Renovating Without Permits | Is it worth it?

Creating a vaulted ceiling requires a professional's input.

With so many DIY stores, books and information available online, performing renovations to our homes has never been easier. Many people don’t realize that changing certain aspects of their homes requires a building permit.

We recently inspected an old rancher that was renovated inside to a high standard. The electrical and plumbing systems were all new, and part of the main floor was converted into an open floor plan with vaulted ceilings. It all looked very nice inside, however our inspector’s eye caught a significant detail… the post supporting the roof is not resting on the beam as you’d expect but is just mounted to the sides of two beams (see photo above). As this configuration is most unusual, it raised an important concern. Is the roof structure properly supported?

We advised the buyers to ask the sellers for a building permit, and none was available. Consequently, we recommended further evaluation by a structural engineer to determine if the roof supporting structure was acceptable. His visit confirmed our concerns, that is, the exposed roof beam and column support was not structurally sound and if anything, the beams were just holding the two walls together preventing lateral movement. 

How to ruin the structural integrity of a house.

The above just raises the question, what’s the difference between decorative and structural beams and columns? The difference is that one is load bearing, while the other is not. Structural support members are incorporated when the roof is initially built, and their removal or modification can significantly affect the structural integrity of the entire house.

Beams and columns should never be altered by a contractor unless the modifications are reviewed and approved by a technical expert. Contractors who make substantial changes to the structure of a house, such as converting an 8 ft flat ceiling into a vaulted ceiling without certified drawings, expose the client, themselves and any future buyer to an unacceptable risk.   

Permits are there for a good reason. Ignore them at your peril.

If you are a property owner considering a  renovation, make sure that your reno gets permits, which may include the building structure, electrical, gas and plumbing systems. Unpermitted work can be an issue with the municipality, the insurer and the future value of the house.

If you are a buyer and you are considering the purchase of a house that has undergone extensive renovations, be sure to ask the seller to see those permits and whether they have been closed out (or completed).  Hire a home inspector to help you assess the situation and recommend further evaluation if required. A 3-hour inspection is by no means exhaustive, but it will identify the major issues that you need to know about to make an informed decision.


Many so-called contractors are not licensed to perform the work that they propose to do for their clients. Unlicensed contractors may also not be able to obtain permits. The permitting process is there to protect the homeowner by assuring the work is done to an acceptable standard. A buyer of an extensively renovated house, done without permits, should have the risk of future failures factored into their final purchase price.