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Is the Permit Process Difficult?

Undertaking even a minor home remodel or renovation project is never easy. If you are fortunate to work with a responsible firm like Rittenhouse Builders the process will be manageable, but regardless of whom you work with, you should expect series of challenges throughout the project. It’s how you deal with those challenges that will make the project a tremendous success or a dreadful failure.

The permit process is one of those challenging processes that affect almost every type of home remodel and renovation project. The more you know about the permitting process the better prepared you can be to proactively deal with it and navigate it successfully. This can save you time and money. It can also keep your project moving forward smoothly. Working with a contractor who knows the process and is willing to help you with it is one key.

The following information will help you gain a more complete understanding of what’s involved when it comes to dealing with the permit process.

How do I know if I even need a permit?

If you are considering a project that requires a contractor, you probably need a permit. For almost all of the jobs Rittenhouse Builders performs, the State of Pennsylvania requires a permit. Here are a few practical examples of what needs a permit and what doesn’t need one.

You Need a Permit If You:

Replace more than 25% of the shingles on your roof
Move your toilet six inches from its current location
Move an electrical outlet
Build a stunning addition
Create the ultimate basement party room
Renovate your master bath suite
You Do Not Need a Permit If You:

Replace a toilet
Paint the exterior of your house
Who grants a permit?
Typically, your local municipality, township, borough, or city grants residents a permit. Within each of these local governments, there is usually a person or people responsible for enforcing the building code or issuing permits and licenses. These people have very specific processes that they are responsible for following.

How do I get a permit?

Acquiring a permit can be a challenging and uncertain process in many local communities. The rules, process, requirements, and people you need to talk to are different from township to township. Working with a home remodeling firm familiar with the people and the processes associated with the different municipalities is critically important.

The following is a chronology of the typical permit procurement process. Remember this may be slightly different in your specific community.

Step 1
With most home renovation projects, designs are required to ensure both the homeowner and the builder are on the same page. Rittenhouse Builders provides these basic services and of course, an architect can also provide these designs.

Step 2
After the initial sketches or detailed designs for your project have been created, work with your home remodeling firm to investigate if there are any potential issues that could flag concerns during the permitting process. Typically, these issues could be site issues governed by local ordinances and enforced by your local municipality or Water and Sewer issues sometimes governed at the County level.

A few examples include:

Your addition may not fit within your lot’s building envelope. Even tearing down an existing structure and rebuilding in the exact same dimensions does not ensure that the project would comply with municipal codes.
Your addition may not be allowed because it would increase the percentage of your building lot’s impervious coverage beyond the limit allowed within your municipality’s zoning laws.
Adding additional bedrooms may not be permitted without increasing your on-site septic system.
Step 3
Ask your contractor to provide input on the costs associated with altering your design to comply with ordinances. Rittenhouse Builders typically builds time into our project plan to alter the designs or managing the application process for an exception or variance to the code to support the original design plans.

Pennsylvania has adopted the International Residential Building Code. It is defines the minimum requirements for a building code that all residential construction is supposed to meet or exceed. In order to begin building your addition or perform renovations on your home, your plans need to be reviewed by your local municipality’s code enforcement officer for compliance to the IRC 2003 Code.

One of the challenges is that a statewide law is enforced locally. Across just Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties, we encounter a wide variety of disagreement on just what qualifies as an acceptable plan upon which a building permit can be issued.

At this point, Rittenhouse Builders spends some time with our customers discussing terms that are related to your project’s approval.

Sealed drawings

Building plans that have been affixed with the seal of the architect or engineer that has reviewed them. Some townships require drawings sealed by a Registered Architect or Engineer for any renovation project. Other townships may not require sealed plans for simple projects but will require them for projects that are more complex.

Why is this a big deal? It costs more money to have your drawings sealed. Depending on the complexity of your project, it can add several hundred to two thousand dollars to the cost of your drawings.

Mechanical Drawings

Some townships require some or all of the following drawings:

HVAC trunklines, sizing, supply and return locations
The location of any and all electric outlet
Plumbing riser diagrams and fixture plans
Why is this a big deal? It can cost the homeowner more money to complete these mechanical drawings. As we discussed in the section above, certain townships will also require some of the mechanical drawings to be sealed by an engineer, further increasing costs. Rittenhouse Builders will work with you to anticipate what your township needs to make purchase a building permit.

Energy Codes

The person reviewing your plans will also estimate the energy efficiency of your new addition. There is now an energy code, which your addition will have to meet. Your contractor should understand the energy codes and help you exceed the requirements of the code. Rittenhouse Builders typically provides and energy code review in all projects that might encounter this type of evaluation during the permitting process.

Step 4
Once you have a plan and a reasonable estimate of the challenges you face in getting your permit approved. Submit a building permit application along with your building plans to your local municipality. Rittenhouse Builders typically submits and manages the permitting process for our customers. Check with your contractor to make sure they are willing to do this and that they have provided this service successfully for customers in the past.

Step 5
The local code enforcement official has to get back to us within 15 business days with a decision. In some cases, the plans are approved as submitted. In that case, the project can move forward.

Sometimes you will get back your plans approved with revisions. In this case, look at the items that the code official has added in to your drawing. Sometimes it isn’t a bid deal, a individual officer has certain items that they want to see listed on the plans so they add them. If this is something you planned on anyway you should feel comfortable to move ahead.

If you feel the code official is being unreasonable and adding unnecessary costs to your project you may elect to discuss it with the official. Again, Rittenhouse Builders handles this entire process for our customers. Make sure you have a contractor who is experienced dealing with these officials.

Sometimes the drawings come back indicating that something does not meet the building code and they request a change to our drawings to comply. In that case, you will need to add or make changes to the permit and start the 15-day review process all over again.


The permit process has the potential to derail even the best planned home remodel or renovation projects. Understanding all the issues, the people, the processes, and the planning required to successfully navigate the permit process is the first step in making sure your project goes on without a hitch.

Finding a firm to work with you before, during and even after the permitting process is even tougher. Many contractors choose to ignore the process and others short cut the system to keep their costs down. This will only put your home and your project in jeopardy down the road. Take the time required to find a contractor who has extensive experience getting permits approved and working with the local officials to handle your project the right way.

The result will be a safe, beautiful, and compliant home that you can be proud of for many years.

About Rittenhouse Builders

Rittenhouse Builders specialize in high-end, complex home renovation and remodeling projects. Our experience delivering beyond our customers expectations include bathrooms, large kitchen renovations, multi-level additions complete with master suites, and all manner of residential construction including even custom home construction.

We work closely with our customers to evaluate your living space and make recommendations on either maximizing your existing living space or increasing it all together through additions. Our goal is to help you add value, comfort, and functionality to your home.

Rittenhouse Builders is committed to three overriding values: treating our employees and our customers with respect, providing the highest quality materials and craftsmanship, and always being honest with our customers. This commitment is still alive today and as our reputation grows, we believe that this commitment is the cornerstone of what makes Rittenhouse Builders special.

Rittenhouse Builders continues to work hard to do our absolute best and nothing less. With these values and a strong work ethic, Rittenhouse Builders has been serving the region for over 10 years. I invite you to build on our reputation.

For more information on Rittenhouse Builders, please visit our website at or call us at 610-593-7176.