April 16, 2010
Q: How do I know when one of the fix-up projects at our cabin requires a building permit?
– Brenda Darby, via e-mail
A: This answer, like so many, depends on where you live.
For instance, in North Carolina, the rules are pretty simple and follow the N.C. Building Codes: If owners want to make any changes to plumbing, HVAC (Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning), electrical or overall structure, they’ll need to obtain a building permit.
Wisconsin uses its own Uniform Dwelling Code (UDC), while many other states use the International Residential Code (IRC). According to the UDC, only homes built after 1980 are required to follow code standard. This means that in some areas of Wisconsin, homeowners whose homes or cabins were built before 1980 would not need to follow code regulations for additions or alterations. However, a local municipality has the right to enact ordinances that require the code to be enforced on alterations and additions, thereby overruling the first provision.
As another example, let’s go to Travis County, Texas, where the city of Austin is located. Austin uses the 2006 version of the IRC with some additional provisions. But in Travis County, as a whole, there isn’t a building code. This means that outside of city limits, you could remodel your bathroom, rewire your kitchen and add a deck without any permitting required from the county. For additions and new construction, however, residents of Travis County do have to apply for a Basic Development Permit.
Building codes can be difficult to decipher: They’re long and they take time to read thoroughly. And where it may get even trickier is that in areas that are cabin hotspots, a state’s department of natural resources (or similar agency) may step in with other regulations that affect permits because of the need to protect swamps, rivers and lakes.
Lastly, area utility companies often require permits.
Best advice from this lengthy answer? Check with your city or township and go from there.