Building Plan Approval for Your Philly Home

Do you need a permit before you begin a home improvement project in Philly? It all depends on what you are planning on doing. Getting a permit might seem like a hassle, but it’s less stress than having your project shut down.

Odds are, you’ve probably seen a home or building that’s been “candy striped” by the Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections. The red and white striped signs get slapped up when a home owner or construction company starts doing work on a property without the right permits or building plan approval. In 2014, Carlton Williams, the commissioner for L&I, told Newsworks that more than 200 stop work orders (those candy striped signs) were issued for projects that began without the required permits.

Skipping the permit and building plan approval might seem like a way to save money. But in the long run, doing so is more trouble than it’s worth. If you’re wondering whether you need a permit or not, here are few questions to ask yourself before you get started.

Are You Just Making Cosmetic Changes to the Interior?

If you’re going to paint the walls inside your Philadelphia home, install carpets, or add tiling to the kitchen or bathroom, you do not need to apply for a permit before you do so. You also don’t need a permit to install cabinetry or counters inside your home.

Are You Changing the Structure of Your Home?

You need a permit for any project that will change the structure of your home. For example, if your plan is to knock down a wall upstairs to turn two bedrooms into one large bedroom, you need to get a permit before the work begins. The reason being there is a chance that the wall is load bearing and removing it incorrectly can make your home structurally unsound. You also need a permit if you are replacing windows and are changing the size and shape of the windows.

Are You Adding on to Your Home?

You need to get a permit and approval from the city before you start any projects that will add on to your home. For example, if you are adding an extra room to the back of the house or building a porch onto the front, the city requires you to have a permit.

Are You Doing Something Major with Plumbing or Electrical?

If your home improvement plans include making major changes to the plumbing or electrical works in your home, you need a permit. The city only gives these permits to licensed plumbing and electrical contractors, so if you plan on having a new sewer line put in or want to completely redo the electrical work in your home, you also need to hire a professional to do it.

Are You Just Making Basic Repairs?

Good news, if your home improvement project involves making simple repairs, such as replacing a faucet or toilet, replacing a light fixture, or patching up a small crack in a wall, you don’t need to get approval from the city first.

Are You Adding a Pool or Outdoor Equipment?

Good news, if your pool is less than 24 inches deep, is above ground, and holds less than 5,000 gallons of water, you can install it without a permit. The same is true if you want to install a swing set for your kids. But, you need a permit for the installation of in-ground pools or if you want to add a deck.

If you are still unsure whether you need a permit or not, the city’s code outlines all the instances when a permit is needed and when it’s not. Getting the right permits doesn’t only affect your project, it can also affect your home’s resale value, as buyers are wary of buying a home that has had work done without the proper approvals.


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