When a Building Permit is Required

If you are contemplating any work on your house, you need to know if you should obtain a building permit. While a full, detailed breakdown of when a permit is needed can be quite involved, here are a few guidelines. If you have any questions, please call 703-248-5080 (TTY  711), or email us.

What Can Be Done Without a Permit

 On a single-family house, most routine work does not require a permit. You can:

  • Paint, add or replace carpet, tile or hardwood floors, replace cabinets, and even replace paneling and drywall without a permit.    
  • Replace your windows and doors, as long as you don't change the size of the opening in the wall.    
  • Replace your roof, as long as you are not replacing rafters or a major portion of the decking.    
  • Replace plumbing fixtures, such as a sink, disposal, or toilet,  as long as the new fixture remains in the same place so you do not need  to run any pipe.    
  • Replace electrical fixtures, such as an outlet, switch or ceiling light fixture.

When a Permit is Needed   

  • Any time you change a wall, you need a permit. It does not matter if the wall is load-bearing or not.            
    • If you add walls, remove walls or even change the height of a wall, you need a permit.        
    • The same is true if you want to add an opening, or change the size of an existing opening, such as to put in a larger window.        
    • Anything involving the framing or other structure of a wall requires a permit. This also goes for floors, ceilings, and rafters.           
  • If you plan to move any plumbing fixture, or add one, you need a permit.   
  • If you plan to add electrical fixtures, you need a permit.   
  • Any work involving gas, even just replacing a stove or fireplace insert, requires a permit.  

Please note that the permit requirements for multifamily and commercial construction differ from the above. Contact the Building Safety Division if you have any questions.