Building Permit FAQs
- When is a permit (residential and/or commercial) required?
- When is a residential permit NOT required?
- Where is the permit office located?
- What are the office hours?
- What will I need to obtain a building permit?
- When is a plot plan or new survey required?
- Can I, as homeowner, do my own work?
- How do I find a contractor?
- How much will my permit cost?
- How can I access the NC Building Code?
- Are there restrictions on availability of building permits?
- Can you tell me the process for obtaining a permit?
- How can I schedule an inspection?
- How can I contact my inspector to coordinate a time for an inspection that I've scheduled?
- How can I obtain a copy of my Certificate of Occupancy or Certificate of Compliance?
- How can I obtain a copy of my building permit information?
- How can I find out how many permits were issued?
- Do I need a backwater valve?
1. When is a permit (residential and/or commercial) required?
When is it necessary to obtain a building permit? Well, the answer is ALMOST ALWAYS! A permit is required anytime work is done on a building or structure, or the systems serving the structure (including plumbing, mechanical and electrical wiring) with a few exceptions, including the following.
The North Carolina State Building Code states, "No person, firm or corporation shall erect, construct, enlarge, install, alter, repair, move, improve, remove, convert or demolish any building, structure, or service system without first obtaining a permit for such from the Inspections Department having jurisdiction."
Effective October 1, 2016 legislation was passed that offers exclusions for certain minor activities in existing Residential applications. Although permits are not required for these projects, it’s still recommended that permits be pulled to allow Code Enforcement Officials the opportunity to ensure that the work being done, is in fact code compliant and deemed safe. See our Senate Bill 770 information sheet for more information.
State law requires that permits be obtained before beginning these types of projects (this list is alphabetical):
Residential Projects including but not limited to:
- Accessory Building or Structure
-deck (please refer to our Deck Design Assistant for helpful information)
-retaining wall (4 feet or greater in height or retaining more than 4 feet of earth in backfill)
-screened or open porch
-sheds greater than 12 feet in any dimension
- Adding or relocating electrical fixtures or components
-electric vehicle charging stations (please refer to our Residential Electric Vehicle Supply Guide for helpful information)
-lighting and receptacle outlets
-replacing surface lighting with recessed lighting
-under cabinet lighting (hard-wired)
- Adding, relocating, or repairing plumbing fixtures or components
-backflow devices (i.e., RPZ)
-ice maker water supply line
-sinks or lavatories
-thermal expansion tank
-toilets, bidets, urinals
- Bathroom exhaust fan
- Chimney repairs
- Close or seal crawl space (not for habitation)
- Converting a porch to a sunroom (adding glass or vinyl windows)
- Add or repair dryer vent
- Finishing or conditioning an unfinished space
- Fire sprinkler systems
- Gas line
-gas appliances (i.e., range, cooktop, dryer, etc.)
- Foundation repairs
- Heating and cooling systems and/or components
-air conditioning coil
-outdoor heat pump
- Home-based business (additional Town of Cary approval required)
- Installing an island or peninsula cabinet
- Installing an irrigation system – regardless of water source (See our Irrigation Guide for helpful information)
- Installing new windows and skylights
- Installing a swimming pool, hot tub, spa and/or required barrier (See our Residential Swimming Pools, Spas, and Hot Tubs Guide for helpful information)
- Interior and/or exterior wall demolition or addition
- Masonry fireplaces
-exterior, if less than 10' from any building or roofed structure or greater than 12 feet in plan dimension (length or width).
- Replacement of water heaters
Exception: in one- and two-family dwellings when there is no change in the location, size and heating capacity, fuel or energy source, or routing or sizing of the vent or plumbing piping, and the work is done by a licensed Plumbing Contractor
- Siding replacement (if replacing 1 complete side or more)
- Stairs and handrails/guardrails (interior and/or exterior)
- Solar or photovoltaic equipment
- Window replacement (if replacing entire frame)
- Turn on electrical power
- Open burning (please see Open Burning Permits on our Fire Code Enforcement, Fire Permits page)
Commercial Additions, Alterations and Repairs
Most all commercial work requires a permit. Here are some of the more common items questioned:
- Any exterior work
- Any changes to accessibility (ADA) features
- Change of occupancy (e.g. type of business)
- Change of tenant
- Controlled Access Systems (i.e., card access, electronic locking systems, etc.)
