I was not in the know...and I was not the only one. My ignorance became apparent at a dinner gathering as I stated “that can't be!”
The discussion had started when a new friend indicated that they had been reported to the building commission because a dumpster (to collect old shingles) had been sitting in their yard – and they now were required to get a building permit.
We all indicated there must be some mistake because we all were under the belief that as long as you don't change the footprint of your home or make structural changes you don't need a building permit. We were wrong. There are a number of things that can happen inside or outside the home which requires a permit.
I did know about the structural changes thing. However, I was missing a lot that might require giving the town building inspector a heads-up. I picked up an information sheet at the town offices and immediately noted that any construction or renovation valued over $5,000 requires a permit. Of course, new building construction needs a permit, as do sheds and a garage. Decks and stairs are also included and if you re-roof and change the pitch of the roof you need to display that piece of paper.
The home improvements that do not require a permit are fences less than 2.1metres in height, cosmetic changes such as painting, replacing roofing, replacing siding, and putting in new windows or doors – as long as existing opening are used.
I had a chance to chat with Marc Buske and Monte Madison this past week. I had to admit my ignorance to them and they clarified a number of points. Monte did say the $5,000 figure was put in place in 1987 by the province and that the bylaws are the same throughout our region. It was also noted that the reason for notifying the building inspector and getting a permit is for the protection of the homeowner.
They provide the second pair of eyes, and in addition to the safety factor there will be less chance the home owner will be stuck with shoddy workmanship. If something isn't right it will have to be corrected, making it less likely that the homeowner will be stuck making costly repairs later on.
When electrical work is Nova Scotia Power grants the permit. Furnace replacement in an existing home usually does not always require a permit since the cost might be below $5000.00. However, Monte pointed out that when they oversee the work they require the installation of carbon dioxide alarms. Marc said all homeowners with fuel burning heat need to have alarms on each floor of their home. It was further noted that alarms should be in the bedroom...or nearby in the hall. This is an important safety requirement.
Another place where lives might be saved or injury avoided is when deck specifications are heeded. The spindles must be close together so children cannot get hurt - or someone taking a tumble due to inadequate railings.
I did get clarification on a couple of points. If the homeowner does the work and the only out-of-pocket costs are the materials - the “value” of the work must be included. Also, if a person divides up any home improvement tasks over a period of years there is no need for a permit...as long as the $5,000.00 cap is observed.
I am now informed and I can see the value of the second pair of eyes. Safety and good construction are more likely when various stages of work are double checked. However, there are a couple of points where I see the need for change. The $5,000 cap was put in place 31 years ago. At that time, you could get a lot done...possible all new kitchen cabinets and counters for that amount. Today that cap should be three to four times that amount...just to cover the same amount of improvement.
The other exception, for me, involves repair of interior damage. You can replace failing shingles, or damaged siding without a permit. However, I know of one situation where the homeowner had three water damaged ceilings repaired and because the total cost was over the limit a permit was required. This was simply bringing the ceilings back to their original state.
I am now informed. I agree with the need for building permits even though I don't agree with all interpretations of the requirements. But - those guys are the experts. I was the uninformed.
Shirley Hallee’s column runs weekly in the Amherst News