GIMME SHELTER- Permit primer: Do I need a permit for that?

Tom Elliott, Charlottesville City Building Code Official


Q: I'm thinking of making some improvements to my home, but I'm not sure about what changes require a building permit. What do I need a building permit for? And how do I go about getting one?

A: Homeowners need building permits if they plan to make any structural changes to the house or install new wiring, plumbing, or HVAC systems. Permits are also needed for swimming pools, hot tubs, carports and garages, replacement gas furnaces and water heaters, or for converting a home into a duplex or adding an accessory apartment within the house. Homeowners should also be careful when considering exterior changes within historic districts or on an individually protected structure; these have to be approved through our office and by the Board of Architectural Review. 

Of course, there are many things that do not require a permit, including painting, re-roofing, window and door replacement, cabinet installation, flooring replacement, lighting fixtures, receptacles, switches, and plumbing fixtures. Storage buildings with less than 150 square feet of floor area do not need permits, but do have to meet zoning requirements for height and setback from the neighbors' property lines. 

Homeowners will need four sets of plans for a home addition– they can prepare them themselves– which should include framing details showing building materials and spans, window and door placement and sizes, ceiling heights, room dimensions with description of use, and distances to the neighbors' property lines. Electrical, plumbing, and mechanical permits can be obtained without any plans. Locations of the HVAC system, electrical service, and plumbing fixtures are needed on plans for additions or new dwellings. Homeowners will receive an approved set of plans with our comments before construction begins.

After the permit is issued, our office will conduct inspections. We do most residential inspections at one time. For example, during inspections of an addition, we would make a framing inspection at the same time we inspect the electrical, plumbing, and mechanical systems. Inspections are made before any structures or building systems are concealed with concrete, drywall or insulation. 

Normally we make four to five trips to a new home or addition to complete our inspections. After a homeowner has made any necessary changes, the property is re-inspected to make sure the requirement is satisfied. 

If you're still unsure about needing a permit or how to obtain one, you can call Neighborhood Development Services at 970-3182. Additional permit information is also available online at