While setting up our 3rd party electrical inspection I realized I should talk about the process of getting permits. If you are just replacing counter tops, cabinets, and/or flooring you most likely won’t need a permit. It’s when you start changing your infrastructure, moving/adding outlets, moving plumbing, or knocking down a wall that you need a permit. It’s hard to define exactly when you do and do not need permits because every renovation situation is different. Countries, states, counties & municipalities also all have slightly different rules.

The best advice is to contact your city/township/boro/incorporation, whatever it’s called where you live, and tell them what you want to do. They will advise you on what permits are needed if any. Most municipalities these days have websites and they may have an email address listed for the codes department. Ours did and that is how I contacted them to ask what permits we might need. I love the convenience of email. After providing a description of what we wanted to do I received a prompt response that we would need electrical and plumbing permits and I should bring some drawings or sketches to the township office for them to look at.

Know Your Codes

Chances are your municipality uses industry standards for codes vs writing their own. This saves them a lot of time. For everything but electrical my township adopted the International Building Code (IBC) which is the defacto standard now-a-days. Actually there is a separate International Plumbing Code (IPC) but the IBC encompasses it. If you want access to this code you will have to buy it online sadly. For electrical everyone will have adopted the National Electric Code (NEC). The NFPA, the organization that puts the NEC together does offer free online access. But they don’t publicize it much. They would rather you buy it. And the online access is through a Java applet that keeps you from printing, copying, or saving the content. For access go to the homepage for the NEC. Do not go to the catalog section. There will be a link to gain online access to the code. You will have to signup for an account. Currently, at the time of this post, the NFPA is offering free preview access of the 2011 NEC.

Making Drawings

Drawings are how engineers communicate what they want made to those that are making them. You know the old saying A picture is worth a thousand words…. I am a mechanical engineer and I deal with engineering drawings all of the time, so making up a set for our renovation wasn’t a big deal for me. I can see how this step would be intimidating for the layman. Drawings for each discipline of engineering and construction have their own formats and specialized set of symbols and terminology. This is especially true for the electrical drawings.

Sample Electrical Schematic

Sample Electrical Schematic

Electrical Drawings

I was surprised to find relatively little help or guidance on creating permit drawings online. I also found that the electrical symbols for things like lights and ceiling fans can vary. It seems that some drafters like to get fancy. has a good list of common home electrical symbols and an example drawings. You will see that in the example the drafter got fancy by drawing out the blades of the fan and using colors. LOL The book I bought to read up on electrical stuff, Creative Homeowner’s Guide to Wiring, also had examples. By the way, I recommend this book to anyone looking to learn about doing your own electrical wiring. The author does a good job at going from the basics to fairly comprehensive instructions for a lot of tasks. And there are lots of great illustrations to help you.

You don’t need to use a CAD program like I did to make permit drawings. You can still draw them my hand. Some graph paper will help in this endeavor.

My tips for creating electrical drawings

  • For the electrical drawing you need to draw the walls, doorways, windows, etc of your home.
  • For kitchens you’ll need to show the countertops and cabinets, sinks, and any appliances that are fixed in place such as ranges, cooktops, wall ovens, dishwashers, and your fridge.
  • For bathrooms show the sink and vanity, bathtub, shower, and the toilet.
  • You do not need to draw these things in detail, only show a representation of each one. Don’t show couches, beds, chairs or any other furniture. Look at the example drawing on the link I provided above for how this is done.
  • You need to show the location of outlets, switches, fixed lights (don’t show lamps or anything else that plugs into an outlet) and fixed appliances by placing the correct symbol on the drawing.
  • Show how these devices will be interconnected by drawing a line between them. You don’t need to show where the wire will go, only how the devices are connected.
  • Don’t attempt to show the lighting and outlet (power) circuits on the same drawing. The drawing will get very busy and unreadable. Ask me how I know! Make two separate drawings. Still show the symbols indicating each device on both. But only draw the lines representing the interconnections on one.

Plumbing Drawings

Like the electrical drawings you do not need to show exactly where your pipes will go, you create a schematic showing how things are interconnected. This time though, instead of a bird’s eye view, you create an isometric drawing. The isometric drawing can show multiple floors of your house in one view. Vertical pipe runs are still drawn vertically. But horizontal pipe runs are drawn on a 30° angle. Towards 2 o’clock is one direction (X) and towards 10 o’clock is the other direction (Y). Many plumbing schematics don’t even adhere to this 30° rule. As long as you can illustrate the 3 dimensions to the reader. has a good example of a hand drawn plumbing drawing and some helpful tips.

As far as books go I purchased Taunton’s Plumbing Complete after reviewing it in the store. I’d give this book a C+ or a B-. It has been helpful and informative but sometimes I wish they would go into more details. For instance when talking about pipe supports they cover how to support horizontal runs of pipe but not vertical. Another example is showing how to rough in a bathroom sink but not a kitchen one. It seems the focus of the book is more on repair than the type of alterations I am doing. If you want a book on how to fix pipes, this is a good one.

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2 Responses to Permits

  1. Hello! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be ok.
    I’m definitely enjoying your blog and look forward to new

  2. Irene says:

    We hadn’t created one for this blog but you can follow us at @geeksluvfood. We post about all kinds of things but it hasn’t been all that consistent. We are working on our outside project now!

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