California State Flag Photo by Håkan Dahlström

Most extensive home remodeling projects will require a building permit throughout the United States, and it can be difficult to keep up with building regulations in your particular area. Fortunately is here to help.

The simple answer to the question ‘Do I Need A Building Permit in California?’ is YES.

The California building code states ‘Any owner or authorized agent who intends to construct, enlarge, alter, repair, move, demolish, or change the occupancy of a building or structure, or to erect, install, enlarge, alter, repair, remove, convert or replace any electrical, gas, mechanical or plumbing system, the installation of which is regulated by this code, or to cause any such work to be done, shall first make application to the building official and obtain the required permit.’

As with every individual state, county or city, you must check your local town or city’s guidelines on building permits as there can be many variations from place to place. Even in individual neighborhoods there may be certain regulations on size, dimensions and aesthetic considerations of any additions you make to your home. Permits and building regulations can easily be checked through your local council’s Building Department.

A State such as California will also have very specific rules that you may not find in other parts of the country due to much of the state being located on seismically active ground. The frequency of tremors and earthquakes in this part of the country means that there are very specific guidelines for extra safety.

There are certain cases where you don’t need to seek a building permit. These include:

  • One-story detached accessory structures used as tool and storage sheds, playhouses and similar uses, provided the floor area does not exceed 120 square feet (11 m2).
  • Fences not over 6 feet (1829 mm) high.
  • Retaining walls that are not over 4 feet (1219 mm) in height measured from the bottom of the footing to the top of the wall, unless supporting a surcharge or impounding Class I, II or IIIA liquids.
  • Water tanks supported directly on grade if the capacity does not exceed 5,000 gallons (18 925 L) and the ratio of height to diameter or width does not exceed 2:1.
  • Sidewalks and driveways not more than 30 inches (762 mm) above adjacent grade, and not over any basement or story below and are not part of an accessible route.
  • Prefabricated swimming pools that are less than 24 inches (610 mm) deep, do not exceed 5,000 gallons (18 925 L) and are installed entirely above ground.
  • Shade cloth structures constructed for nursery or agricultural purposes, not including service systems.
  • Swings and other playground equipment accessory to detached one- and two-family dwellings.
  • Window awnings supported by an exterior wall that do not project more than 54 inches (1372 mm) from the exterior wall and do not require additional support of Groups R-3 and U occupancies.
  • Nonfixed and movable fixtures, cases, racks, counters and partitions not over 5 feet 9 inches (1753 mm) in height.

Remember, the above list is not exhaustive and you must still double check with your local planning department before carrying out any extensive remodeling work.

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