifications you plan to make.

“Do I need a permit to remodel my bathroom?”

If you altering the original floor plan, making structural changes that affect load-bearing walls, rerouting ductwork, or relocating electrical or plumbing fixture you will need a permit. If you are just replacing things like cabinets, faucets, countertops, etc. you will not need a permit, but make sure to get the go-ahead from your HOA.

“Do I need a permit to build a deck?”

Deck permits are very specific. There are height and square footage requirements that require a permit. If you do not get a permit initially, it may come back to haunt you when you are selling your home.

“Do I need a permit to build a shed?”

The placement and size of the shed determine if you will need a permit or not. If the shed you are building is less than 200 square feet, in most cases, you will not need a permit. If the shed is any larger, you will need to work with a professional to obtain the permit.

“Do I need a permit to build a fence?”

Permitting fences truly depends on where you live; it is not universal. In most cases, you will need a permit, but it depends on the cities code for fencing material, the height of the fence, and the location of the fence.

If you are looking for help with a build, give us a call.


Picture of Scott Zurn, P.E.

Scott Zurn, P.E.

Founder and CEO of Level Engineering & Level Design Partners. With more than 4 decades of experience, Scott Zurn has contributed to all aspects of the building industry, serving both public and private sectors. He’s achieved tremendous success in commercial and residential markets, held leadership roles such as building official, city engineer, and director for local governments, and accomplished hundreds of millions of dollars in successful commercial building and civil infrastructure as a designer, project manager, and leader. As the Founder of the Level brand, Scott is dedicated to ensuring the entrepreneurial success of design professionals, as well as creating positive environmental impacts through design work. Read Scott’s full bio here.

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