Can you change your project AFTER you have your building permit?

Many homeowners believe that once they have their building permit that they are locked into exactly what is shown on the drawings, but that isn’t the case and here’s why…. If you are in the middle of your project and you suddenly decide that you want to add a window, move a wall, or increase the size of your addition because mom is moving in, there is a process to make that happen which varies depending on the scope of the change. The building department won’t deny you that ability to make changes, but they will want to ensure you are still abiding by all of the same codes. Let’s take mom moving in as an example. Just because you have the extra space in the yard for the larger addition, it doesn’t mean you can automatically make it bigger. You might be over your lot coverage, building in a restricted setback, or any number of fun tidbits like that. Don’t worry, your architect will figure all of that out so you don’t have to. Assuming you are within your code boundaries however, the building department should be willing to work with you to get you the home you desire. Don’t forget that they WANT you to make improvements to your home (and pay them fees for their time correcting drawings), so they have a process in place to keep you happy and spending money on your house and their fees.

I’m guessing you are wondering things like how long of a delay can you expect, how much more it will cost in permit fees, and if your contractor can keep working under the original permit while you wait for your changes to be approved, right? Good questions.

Let’s say you want to remove a structural wall between two rooms (a change to your original permit) so there is more living space for mom to join the party. This could be as easy as just getting a stamped sketch from your structural engineer stating that he or she has approved the change. Your contractor keeps working away, the inspector is called out to verify recent changes, the contractor explains the desire to remove the wall and hands over the engineer verified sketch. Done. You’ve just opened a wall. Super quick and sans additional permit fees.

What happens if mom needs a bedroom and bathroom added to the back of the house that wasn’t part of the original permit? Your architect will verify if you are in the clear with respect to the codes, but this isn’t just a quick structural change that can be handled in the field with an engineer’s sketch. The building department will want to ensure that you still comply with those pesky codes mentioned above. Your architect will draft up the change, include the necessary code information, attach a sketch from the engineer, and resubmit the drawings. Obviously, every building department’s schedule and review time will be different, but in Seattle at the time of this writing, I’ve had projects with small changes like that approved in about 3 weeks… with an added few hundred dollars in permit fees. Don’t forget that there will be added fees paid to your architect and engineer, but it shouldn’t scare you away from making a necessary change.

And just to nail home this idea…. I also recently resubmitted a completely new home design under the original permit. In this particular case, the clients had been coveting their neighbor’s lot, but conversations to purchase it proved fruitless. As a result, we permitted a beautiful home they loved on their current lot. After some more negotiating (and wine) they finally secured its purchase, and I redesigned the entire home to utilize the newly acquired land. This required additional demo permits for the neighbor’s house, boundary line adjustments, and about seventeen other things that sound like they came out of a lawyer’s handbook. Nonetheless, I drew it up, included the code info, attached the structural changes, and resubmitted under the same permit. So yes, you have the ABILITIY to make changes…. Just verify with your architect that you have permission to as well.