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To Permit or Not To Permit?

The infamous building permit in a plastic sleeve


As homeowners doing a construction or remodeling project, you are probably faced with the eventual question of “Do I need a building permit?” The answer is really it depends on what type of permit you need and if you need one. In this article we will go over if a permit is required, and then what type of permit you will need.


Let’s first breakdown times you will NOT need any kind of permit. This is work you are doing to your home that you may be doing yourself, or you have hired another person.


Examples may be:

· Simple interior drywall hanging (up to 1,000 sf)

· Painting, both interior and exterior

· Landscaping- but not extensive regrading


As you can see from the list, very small cosmetic jobs that the average homeowner is probably able to do themselves on a weekend.


The next level of work requires a permit, one which is called the “Easy Permit” and is issued by the city for homeowners. Some people call it ‘repair and replace’ but it is all referring to the same type of work. The times you can apply as a homeowner to this type of permit are generally for bigger COSMETIC alterations or replacing fixtures and equipment of the same general size. It’s the next level up from simple surface modifications like painting and drywall.


For example:

· Replacing exterior siding on your house

· Replacing windows- of the SAME size and location

· Repairing foundation cracks

· Replacing a new roof layer on your two-flat

· Replacing a leaky toilet with a new high efficiency toilet

· Masonry work- to an extent*

· Electrical work- with a licensed electrician


The difference between this type of work and no permit work is that it is scope that is big enough to be reviewed by the city for compliance and acceptance without a full permit. What the city is stressing here is that items that are in need of maintenance or upgrading can be replaced without having to consult an architect, and thus saving you the time and money to hire one. The most common questions in this type have to do with replacing face brick and electrical work. Both can be done with the Easy Permit, as long as the respective contractor is licensed and signs the application. There are limits to the masonry scope though, especially if you are considering redoing the entire front façade or doing any major wall modifications or structural changes (openings, windows, doors).


The final type of permit that would be required for single family residence is called a Standard Plan Review. This is for any scope to big for the Easy Permit Process. These types of jobs are always associated with any change in SPACE, STRUCTURE, or LAYOUT. In these cases, an architect will have to review the project first to determine feasibility, and then design and draft construction documents that will be used to obtain a full building permit. This is the piece of paper you see on the door of houses or posted on the gate outside. The reason the city asks for a permit in these major modification jobs is so that they can check if the work to be performed will be up to the city building code. And the building code is established to provide a standard of measure to keep buildings and their inhabitants safe and secure. Architects have the job to design buildings to meet this code and are licensed to do such work. In terms of who can obtain the actual building permit, the only three legal choices are a licensed architect, a licensed structural engineer, or an expediter. In any case, if there is to be any spatial designing, then it would have to go through an architect first, so they are usually the most obvious choice in obtaining the permit.


Example of some residential projects needing a FULL permit:

· Moving the stairs over a few feet

· Interior wall moving or adding

· Opening up the front of your house for more and bigger windows

· Adding a 2-car garage in your backyard

· Taking a column out to make room for a bigger kitchen


All of these examples have changes to the structure and space and need to be reviewed by an architect or engineer to make sure they are up to the structural code. And just to remember, you need to legally obtain this permit for construction to start, if you don't then you will risk time loss, fees, and other legal matters with the city.


In the end, though ‘pulling’ a permit can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be as long as you are going through the appropriate channels. If you are in doubt of which line of work yours is and if a permit is required, its always a good first step to contact an architect first, to see what their thoughts are going forward. For a full list of what is required for an EASY PERMIT, see this link: https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/bldgs/provdrs/permits/svcs/easy-permits.html



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2617 W. Huron St. #2 Chicago, IL 60612

p: 312-809-9618

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