Do I Need A Building Permit?

By February 24, 2017Blog

One of the questions I get asked a lot is “Do I need a building permit?”. The reception to the answer I give varies wildly from client to client. Most people want to do things right, and understand the increased safety and value of your property that is associated with pulling a permit for their construction project. But others, they don’t like the idea one bit. Regardless of the reaction, our stance is to stick to the law set forward by the state of California. We have a business and clients to protect, so following the law is something we don’t even question.

So with that said, what is the law? The California Building Code (CBC) states the following:

105.1 Required. Any owner or authorized agent who intends to construct, enlarge, alter, repair, move, demolish, or change the occupancy of a building or structure, or to erect, install, enlarge, alter, repair, remove, convert or replace any electrical, gas, mechanical or plumbing system, the installation of which is regulated by this code, or to cause any such work to be done, shall first make application to the building official and obtain the required permit.

So if it fits into one of those categories, we’re going to say that you need to pull a permit.

Why Do I Need A Building Permit?

The questions should be more like, what happens if I don’t get a permit. This list is just a few of the things that can happen.

  • There are big fines if you get caught.
  • You jeopardize your insurance coverage.
  • You also risk raising your insurance rates.
  • You can lower your resale value.
  • And when you do go to sell the property, unpermitted projects are disclosed and can kill deals. Lenders don’t like to give loans on property with unpermitted work.

You DO Need a Permit For These Projects

Here’s a list of common project that DO require a permit, in no particular order.

  • New Structure of any kind.
  • Additions of any kind.
  • Remodels of any kind (including kitchen & bath.)
  • Anything Electrical
  • Fireplaces
  • Anything with Gas or Propane
  • HVAC work
  • Outdoor Kitchens
  • Patio Covers
  • Solar Systems
  • Racking
  • Roofing or Reroofing
  • Retaining walls.
  • Additions of any kind.
  • Sewer replacement or new
  • Fences over 6′ tall.
  • Sheds
  • Showers
  • Siding/Stucco
  • Decks
  • Signs
  • Skylights
  • Pool Solar
  • Swimming Pools & Spas
  • Tenant Improvements
  • Water Heaters
  • Garage Conversions
  • Water Mains
  • Whole House Fans
  • Widow Replacement (Nail-on or Retrofit.)

A lot of people balk at the thought of pulling a permit for projects like these, but it’s the law.

You DON’T Need A Permit For These Projects

But there is a list of things in the CBC that don’t require a permit. Here they are, this is a snippet of the building code.

105.2 Work exempt from permit. Exemptions from permit requirements of this code shall not be deemed to grant authorization for any work to be done in any manner in violation of the provisions of this code or any other laws or ordinances of this jurisdiction. Permits shall not be required for the following:


  1. One-story detached accessory structures used as tool and storage sheds, playhouses and similar uses, provided the floor area does not exceed 120 square feet (11 m2).
  2. Fences not over 6 feet (1829 mm) high.
  3. Oil derricks.
  4. Retaining walls that are not over 4 feet (1219 mm) in height measured from the bottom of the footing to the top of the wall, unless supporting a surcharge or impounding Class I, II or IIIA liquids.
  5. Water tanks supported directly on grade if the capacity does not exceed 5,000 gallons (18 925 L) and the ratio of height to diameter or width does not exceed 2:1.
  6. Sidewalks and driveways not more than 30 inches (762 mm) above adjacent grade, and not over any basement or story below and are not part of an accessible route.
  7. Painting, papering, tiling, carpeting, cabinets, counter tops and similar finish work.
  8. Temporary motion picture, television and theater stage sets and scenery.
  9. Prefabricated swimming pools accessory to a Group R-3 occupancy that are less than 24 inches (610 mm) deep, do not exceed 5,000 gallons (18 925 L) and are installed entirely above ground.
  10. Shade cloth structures constructed for nursery or agricultural purposes, not including service systems.
  11. Swings and other playground equipment accessory to detached one- and two-family dwellings.
  12. Window awnings supported by an exterior wall that do not project more than 54 inches (1372 mm) from the exterior wall and do not require additional support of Groups R-3 and U occupancies.
  13. Nonfixed and movable fixtures, cases, racks, counters and partitions not over 5 feet 9 inches (1753 mm) in height.


  • Repairs and maintenance: Minor repair work, including the replacement of lamps or the connection of approved portable electrical equipment to approved permanently installed receptacles.
  • Radio and television transmitting stations: The provisions of this code shall not apply to electrical equipment used for radio and television transmissions, but do apply to equipment and wiring for a power supply and the installations of towers and antennas.
  • Temporary testing systems: A permit shall not be required for the installation of any temporary system required for the testing or servicing of electrical equipment or apparatus.


  1. Portable heating appliance.
  2. Replacement of any minor part that does not alter approval of equipment or make such equipment unsafe.


  1. Portable heating appliance.
  2. Portable ventilation equipment.
  3. Portable cooling unit.
  4. Steam, hot or chilled water piping within any heating or cooling equipment regulated by this code.
  5. Replacement of any part that does not alter its approval or make it unsafe.
  6. Portable evaporative cooler.
  7. Self-contained refrigeration system containing 10 pounds (5 kg) or less of refrigerant and actuated by motors of 1 horsepower (746 W) or less.


  1. The stopping of leaks in drains, water, soil, waste or vent pipe, provided, however, that if any concealed trap, drain pipe, water, soil, waste or vent pipe becomes defective and it becomes necessary to remove and replace the same with the new material, such work shall be considered as new work and a permit shall be obtained and inspection made as provided in this code.
  2. The clearing of stoppages or the repairing of leaks in pipes, valves or fixtures and the removal and reinstallation of water closets, provided such repairs do not involve or require the replacement or rearrangement of valves, pipes or fixtures.

Over The Counter Permits

Generally speaking, the following list covers the permits that you don’t need to do much drawing or paperwork to pull. Depending on your local building department, they’re usually over the counter if they’re stand-alone projects. Over the counter means you can walk in, fill out a few forms, and walk out with a permit in hand.

  • Window Replacement
  • Water Heaters
  • Siding or Stucco Replacement
  • HVAC Replacement
  • Roofing
  • Water Main Repair or Replacement
  • Sewer Line Repair or Replacement
  • Appliance Installation (Hard Wired)
  • Electrical Service Repair or Replacement
  • Gas Line repair, addition or replacement.

Thanks for taking the time to stop by and read up on whether or not you need a permit for your project. If you were wondering “Do I need a building permit”, I hope I answered your question. If you have any other questions or are thinking about pulling a permit for yourself. Give us a call, we would love to help!

— Adam