Chapter 5: Permits Required for Self Renovation

Various building problems will occur after a number of years in use, some are severe, others are trivial, this is common. If all issues are resolved by hiring professionals, the cost could be tremendous. That’s because you’ll be paying for insurance, company’s business license fees, various taxes and surcharges, even the permit request fee submitted to the city for renovation etc. If you wish to renovate yourself, you’ll need to know what projects require permits by the city, and what projects don’t. This article will briefly describe permits you need to apply for renovation. From building code perspective, each city has its own regulations, so it’s recommended to double check with the city prior to renovation to avoid unnecessary trouble.

According with International Residential Code, permits shall not be required for the following projects:


  1. Small storage room with the floor area not bigger than 120 square feet.
  2. Fences of not more than 6 feet high.
  3. Retaining walls not over 4 feet in height.
  4. Water tanks sitting on the ground with <5000-gallon capacity, and the ratio of height to diameter must be less than 2 to 1.
  5. Sidewalks and drive ways.
  6. Simple indoor finish including painting, wall paper, tile installation, carpet replacement, replacing kitchen cabinets or similar projects.
  7. Manufactured swimming pools of less than 24-in in depth.
  8. Swings and other small playground equipment.
  9. Window awnings supported by one side exterior wall only and no other support. Its length is less than 54-in.

Repairs and maintenance:

Minor repair products do not require permits, such as replacing bulbs, replacing electrical equipment approved by the city. But the following projects require permits:

  • Changing walls
  • Replacing or shorten structure components or load bearing walls.
  • Changing egress or resultant egress change caused by modifying other structures.
  • Adding, changing or replacing any water supply or plumbing system.
  • Replacing or changing natural gas pipes.
  • Changing ventilation system or similar.
  • Changing electrical branches or other projects affecting public safety and health.

In emergency situation, necessary and immediate repairs can be performed, but permit application must be submitted to the city by the next working business day.

Permit Validity:

Renovation must begin within 180 days after permit issuance, or it becomes invalid. The city is authorized to extend the permit in stages at the city’s discretion to not less than 180 days in total if justifiable.

This article about renovation permit does not include applications for permits on electrical system, gas supply system, mechanical system and plumbing system, as well as the procedure and cost for applying permits. I will describe them one by one in later serials. For more details, please visit

By Michael Zhang

Published in the September edition of Texas Capital News, 2013