Do I Need A Building Permit?

Articles & Interest

By Lou Orazem of Inspire Homes

Building permits exist to create a minimum standard for the safety and functionality of a building. Many projects require a permit – even those inside the home – for example adding, moving or removing walls, and relocating plumbing fixtures.

There are two good reasons why you should always get a building permit. First, it protects you, the homeowner. Your municipality will review design documents and inspect the work at various stages to ensure that the job complies with building codes. Second, it creates a road map for the work ahead.  Through the creation of drawings and specifications, you will think and plan before any construction starts. This process will help you clearly communicate what your expectations are from your renovator and gives you a better understanding of the final quote for the job.

A non-professional renovator may encourage you to forgo a building permit, this could be because: it may cost more money, takes time to procure, etc. The main reason that a renovator may not want a permit is that they are unfamiliar with building codes or they don’t want their work to be inspected (allowing them to cut corners or bypass work that would be required by the building code).

As a professional RenoMark Renovator I insist on having a detailed set of drawings and a scope of work, attached to a construction contract, before we begin a project. The contract outlines such items as timelines, payment schedules, and whether a permit is required. If a building and/or electrical permit is needed I ensure that they are in place before I start to do any construction. I am often asked if the project needs a permit and the majority of the time the answer is YES!

Most municipalities in the Toronto area charge a building permit fee in the range of $150 to $300 for a small renovation project.  An electrical permit adds an additional $49 to $124 to the cost. Overall, permits for a small project can run $200 to $450. While this cost might seem expensive, imagine the cost of having to redo the work if it isn’t done properly or according to the building code.  Many municipalities also have a process to expedite permits for small projects, issuing building permits in a day or two.

A professional renovator will guide you through the process and in many cases they can produce the drawing and documentation required to obtain a building permit. Doing things right the first time with a professional renovator and warranty in place will always be cheaper than having to do the work twice.

This week’s question comes to us by Kim Y. who lives in the GTA:

“We have a beautiful bathroom but no heating was considered when it was being renovated. Starting in November until about April the bathroom is very cold. The suggestion from the renovation company was to get a plug-in heater. I don’t feel that it’s safe to have an electric heater in the bathroom. Can you advise me of options of what can be done to solve this problem?”

Kim, you are absolutely right to be concerned about using an electric plug-in heater in the bathroom. Water is an excellent conductor of electricity; therefore, the bathroom is perhaps the most dangerous room in the house to have such a heater. The solution you were given is not safe at all.

Ideally, your bathroom should have a central heating unit. If your home is heated with forced air and the basement is unfinished or has a resilient tile ceiling, extending a forced air heat duct would be an ideal solution. If the home is heated with hot water, a heated towel rack connected to the hot water system is a multi-functional creative solution.

If connecting to a central heating source is not an option, there are several electric options that are safer than an electric heater plugged into a socket. You might want to consider a toe kick heater installed in the kick plate of the vanity cabinet, a wall mounted or wall insert heater or a radiant heat panel mounted on the ceiling. If you’re going with an electric heat option, ensure the work is done by an Electrical Contractor Registration Agency (ECRA) licensed contractor and the work is inspected by the Electrical Safety Authority.

If this column has generated any thoughts or questions regarding a past or future renovation please send your questions to and look for our answers to your questions in the next Ask a RenoMark Renovator column. I look forward to hearing from you.

Lou Orazem is the owner and president of Inspire Homes Inc., a design-build firm specializing in projects in need of a design solution, from renovations, to house additions and custom homes. Lou has a degree in urban and regional planning from Ryerson. Follow Inspire Homes Inc. on Twitter @Inspire_Homes or check out their work at