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Do You Need a Permit to Remodel?

Planning a home remodeling project is an exciting time as you explore endless possibilities and envision creative ways to reimagine your outdated space. Whether it’s a custom kitchen, primary suite makeover, or other alteration, obtaining a construction permit is something you must consider. Permitting a home improvement project certifies that your renovation is constructed correctly, giving you piece of mind and a leg up when you decide to sell. Although you don’t always need a permit in Seattle when making home improvements, it’s prudent to check first. Use this construction permitting guide to understand the process, as well as the benefits and fees associated with permitting your remodel.

Please note: permitting fees are determined by your local city or municipality. The follow guide is specific to Seattle only and utilizes pricing and fees listed by the city for the year 2023. If you’re home is located outside of the city of Seattle, many of the principles listed below still apply, but the requirements and fees for construction permits may vary from city to city. Make sure you check with your local jurisdiction for the codes, pricing, and requirements relevant to your home.

The Benefits of Permitting

Peace of Mind

There’s a certain peace of mind that comes with permitting your project. You know that everything was done to code and reviewed by multiple professionals. You’re far less likely to have a surprise water leak or trip a fuse. Some of the repercussions for poor work are minor, but some can be life-threatening. Obtaining a building permit and the getting inspections throughout construction can lower your chances of any problems down the road.

Ease of Selling

Likewise, home buyers are looking for permitted work so they too can have peace of mind. When going to sell a home, it is more likely to pass inspection when you have the permits, making your home more desirable. Come time to sell, this could be a major advantage to you.

Inspections are Included

The cost of inspections is already included in each permitting fee, you don’t have to pay separately to have the work inspected and approved by the city. Most inspectors are very good at what they do and won’t let anything go unnoticed. It’s normal for a tradesperson to fail an inspection once in a while, then fix the error and get another inspection within the same week. Getting inspections typically doesn’t slow the process, as most contractors and tradespeople build that into their timelines.

You Could Be Cited for Code Violation

Choosing not to permit a project does come with risk. City inspectors may see construction work as they drive to/from project locations and notice construction activity at your home. Likewise, neighbors who are unhappy with noise or land use can file a complaint online. You could be fined by your local jurisdiction and your hired contractor(s) could lose their licenses. To avoid costly fines or penalties, it’s best to permit your project from the beginning.

Types of Seattle Construction Permits

Most of this article focuses on Construction Permits. This is the overarching permit needed to begin and finalize all work/construction for most projects.

Depending on the project scope, you may also (or only) need the following permits:

  • STFI
  • Land Use
  • Demolition
  • Temporary Power (via Seattle City Light)
  • Electrical
  • Mechanical
  • Gas
  • Plumbing (via King County Environmental Health Services Division)
  • Boiler
  • Refrigeration
  • Side Sewer
  • Tree Removal
  • and more…

Types of Home Remodeling Projects

Small Projects

According to Seattle’s Department of Construction & Inspections (SDCI), a permit is not required when repainting your house, repointing your chimney, adding a fence under 8’ tall, or replacing your home’s roofing or siding if, and only if, no structural changes are needed. See the city’s website for a full list of permitting exceptions and check their list of “Common Projects” to find the category that matches your upcoming project. Otherwise, a quick phone call to the SDIC can help you determine if a permit is needed.

Currently, SDIC states that: “you don’t need a permit for minor repairs or alterations that cost $6,000 or less in any 6-month period. The $6,000 limit is based on fair market value of labor and parts, even if you do the work yourself.” If the project involves any sort of structural change to the house, regardless of cost, it will likely require a permit.

Any project over $6,000 does require a permit. If the addition or remodel is small you may qualify for what’s referred to as a “subject-to-field-inspection” (STFI) permit, which has fewer requirements and lower fees.

Large Projects

Most major home remodeling projects (for example: a bedroom addition) require a construction permit under SDCI guidelines. SDCI defines a house addition or remodel as ‘an extension or modification to an existing house that may include a second-story addition, dormer, footprint expansion, interior reconfiguration, or house lift.’

As a homeowner, you will need a construction addition/alteration permit to complete any home addition or major remodel – especially when the project involves alterations to load-bearing supports.

All Projects

Regardless of the size or scope of your project, the work must comply with current Seattle residential, building, zoning, electrical, land use, environmental, shoreline, and mechanical codes. It’s up to you—the homeowner—to permit your project, though most contractors have experience obtaining permits and can help you permit your project for an additional fee. The SDIC website is a great resource if you’d like to get a basic understanding before talking with a professional.

How Much Will My Remodeling Project Cost?

In addition to what type of remodeling project it is, another key determining factor is the project’s total cost. In Seattle, building permit costs are based off the value of your home improvement project, so you’ll need to have a general understanding of the total project cost before inquiring about a permit. Because of this, a main building permit can range anywhere from $2,000- $10,000+.

Given that the average price of a custom kitchen remodel in Seattle is around $135,000, you’re almost assured of needing a construction permit when replacing the cabinets, countertops, backsplash, appliances, etc. In cases when you are only updating one thing (e.g., flooring or appliances) an STFI permit may suffice, or you may not need one at all. A DIY remodel can obviously cost a fraction of that, but most full kitchen remodels will include a layout change and all new finishes.

For a more detailed understanding of remodeling cost for different types of projects, visit our Seattle Remodeling Costs guide.

