Home Remodels: Alternatives to Permitting Process

October 21, 2022
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Refresh and Update vs. Whole Home Remodels?

The current state of your San Diego home may be far from ideal. Seeing that, you may feel that now is the right time to contact San Diego home remodelers and request their home renovation services. While remodeling could work wonders for your property, there is something you need to know about it first.

San Diego is quite strict about building projects. The county requires permits for any new structure you are planning to build. More often than not, a homeowner will also be required to secure a permit before they can proceed with remodeling their home.

As you have probably guessed, securing that building permit can be complicated and time-consuming. You will need to go through several steps to obtain the proper documentation, and there are fees you must pay as well. Do not be surprised if the process drags on for months.

If you want to get the work done on your home by a certain date, the process of obtaining the permit can mess with your plans. So, what can you do in that scenario? The answer could be to pursue separate upgrades. Instead of going for a whole house remodel, you can pick and choose certain elements of your home to improve.

Updating certain parts of your home will not require a building permit, so you, your local contractors, design build contractors, or San Diego remodeling contractors can complete those smaller projects quickly. Consider the alternatives before you commit fully to whole home remodels. Upon taking a closer look at your options, you may find that some select updates may suffice for your property.

Obtaining a Building Permit in San Diego

What is the process of obtaining a building permit in San Diego? That may be the question bouncing around in your head as you figure out what to do for your home. To help you decide on a course of action, we have laid out the process of securing a building permit in San Diego County below. Decide if you want to go through that process after reading the contents of this section.

  1. Prepare your documents: Before you formally begin the application process for your building permit, you should get some documents ready. These documents include your building construction plans and your project contacts information. They may also ask applicants to submit supplemental documents such as the hazardous materials reporting form and the high-piled combustible storage form. Consult with a San Diego home remodels company if you want to know the specific documents you need.
  2. Apply online: With the documents ready, you can now go online to continue the process. Head to the government website of San Diego County and follow the prompts until you get to the page for permit application.
  3. Provide your information: Next, you will need to provide your information to continue the application process. You will provide important details again after you get to the owner information form. Double-check the details you provide to ensure accuracy. The last thing you need is an error slowing down your application.
  4. Submit your application and pay the corresponding fees: Let’s combine these two steps here because you will be doing them right around the same time anyway. Submit your application to San Diego County and get your payment ready for the corresponding fees.
  5. Wait for the building division to finish reviewing your application: Now that you have submitted your application, all you can do is wait. This is the part of the process that can bog things down. The Building Division may need more than a month to review your application. You can expedite that process by paying certain fees, but the cost of your project will increase.
  6. Schedule a meeting with the building division: If your application is approved, you will have the opportunity to schedule a meeting with the Building Division. Make sure to pick a date and time that is wide open for you to eliminate the need for rescheduling.
  7. Meet with the building division: Lastly, you will need to meet with the Building Division and hear about the conditions they have for your project. They will give you the building permit if you agree to the conditions they set.

Types of Work in Which You Do Not Require a Building Permit

After learning about the process of securing a permit in San Diego County, you may have decided that it will require too much time. Right now, that is time you cannot commit to custom home remodels.

Do not worry if you cannot commit to that process. There are other ways to improve your San Diego property, and they do not need permits to complete. Let’s go over the building projects that do not require permits in this section of the article.

Detached Accessory Buildings

An accessory building is a structure constructed on the same lot as the main building. The uses of an accessory building are also incidental to the main structure. In this case, the main structure would be your home. Examples of accessory buildings you can have ADU contractors construct on your San Diego property include accessory dwelling units (also referred to as granny flats or ADUs) gazebos, patios, and sheds.

There are still restrictions on those detached accessory buildings if you are constructing them with a permit. For instance, the floor area for the accessory building must be no larger than 120 square feet. The building must also have no installations that require electric, mechanical, or plumbing permits. The detached accessory building must also be limited to a single story.

Fences and Free Standing Masonry Walls

Homeowners in San Diego County can also construct fences and free standing masonry walls without securing a permit beforehand. Of course, there are also restrictions imposed on those structures. You can construct a fence or free standing masonry wall without a permit as long as it does not go over six feet.

Building a fence or free standing masonry wall eight feet high is possible if it is open. Also, the uppermost two feet of the fence or free standing masonry wall can only be barbed wire, razor wire, or supporting elements.

Retaining Walls

Retaining walls can also be built without a permit. Remember, the retaining wall can be no taller than three feet. You will need to measure from the top of the footing to the top of the wall.

