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Know Your Codes Before Your Renovate

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Posted June 7, 2017
Couple performing DIY renovations on their Houston home

Are you a DIY expert? Or do you depend on professionals to do what they do best? Either way, chances are that you do a lot of research before you start a new project. You might scour Pinterest for design ideas, search the web for the most highly rated contractors in your area, or compare prices at local home stores.

But somethings you may forget to research are applicable building codes and home owner association covenants, and this could come back to haunt you in the form of fines or rework later – especially when a building permit was required. Also, when you try to sell your house in the future, work that is not completed to code may hurt your home value. The current property owner is responsible for compliance, regardless of whether they were the owner when the work was done. Therefore, it’s important to know applicable building codes and obtain permits when required.

What do I need to know about building codes?

Building codes exist to protect public health and safety as well as to ensure things like energy efficiency, environmental sustainability, and protection of property values. For example, did you know there are very specific requirements for handrail height and spacing between posts?

Codes are updated every few years, so it’s hard to stay current unless you work with them frequently. Therefore, your best bet is always to ask a professional or call your local municipality before you start any work. If you live in a neighborhood with a homeowner’s association, always check with your HOA to ensure you are complying with any applicable bylaws to prevent rework or legal fees in the future.

How do I know if I need a building permit?

Building permits are required for work that could affect the health or safety of residents if improperly completed. In general, this applies to large projects where structural elements are involved (walls, posts, etc.) or systems are altered significantly (electrical, plumbing, HVAC, etc.). In other words, you do not need a permit for basic repairs, maintenance, and cosmetic updates like painting, programmable thermostats, flooring, and replacing existing fixtures like cabinets, siding, glass, etc.

The following are common projects that require building permits:

  • New roofs
  • Home additions
  • New fireplaces
  • Adding or moving electrical outlets
  • Adding or moving plumbing (sinks, tubs/showers, toilets)
  • New doors or windows
  • Foundation or framing work
  • Installing new air conditioning or heating systems

How do I get a building permit?

To obtain a building permit, you’ll fill out a form and pay a fee. You will need to schedule an inspection when the work is completed, and sometimes an intermediate inspection is also required. The inspector will verify that the work was completed with accordance to appropriate local building codes.

If you are working with contractors, ask them for evidence that the permit was obtained properly and their work passed final inspections. Make a copy for your records.

No one wants to have their brand-new roof, plumbing, or AC unit replaced because the proper permit was not obtained or the work did not pass inspection. Make sure you’re working with licensed professionals who will get the job done right the first time. Contact us for your heating, cooling, and air quality needs!


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