How Much Will My Construction Permit Cost?

In Seattle, construction permit fees are based on the total estimated cost of your remodeling project. Keep in mind that SDCI valuations may not match the price that a contractor is charging you, because SDCI valuations don’t necessarily take into account the finish styles and other premium upgrades most homeowners are choosing during a remodel. The SDCI valuation is more closely tied to property value.

Below are the average Construction Permit costs of the most common remodeling projects. In addition to these permit fees you may have additional costs for design and engineering, or professional fees if you have someone helping you submit and secure the permit.

Small Projects and/or Projects Subject to STFI:

The large majority of remodeling projects fall into the subject-to-field-inspection (STFI) category. STFI permits typically cost around 1.5-2% of your project valuation. As an example, if your kitchen remodel is valued at $100,000, your permit cost may be around $2,000. You will be required to pay 100% of that value-based STFI permit fee when submitting your plans online. Remember: the city’s value of your project and what your contractor charges for the work will likely be much different—this is normal for Seattle.

Larger Projects Subject to a Full Permit Review

Full permits typically range in cost from 2-5%. It may cost more if the permit requires multiple corrections and reviews, which does happen from time to time. Home additions often fall into this category, but not always. You will be required to pay a fee upon submittal, and the remainder of the fee upon full review.

In addition to the construction permit itself, any larger-scale kitchen remodel will also require separate permits for the electrical work and plumbing. If it’s a minor kitchen or bath remodel that also includes updates to the electrical wiring or plumbing, you’ll probably need to obtain a building permit in addition to electrical and plumbing permits. Some tradespeople include the permit cost in their quotes, and some do not, so you’ll want to ask up front.

Below are the average costs of the five most common trade-specific permits that a mid-size home remodeling project may require:

  • Electrical permit: ~$300
  • Plumbing permit: ~$300
  • Mechanical permit: ~$300
  • Refrigeration permit: ~$50
  • Gas Piping permit: ~$150

At Model Remodel, these trade permits are included in our subcontractor estimates. Fees for these permits are all subject to be more or less depending on the number of units, circuits, fixtures, etc. that are included in the scope of the project. Electrical for a basement remodel could cost $75 for moving a few lights around in a bathroom, or it could cost $500 if you’re adding heat pumps and extra electrical in newly created spaces like a basement or addition.

In general, you won’t know exact permit costs until you submit your plans to your local jurisdiction, but a reputable remodeling company can help you understand your possible permitting costs better (since they do a lot of projects and estimates regularly).

Construction Inspections

All inspections are included in permit fees, but it is up to you or the tradesperson to schedule those inspections throughout various stages of the project.

In most cases, doing a complete kitchen, bathroom, or other major remodel will require a series of inspections. At various stages of installation, the city will send out inspectors to review the work and give the OK for the tradesperson to continue to the next stage. Once each stage of work is completed an inspection must be scheduled, and the city will send out the appropriate inspector to make sure everything is up to code. If it’s a large project, you can expect separate inspections for the building, plumbing, electrical, sewer, gas, sewer, and more.

A final inspection is always needed to close out the permit. Don’t forget the last step! Permits left open will prevent you from starting another project in the future, so closing out a permit properly is critical.

If you qualified for an STFI construction permit, it’s a little easier. One inspector will come out and check all the work to ensure it was completed in compliance with Seattle’s building codes.  

The Benefits of Using a Reputable Contractor

Professional Drawings

In order to obtain permits, typically the city requires drawings of the work you are going to do. For most people this is a difficult task best left to professionals. A design-build contractor, designer, architect and/or engineer can help you draw up the plans necessary to permit your project.

Professional drawings can help you make informed choices about layout and project scope too. For simple projects, like replacing a few things in your bathroom, the drawings may be easy to create. For a larger project like a whole house remodel, the plans are complex and generally require a trained eye.

Permitting Expertise

If you have never done a home remodel in Seattle before, understanding all the city’s various permitting and inspection requirements can be challenging. Although completing the project yourself or hiring a handyman could save you money upfront, doing so could result in shoddy work or a construction permit violation that ends up costing you hundreds–or even thousands–of dollars.

On the other hand, partnering with a reputable home remodeling contractor will help ensure that your dream project comes together more smoothly. Your contractor will not only deliver quality work, but they can also save you time and money by obtaining all the necessary permits and scheduling all the required inspections–saving you time.

How to Find a Good Contractor in Seattle

Finding the best contractor for your home remodeling project is essential. Whether you want a custom kitchen remodel, bathroom remodel, basement finishing, or something even more grand, be sure to find a contractor that specializes in the services you’re looking for. Do your research, ask for references, get written estimates, and check online reviews posted on Yelp, Google, or Houzz. Make sure you ask about their permitting process. At Model Remodel, we are design-build contractors who’ve built a solid reputation in the Seattle area by transforming outdated homes into highly functional, luxurious living spaces with our conception-to-completion home remodeling solutions. We always obtain permits when necessary and offer permitting services if you’d like us to handle it all for you! To get started bringing your next home improvement project to life, tell us more about your objectives today through our online form.

Written by Model Remodel

Model Remodel is a design-build, remodeling contractor located in Seattle, WA. For over 20 years we’ve been building with purpose, craftsmanship and sustainability in mind. We are proud to continually make the list of top Seattle contractors for our beautiful interior designs and homeowner-focused remodeling process.

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