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Beginner’s Guide to Construction Permit

Beginner's Guide to Construction Permit

Did you know that most construction projects in Washington D.C. require a permit? “Why is that?”–you may ask yourself. Well, building departments oversee the construction of residential and commercial properties to ensure that they are safe, legal, and sometimes–complementary to the area’s overall look.


Don’t worry though, if the DIY project you are picking up on is on the smaller side, you might not need to go through the permitting process. However, it’s always better to learn as much as you can before deciding. To help you out, we created a short beginner guide to construction permits. Here is what you should know:




Many people have asked about the difference between a construction and a building permit. In general, they are the same. However, the term building permit is usually used for new construction projects – properties built from the ground up. Usually, it’s more difficult to get a permit for new builds than it is for remodels. Many city building regulations across the world don’t even allow demolition and new construction in certain areas, especially historic ones.




An important thing to understand about building permits is that they are not the same all around the world. Every state, city, and even district has a specific set of rules. This is because each location is unique and has special requirements. Areas prone to natural hazards like fires, tornados, and hurricanes have building codes that ensure the maximum safety of buildings and inhabitants. For example, fire-prone areas must use fire-resistant materials with a specific fire rating.


Other examples of locations with stricter building codes are landmarks and historic districts. That’s why if you want to build in one of Washington’s historic neighborhoods, you must design the house in a way it matches the area’s aesthetic. Each district has its own rules. Some give more freedom than others, so if a project is not approved in one district, it might be approved in another.




The process of getting a permit varies from state to state. Usually, in the US there are 5 steps for getting a building/construction permit:

  • Filling out a permit application

  • Scheduling a plan approval appointment

  • Getting the construction permit

  • Scheduling inspections

  • Getting final city approval


Even though they sound simple, these 5 phases of the permitting process include a lot of paperwork and planning and a ton of experts! First, you need to consult a permit expediter who is familiar with local building codes. Next, you need to hire an architect who will ensure that the site plans comply with the rules. After you get a permit, you will need to schedule civil/structural engineering inspections so that you have proof that everything is according to plan. At the end or during the process, the city agency will send a separate inspector to make an assessment.




As we mentioned, getting building permits in Washington can be a complicated and time-consuming process. Historic districts have different regulations than non-historic ones. However, if you are building in a non-historic district, you will need a permit for:

  • New construction

  • New foundations

  • Additions, alterations, or repair

  • Demolition and razes

  • Retaining walls, sheds, fences, and garages

  • Vault construction

  • Signs and awnings

  • A commercial building’s new interior space layout


If you want to find out more, feel free to give us a call. With years of experience in permit expediting, our team is ready to help you build your dream home.

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