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Do you need a building permit?

As a homeowner, renovation and construction projects can be stressful. Knowing how to go about the work and the proper, legal process involved is important, but it can sometimes be difficult to get the right answers.

The truth is, if you're a homeowner, you are responsible for making sure a building permit is obtained, required inspections take place, and infractions are corrected. This is true whether or not you hire a general contractor.


Essentially, you need a permit any time you demolish, construct, or change the use of a building. Starting a project without the procurement of a permit is illegal in Ontario and is a Provincial Offence (yikes!)

For the purposes of this post, we've used Guelph, ON as an example. But many municipalities have similar requirements.

Here is a simple list of things you'll need a permit for:


-Building a deck, porch, sunroom, solarium

-Building an addition

-Installing a pool or hot tub

-Building a garage/carport (either attached or detached)

-Sheds [greater than 10 square metres (107 square feet)]

-Replacement of brick veneer/installation of exterior cladding

-Altering a roof structure

-Altering a foundation (under pinning)

-Adding or altering exterior stairs.


-Finishing your basement

-Creating an accessory apartment, in-law suite, basement apartment

-Dormers or finishing attic space

-New or enlarging existing windows or doors

-Interior structural alterations

-Adding or removing walls (different room sizes and/or uses)

-Adding or altering a chimney, wood stove or fireplace

-Adding a kitchen or bathroom

-Change of use (i.e. establishing a home occupation/home-based business, lodging house, bed and breakfast or changing any part of a building from one use to another (for example changing a store to a residential unit, or vice versa).


-Installing/altering plumbing

-New septic system or repairs to existing

-Installation, repair of storm sanitary and water service

-Installation of irrigation systems

Note--Plumbing may be done by a homeowner on their single, semi-detached or townhouse dwelling unit in which they reside. Persons, other than the homeowner (like plumbers, contractors, home renovation companies) doing plumbing shall possess a Certificate of Qualification.


-Major duct work

-New heating system

-Furnace replacements when changing fuel source (i.e. electric to gas)


-Demolition of a building or a portion of a building


-The Building Division does not issue electrical permits or carry out electrical inspections. Please contact the Electrical Safety Authority for information (1-877-372-7233).

...Pretty straightforward right?


Plans are required for a permit application, for a full list of permit application requirements click here.

As a homeowner, you're allowed to take responsibility for your project if you choose to do so. You would fill out the Permit Application, identifying that you have taken on the design yourself.

If you feel that your project is too complicated, or you don't have a background in construction, you can choose to hire a qualified BCIN Designer. An Energy Efficiency Design Summary form is also a typical requirement, which must be filled out by a qualified designer.

To determine if a permit is required or if other approvals may be required, you can visit your municipal office. When you visit them, take a site plan drawn to a recognized scale or survey of your property showing the location of all existing structures and indicating (to a recognized scale) the location of your proposed addition, garage, shed, pool, deck, hot tub, etc. and the dimensions from property lines. Also take in a rough floor plan of your proposed basement renovation, addition, new bathroom, etc.

During this preliminary visit, the Building Department can advise what further information is required in order to accept an application for building permit. It may be determined that approvals from other agencies are required prior to permit issuance. Some examples are City Council, Committee of Adjustment, Electrical Safety Authority, Site Plan Control, Ministry of Transportation, Grand River Conservation Authority, Heritage Guelph Committee and Engineering Services. Should approvals be required, please contact the appropriate approval authority concerning timing, application forms, fees and procedures.


When you're ready to apply, click here to access the permit application form.

Once the building permit is issued, you can get down to business and get started on construction! Sometimes notes/conditions are made on the drawings along with the permit approval. You have to keep the drawings and these revisions on site during construction.

Construction must follow the designs and plans that the permit was issued based on. If you need to make changes and the construction deviates from the drawings, you must report these changes to Building Services. Revised drawings may be required and there's a fee that goes along with that.

Then there are the inspections...

Several mandatory inspections are required to ensure that work is done properly and in accordance with the drawings. Your permit will actually tell you a list of the required inspections.


You have to call and book inspections with the Building Services at 519-837-5614.

If booked by 3:00 p.m., the inspection can be done the next business day. An inspector will perform an inspection and a field report will be left on site. If infractions are noted, these items must be corrected and a re-inspection booked to ensure that the infractions have been remedied. Once all mandatory inspections have been passed, the permit will be considered complete.


I know this stuff isn't the most interesting... but it's important information that homeowners need to know.

I hope it helps you along your reno journey!

Stay green


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