Which Home Improvement Projects Require a Permit?

DBI Permit Approval in San Francisco


Projects Requiring a Permit

Fencing Installation or Repair 

When you install or repair a fence, it’s important to check with your city to see if there is a height restriction. Some cities and even suburbs have certain heights that fences can’t go past. Be sure to have a fencing contractor check about such restrictions to avoid having to cut the fence or take it down after installation.

Reasons for Permitting Your Projects

  • Re-sale value to new buyers
  • Comply with building codes
  • Avoiding potential fines by the city
  • Fire safety
  • Avoid contractor fraud
  • Conforming use to allow for renting out a portion of your home
  • It will go on record with the city
  • Prevent having to do the work again

Window Installations

When you install new windows that are bigger than your old windows, a permit is required to cut holes for them. This will also include cutting holes for skylights and new doors with windows, so a window professional will need to acquire those permits.

Plumbing and Electrical Work 

When installing or replacing plumbing, you will most likely need a permit. The same rule applies when installing or replacing electrical wiring, whether it’s an outlet, switch, ceiling fan or overhead lighting. The cases where you won’t need a permit include smaller projects like repairs and light fixture installations.

Structural Changes

When you make any kind of structural changes to your home, the contractor will need to get a permit. This may include changes to the load-bearing walls, balconies, decks, porches, roofs or foundation flooring.

Heating Maintenance

Renovating Without a Permit

Other, small projects will not require a contractor to pull permits and obtain approval from the city. These projects include:

  • Painting and wallpapering
  • Installing flooring like hardwood, carpeting, linoleum or vinyl tile
  • Minor electrical repairs
  • Installing new countertops
  • Installing or replacing a faucet
  • Landscaping work

If you replace the water heater, the heating contractor you’ve hired to do the work will need to get a permit. Changes to the ventilation system, gas and wood fireplaces and ducts will also require a permit. This does not include filter changes, motor lubrication or equipment cleaning.

Additions and Remodels

Additions, new construction, remodels, repairs, replacements, upgrades and any other additions and remodeling projects totaling $5,000 or more will require a permit. This will include detached structures like garages, sheds and platforms. Exceptions to this rule include construction that’s less than 200 square feet, as well as painting, carpeting and wallpaper.


For a more comprehensive guideline and explanation of requirements, I will direct you to the Department of Building Inspection's website, particularly the following: Legalize your Illegal Units Today and Legalization of Existing "Unauthorized" In-Law Dwelling Units