Armchair Builder

Building Permit: How to Build a Home, Step 18

Building Permit for a Home

 The building permit is the last major hurdle to clear prior to starting construction of your dream home.  A whole lot of things need to happen prior to submitting you application.  How long does it take to get a building permit?  What things will you need to submit along with the permit application?  How much will it cost?  When is a building permit required?  Why do they call it “pulling a permit”.  We answer these questions and more below as we continue our quest to cover all of the steps to building your new home.

When is a Building Permit Required?

Almost all local cities, villages, townships…etc., require a building permit to construct a new home.  There are rare circumstances where you may not need one if your new home site is way out in a rural area.  Even then you should check with your local and county government to see what they may require.


Your building permit application should be submitted prior to the start of construction but after you finalize all of the details for your new home.  In other words, don’t get your building permit with the intention of making changes later on.  This can be a nightmare for everyone involved.  Besides, the typical building permit is only good for six to twelve months so you want to get going on construction soon after pulling the permit.  Some municipalities can take weeks or months to get back to you when a change is required.  So only make changes when absolutely necessary.

This doesn’t mean you should make changes to your plan or plot plan without notifying the local government.  Again, this is a recipe for disaster.  When the inspector comes out to your home site and notices the permit doesn’t match the information you submitted, it can lead to stop work orders, tear outs and remodeling, and additional fees.

Items Needed for Application

Every local building department is different, but the majority require a few major items to be submitted with the completed application.  Here are the major items you will most likely need to get a building permit for your new home…

  • Engineered Plot Plan:  This plan shows how the home will sit on the lot and includes drainage details, utilities, building setback lines…etc.  Check out the Armchair Builder video, Civil Engineer, for more info.
  • House Plan:  Your architectural house plans should be complete at this stage.  Be sure to check with the local building department to make sure you have the proper information on the plans before submitting.
  • Cost:  You will typically need the estimated cost to build for your permit application.  We reviewed this back in Step 5 of our blog series on How to Build a Home.
Per the Armchair Builder Lot Purchase Guide, you will want to talk to your local building department before buying your lot.  It’s good to know what the costs will be and required items prior to purchasing.  For example, some municipalities require your plans to be stamped by a licensed engineer to verify the structure is adequate.

Can You Pull Your Own Building Permit?

First and foremost, why do they call it pulling a permit?  It’s really just a fancy term for getting a permit or receiving a permit.  I suppose the “pulling” part of the phrase indicates you have action to take to make it happen.  It’s not like you can walk into the building department and pick one up…like a latte at your local Starbucks.  There’s actual work involved.

In most cases, you can pull your own building permit as an owner builder.  Some municipalities will require you to sign a document that basically says you understand you’re in complete control of the project.  You never want to submit for a building permit if you’re having a general contractor manage the work.  Any contractor that asks you to do this is just trying to limit their liability.  If something goes wrong and you submitted the building permit application as an owner builder, you are responsible if anything goes wrong.  If you would like to know what other types of projects typically require a building permit check out our article, Do I Need a Permit for My Renovation?

How Long Does it Take to Get One?

Every municipality is different.  We have built homes in communities that would give you a building permit to construct a home the same day you submit the application.  In other locations, it has taken us six to nine months.  You really have no control over this process.

But what you do have control over is the accuracy and completeness of the information you submit.  Make sure you include all the details the building department is asking for in your permit application package.  This can save you some major time as many local municipalities will place your application at the bottom of the pile if something is missing.  With all the local government downsizing we have seen in recent years, many building departments just don’t have the time to babysit your application.

Cost of Building Permit

Again, this is really dependent on the local government.  Some places will charge a minimal fee for review, processing, and inspections.  So these can cost as little as a few hundred bucks.  However, more and more municipalities are trying to recoup the increased costs of the additional burden on their systems from more people.  Adding population increases the demand on fire, police, roads, schools…etc.  So to help the local government pay for the additional capacity that needs to be added, some are charging what are called “Impact Fees” that can be in the tens of thousands of dollars.  We have paid up to twenty-five thousand dollars for impact fees for a single home.  So, be sure to check with your local building department before purchasing a lot as these can have a major impact on your budget.

Changes Required

In some cases you will be asked to make changes to your project after submitting your building permit application.  Some of these will be building code specific items and others may be more cosmetic on the exterior of the home.  It’s somewhat common for local municipalities to have an architectural review board that makes suggestions to the exterior of your new home.  Some actual items that have been brought up on homes we have built include…

  • the addition of windows
  • changing the configuration of windows (i.e. adding circle top versus square)
  • the addition of shake siding (looks like cedar) in place of vinyl siding
  • adding stone to the front elevation
Some of these items that come up may enhance the look of your home and you may agree with them.  If for some reason you don’t agree, come up with a valid argument of why you don’t think it’s necessary and present it to the board.  Always treat them with respect and they will typically do the same in return.  Remember, any changes you make can affect your budget and may require you to go back to your trades and suppliers and adjust their contracts.
We have covered the big items you will need when going in for your building permit, but be sure to stop in to your local building department early in your home building process to find out all the details that apply to your particular project.  If you missed step 17 of the home building process, you can check it out here.   And if you’re thinking about creating your dream home, be sure to check out all of the Armchair Builder resources for ways to save money when you build your own home.


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