Do-It-Yourself: Permits, Inspections and Contractors

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Many home-improvement projects require you, or your contractor, to obtain a permit. Obtaining permits can be a hassle, but getting caught doing work without one, or using substandard building practices, can be much worse.

Frequently-required permits

Permit requirements vary greatly from one community to the next. Some common projects requiring permits include:

• Projects involving structural alterations to your house, such as adding a larger window or removing a wall.

• Installing a deck, fence, outbuilding or pool.

• Finishing a basement or attic space.

• Adding an electrical branch circuit, outlet or fixture.

• Installing or replacing a water heater, furnace, air conditioner or fireplace.

Depending on the project, you may or may not be required to submit a blueprint or plan.


Some small projects may require a single inspection, while larger ones may require a dozen or more. Make certain you know when and where inspections are required. Also remember you may not be able to move to the next step of your project until the inspection has been completed. Plan and schedule ahead.

Frequently-required inspections

• Footing inspections (after the footings are formed, but before the concrete is poured).

• Framing inspections (after the framing materials and sheathing are in place).

• Rough plumbing/gas line inspection (while pipes are exposed).

• Final plumbing inspection (supply and drain-waste-vent pipes are pres sure tested for leaks).

• Insulation inspection (sometimes after the vapor barrier is installed).

• Drywall inspection (often after drywall has been fastened, but before taping begins).

• Rough-in electrical inspection (rough wiring completed in electrical boxes but devices such as switches, outlets and light fixtures not installed).

• Final electrical inspection (all switches, outlets and lights in place and wiring at circuit panel complete).

• Final inspection (final check to make sure all codes have been followed).

Working with Contractors

Though stories of unscrupulous contractors abound, most in the business are honest, hardworking folks. Most live and die by their reputations. Those who take the money and run or do substandard work don't stay in business long.

Yet, there are things you should check out.

Questions to ask, things to check

1. Legal matters. Do they have the proper licenses and insurance to work in your community? Ask to see the actual documents.

2. Contract. The more specific, the better. Specify the exact materials to be used, right down to the manufacturer, when necessary.

3. References. Will they provide names and contact information for their most recent clients? If the references are old or few-and- far-between, ask why. How long have they been in business? Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been filed.

4. Down payment and money matters. Determine at what points in the project payments will be made. One-third down for materials is common.

5. Work schedule. What date will the project start and what is a realistic date of completion?

6. Changes. Commonly, a change order spelling out the design and financial implications is drawn up and signed by the homeowner and contractor when there is a change in the initial contract.

7. On the job. Determine whom you'll speak with regarding the day-to-day operations. Who handles questions? How early in the day would work start and how long would it go on in the evening? What about a bathroom, smoking and eating? Who cleans up and when

Updated: Wednesday, June 22, 2016 13:55 PST