Do I need a permit to renovate my home in Ontario?

Home renovations are special passion projects that can transform your home, increase resale value, and leave you feeling more satisfied with your surroundings. However, it’s essential to remember that renovations done without a permit can be dangerous, even costly.

This is why I’ve put together a list of renovations that need permits and aim to answer “Do I need a permit to renovate my home in Ontario?” in this article. I will also share some ineffective ways to figure out if you need a permit or not.

Let’s dive in.

Key Takeaways:

  • You will need a permit if you’re making any structural changes to your home.
  • Pull-and-replace renovations that don’t affect the structure of your home don’t require a permit.

Do I need a permit to renovate my home in Ontario?

Yes, you do need a permit to renovate a home in Ontario under specific circumstances, according to the Ontario government (1). These circumstances are detailed under the Ontario Building Act and specific Building Codes for homes and renovations that they must abide by.

Acquiring a permit is a good starting point when considering where to start when renovating a home

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When do I need a permit for home renovation in Ontario?

To understand “When do I need a permit for home renovation?” it’s essential to consider if you’re doing structural work or not. I’ve listed below a few of the main home renovations that need a permit:

  • Structural work.
  • Plumbing work.
  • Basements.
  • Re-cladding.
When do you need a building permit?

Structural Work

Structural work is a type of renovation that needs a permit because it changes the floor plan and structural integrity of a home. Any changes made to the structure, like taking out a wall, have to ensure they are still supporting the load so the roof doesn’t cave in.

Some examples of structural work that needs permits include adding doors or widening the frame of a door and underpinning foundation walls.

“Any changes that transform your floor plan or footprint of your home needs a permit. Without a permit, you could face project delays and complications when selling your home,” explained Tim Parker, a financial journalist of Investopedia

I think of open-concept kitchens when I think of structural work, as they are some of the most popular ways to redo a floor plan. Permits are important here to ensure the roof is structurally sound.

An open-concept kitchen

An open-concept kitchen

Plumbing Work

Plumbing work is a type of renovation that needs a permit as it involves changes in moving water and sewage in a home. Changes to the pipelines must meet the Building Code so there is less risk of leaks and bursting pipes.

Some examples of plumbing work that needs a permit include relocating a sink, toilet, or tub. Other examples include making changes, extensions, or other installations with plumbing.

Pro Tip: It’s essential to keep in mind that repairing plumbing doesn’t require a permit as long as no changes are being made to the pipe in terms of location, size, or extension.

Basements

Basements are a type of renovation that needs permits due to the structures overhead. It takes a lot of building codes to ensure any changes to a basement keep the area safe for long-term use.

A few examples of basement renovations that require a permit are when a homeowner wants to finish a basement, create a second unit, and excavate the basement to create more headspace.

Re-cladding

Re-cladding a home with new material is a type of renovation that does require a renovation. This is because covering the exterior of a home in new material can affect the structural integrity of a home. The building codes also have to ensure the material is fire-resistant.

An example of re-cladding a home could be changing the exterior material of a home from siding to stone veneer.

“It’s always a good idea to check and double-check regarding needing a permit. Most cities have websites where the building department is online. There is usually an FAQ section attached that can offer further insight,” stated Lee Wallender, a Home Improvement Expert of The Spruce.

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What Building Code Renovations Needing a Permit Have to Abide By and Why

Knowing what building codes your renovation needs to follow and the subsequent permit can help you ensure that your renovation follows all the guidelines and is compliant during the renovation. Here is a table sharing some building codes that necessitate a permit for the renovation, and why they’re essential for your home.

Building CodeWhy
Rafters and beamsRafters and beams following the building code will ensure integrity in your home and prevent the ceiling from suddenly collapsing.
Headroom clearanceWhen installing stairs, excavating, or adding a roof or second level, there must be enough clearance so you don’t accidentally bump your head.
Direction of a door swingWhen installing doors, it’s essential that they swing in the correct direction so you aren’t pulling a push door in an emergency.
HandrailsWhen installing a staircase, it must come with handrails. This ensures safety so you don’t accidentally slip and fall.

I always find combining interior design and building codes a mix of science and art. Attention to detail is a must, but if it’s done well-executed, you will only see a renovation that is satisfying to look at and walk through and functions as it should.

Also Read: Where to Stay When Renovating a Home

What Renovations Do Not Require a Permit in Ontario?