Painting and Papering

You are also free to paint your home whenever you like. The same goes for applying wallpaper. Since you do not need to get a permit before you paint your home or apply new wallpaper, that means changing the appearance of your home frequently is an option.

If you feel that a certain look has gotten stale, you can freshen it up rather quickly. Talk to some home renovation contractors if you want ideas for refreshing the appearance of your San Diego home.

Finishing Work

Improving the appearance of your home may require more than a fresh coat of paint and a new roll of wallpaper. You may also need to get some additional finishing work done to complete the new look you are going for. Plastering is a finishing process that protects walls.

Once it dries, the plaster forms a durable shell over the wall that can shield it from the elements. You should also consider glazing your walls to further enhance their appearance. Glazing makes walls more attractive by giving them a more noticeable sheen.

The glazing process can also smooth out the appearance of a painted wall. Obtaining a permit is not necessary if you plan to plaster or glaze your walls. Use those finishing processes on your walls if you want to improve their appearance in a hurry.


One more structure you can build without a permit is a deck. Remember, keep the deck to 30 inches or less above the finish grade to adhere to the standards.

Types of Work Requiring a Rapid Review Permit

In some cases, you can obtain a Rapid Review (formerly Over-the-Counter) to meet the requirements for your building permit. If you apply for this type of permit, they will review your building plans the same day you submit them. An over-the-counter permit will come in handy if you need to make urgent repairs. Repairs you can make with an over-the-counter permit include:

  • Plumbing fixture replacement: Get rid of leaking faucets and replace them with low-flow fixtures.
  • Window replacement:  Improve the way your home handles heat transfer by replacing your old windows.
  • Roof replacement: Shield your home interior from the elements and keep your energy bills down by installing new roofing tiles.
  • Furnace Replacement – Replace your old furnace and ensure that your home will stay nice and cozy through the fall and winter months.
  • Open your home: Open certain parts of your home and take advantage of abundant fresh air.
  • Kitchen/bathroom upgrades: You can quickly improve your bathroom or kitchen by making some key additions. New sinks, showers, and toilets can greatly reduce the amount of water that your household wastes. Upgrade your kitchen and bathroom cabinets if you need more storage space in those rooms. See San Diego bathroom remodeling, and kitchen remodeling for more information.
  • Flooring replacement: Do not overlook your flooring while you are coming up with ways to improve your San Diego home. You will be amazed by the difference that new flooring can make.
  • Improving hardscaping: Hardscaping introduces order to your yard and makes it easier to navigate. Build some pathways, walls, or flower beds if you want your yard to have more structure.
  • Door replacement: The doors installed on your San Diego home have functional and aesthetic benefits. Check out the latest door designs and see if one of them catches your eye. Install that new door on your home and instantly improve its appearance.

Consequences of Doing the Work Without a Permit

What happens if you continue a construction project despite not having a permit? Chances are you will receive some penalties. The penalties for working without a building permit can be quite harsh. We have detailed them further below.

Project Is Flagged

If you proceed with a construction project before you receive a permit, they will likely flag your project in San Diego County’s tracking system. Once they flag your project, the county may hold off on issuing your permit. Your project will become delayed further because you failed to wait for the permit.

Code Enforcement

The Code Enforcement Division based in San Diego works continuously to ensure that the active building projects in the area adhere to the county’s established standards. You must be certain that your project abides by those standards because you can face stiff penalties otherwise.

If you violated some rules while working on your project, Code Enforcement will issue you a citation and give you time to remedy the situation. Failure to take corrective measures after that will lead to additional punishment.
Code Enforcement may hit you with fines if you fail to comply. These fines can reach a daily maximum amount of $10,000.

The division may also follow orders handed down by the county to demolish your project. San Diego County may seek to recover costs once you finish the demolition. Also, the county may file civil or criminal cases against you due to your failure to follow the rules.

Inability to Claim Insurance

Any negligence claim you file with your insurer will likely fail if you did not secure a permit before work began on your building project. If something goes wrong during construction, you will pay for that yourself.

Home Remodels Contractor in San Diego

Home remodeling does not need to be a difficult undertaking. It certainly will not be if you are working with the right San Diego design build company. Here at Eco Minded Solutions, we will utilize the design build approach to modernize your home. We will use sustainable materials and follow green building practices to minimize the environmental impact of your project.

We will also build according to the best characteristics of your San Diego property. Reach out to us today if you are seeking remodeling contractors who can transform your home!