When Do You Need a Building Permit?

Homeowners can add value to their property, as well as their enjoyment, by making any number of improvements, many of which are do-it-yourself projects if you possess the right tools and skill-sets.

But in many cases you need something else — permission from your town or Fairfax County in the form of a building permit. And these permits are required in more cases than you might think.

If you are adding on to your home a building permit is required, of course. But a permit is also required if you are simply removing or putting up a wall or partition inside your home. You’ll also need a building permit if you finish off an attic space, or add pull-down attic stairs.

The same is true if you are building out your basement, adding finished living space. You’ll also need to obtain a permit if you are doing what seems like simple jobs, like installing fixtures or appliances. That means applying for a permit when you, for the first time, install a dishwasher, attic, ceiling or exhaust fan, or garbage disposal. You’re even required to obtain a permit to install a light fixture, according to the regulations.

There is a distinction, however, if you are replacing an existing light fixture or an existing appliance, a permit is generally not required.

Not all sheds

Surprisingly, not all storage sheds require a building permit. Any shed attached to the house does but unless a detached shed is more than 200 square feet or more than one story, it doesn’t.

You’ll need a permit if you build a deck on posts or footings or if you build a porch. Enclosing an existing porch into living space will also require a permit.

What doesn’t require a building permit? You won’t need one if you replace existing windows or doors or install a fire alarm or fire detection system. In fact, most things that have to do with fire safety do not require permission from the county.

You don’t need a permit to erect fences and privacy walls that are not part of a building, structure or of the barrier for a swimming pool, provided such fences and privacy walls do not exceed six feet in height above the finished grade. Ornamental post caps aren’t considered part of the height of the fence or privacy wall and are be permitted to extend above the six feet height measurement.

All fences that are more than six feet in height do require a building permit. So do retaining walls that hold back at least two feet of dirt.

For typical home improvement projects, you don’t need a permit to lay ceramic tile, hardwood flooring or carpet, or add crown molding and other trim. The same holds true for gutters and downspouts.

Apply online

Obtaining a permit is simpler that it once was. To obtain a permit online, check the status of an existing permit or to schedule an inspection, visit Fairfax Inspections Database Online (FIDO).

You may also visit the county’s Online Building and Land Development Information page to find information on building and site-related activities.

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