Many home renovations in Kitchener and the GTA do not require a permit, as outlined by the city of Toronto, which are listed below (2):

  • Cabinetry or cupboards.
  • Decorations and fences.
  • Re-cladding a building with the same material.
  • Replacing windows of the same size.

Cabinetry or Cupboards

Cabinetry or cupboards do not require a permit, as no structural changes occur. Cupboards are attached to the walls and don’t share the ceiling load, so these  can be freely pulled and replaced without a permit.

A few examples of cabinetry replacement include upgrading the kitchen cabinets and updating the bathroom cupboards.

Kitchen cabinet installation

Kitchen cabinet installation

Decorations and Fences

Installing decorations and fences doesn’t require a permit, as no structural changes occur to your home. There is also no reduction in the safety of the house.

An excellent example of installing decorations would be lights or inflatable decorations. Fences can come in different materials when installed, like wood or wire.

Re-cladding with the Same Material

Re-cladding the exterior of your home does not require a permit if you’re simply replacing it with the same material. This is different from re-cladding with different materials, which does need a permit.

An example of re-cladding with the same materials includes replacing siding with siding or stone veneer with stone veneer.

Replacing Windows

Replacing your home’s windows, as long as they are the same size, does not require a permit. This is because there are no structural alterations happening. Structural alterations only occur if the windows being installed are larger in size.

I always like to remind clients that they can be as fancy as they want with custom windows as long as they stay within the same parameters as the previous windows. You can go as custom as hand-crafted stained glass, and it won’t need a permit.

Living space featuring window

Living space featuring window

What happens if you build without a permit in Ontario?

If you build without a permit, you could be fined or have trouble reselling your home. If you’re found illegally building under the Building Code Act, you could be fined up to $50,000. If it happens again, the penalty fine could go up to $100,000. 

Homes built without permits and the subsequent inspections will lack the necessary paperwork that assures the home is safe. This can make reselling a challenge, as this will turn away potential buyers.

Pro Tip: It is always good to check with your local Building office to see if your project needs a permit or not, even if your contractor says it doesn’t. It is always better to be safe than sorry and end up with a fine.

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Will My Contractor Take Care of my Permit Application?

Yes, in most cases, like if you’re working with Renowell, we will take care of your permit application. Contractors are well-versed in navigating the sometimes tedious bureaucracy of getting permits and will ensure the right ones are applied for.

After permits are acquired, contractors will typically also schedule and handle all the follow-up inspections that the building office will do. A good contractor will make it so the homeowner has to do as little as possible regarding permits.

Also Read: Cost of Renovation Per Square Foot

My Experience with Needing Renovation Permits

In my experience of figuring out what renovations require a permit in Ontario, I find clients usually have questions about this. Having years of experience renovating all types and styles of homes, I can gauge well which needs permits and which doesn’t. However, I always like to run my plans by the building office to be on the safe side.

Ineffective Methods of Figuring Out If You Need a Permit or Not

There are a few ineffective methods in figuring out what renovations require a permit in Ontario, which are listed below:

  • Making assumptions based on the renovation’s size. The size of a renovation sometimes won’t affect whether or not you need a permit. You could have a project to paint a whole house, but it won’t need a permit. Or, you could be adding a small extension to your pipes, which needs a permit.
  • Using outdated codes. Building codes often change from year to year to incorporate the latest trends in interior design. Using outdated codes could run the risk of your build not being compliant.
  • Skipping research. Research is an integral part of home renovation in Mississauga and the GTA, and skipping it may cause you to draw incorrect conclusions. Instead, research thoroughly about your home renovation and the permits you may need.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you need a permit to pour concrete in your backyard in Ontario?

No, you do not need a permit to pour concrete as long as you’re making a concrete pad on ground level.

What does not require a building permit in Ontario?

You don’t require a building permit if you are not making any structural changes or additions to your home.

Conclusion

Understanding “Do I need a permit to renovate my home in Ontario?” doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. As long as you know the difference between permit and non-permit renovations, which usually involve structural work, you’ll be well on your way to enjoying a successful, compliant renovation. Ensure you talk with your local building office about any renovation you may need permits for.

What are your thoughts on needing a permit to renovate in Ontario? Let us know in the comments below!

Additional References:

  1. Ontario (2023.) Building permits. Retrieved from: https://www.ontario.ca/document/citizens-guide-land-use-planning/building-permits 
  2. Toronto (2023.) When Do I Need a Building Permit? Retrieved from: https://www.toronto.ca/services-payments/building-construction/apply-for-a-building-permit/when-do-i-need-a-building-permit/