- Converting a residence to a business
- Irrigation (regardless of water source)
-monument or ground signs
- Temporary buildings (180 days or less)
-tents (permits issued through Fire Dept)
- Parking lot resurfacing or re-stripping
- Turn on electrical power (change of tenant)
While this law was meant to be all encompassing, some projects do not require permits from the Town of Cary.Contact
Inspections & Permits Department
2. When is a residential permit NOT required?
- Low voltage exterior outdoor/landscape lighting (plug-in only)
- Low voltage security systems (plug-in only)
- Outdoor fireplaces that are more than 10 feet from the main dwelling that is no more than 12 feet in any dimension (please refer questions for outdoor fire pits/fireplaces to our Fire Code Enforcement Division).
- Replacement of water heaters in one- and two-family dwellings when there is no change in the location , size and heating capacity, fuel or energy source, or routing or sizing of the vent or plumbing piping, and the work is done by a licensed Plumbing Contractor
- Replacement or repair of non-structural cosmetic building elements
-cabinets and casework
-floor and wall coverings
-foldings and trim
-roof coverings with the same materials
-window inserts (if not replacing frame)
- Residential accessory buildings that are no more than 12 feet in any dimension
- Replacement of electrical fixtures and components when work is not done within the wall or ceiling cavity or behind the finished wall or ceiling surface
- Replacement of plumbing fixtures when the work does not go beyond the trap seal
- Tree houses/play structures
- Fences less than 4 feet in height (NOTE: Contact the Town of Cary Planning Department for information on locations of fences)
Inspections & Permits Department
3. Where is the permit office located?
We are located in the lower level of Building B of the Town Hall Campus at 316 North Academy Street. Academy Street is the North-South street that intersects Chatham Street at the clock and clover design in the center of downtown.
4. What are the office hours?
The Permit office is open from 8:00 a.m.- 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Field Inspectors work from 7:00 a.m.- 4:00 p.m. and are typically in the office until 7:30 a.m. and after 3:00 p.m. daily.
5. What will I need to obtain a building permit?
For residential permits, one complete set of plans is required (two are recommended so that you have a spare set). A plot plan at a readable scale on letter or legal sized paper is also required, and an application must be filled out at our office. The application will require contractors' names, addresses, state license numbers, and Town of Cary privilege license numbers. The property owner will be required to sign the application.
For commercial permits, a completed application, four sets of complete plans, one site plan, a completed Appendix B from the Building Code, and minimum facilities calculations per Table 403.1 of the North Carolina State Building Code are all required. In addition, water system calculations for 2-inch meters or larger, sewer flow calculations and grease interceptor calculations are required if applicable.
6. When is a plot plan or new survey required?
As a rule, any time that the "footprint" of a primary or accessory building changes, a new plot plan and as-built survey are required. This includes decks, porches, and storage buildings. However, staff does have the authority to waive the survey if the construction is obviously not in the proximity of any setbacks or easements. Modifications inside the existing building shell do not require a plot plan or survey. See a sample Plot Plan.
7. Can I, as homeowner, do my own work?
Yes, an owner of the property can do their own building, electrical, plumbing, and mechanical work. The owner does not need to be licensed in any of these areas. State law requires that the property be the owner's primary residence for at least twelve months after completion of the work.
8. How do I find a contractor?
The Inspections and Permits Department has developed steps in helping you with your home construction project as well as finding a licensed contractor. Please visit the tips for Home Construction Projects page for more information.
9. How much will my permit cost?
The cost of a permit is compiled from several factors found on several different charts. These charts can be obtained through our Fees section. For most new construction permits, there are three main components: building permit fees, utility fees, and transportation fees. Building Permit Fees are figured based on square footage. Utility Connection and Water and Sewer Development Fees are based on the anticipated use of water and sewer services. Transportation Development Fees are determined by the type of construction project proposed. Please see our Fees Estimation Guide for more detailed help estimating the building permit and development fees for your project.
10. How can I access the NC Building Code?
Building codes can be obtained through the N.C. Department of Insurance at (919) 661-5880.
11. Are there restrictions on the availability of building permits?
There are currently no restrictions on obtaining building permits.
12. Can you tell me the process for obtaining a permit?
The process differs based on the type of construction project.
Residential Permits for small projects can be obtained using our SPOT (Small Project One-hour Turnaround) Program. Applicants can come in between 8 AM and 11 AM with all required information, and receive their permit within one hour. We will work with you to correct any problems with your plans or paperwork, while you wait. This saves phone calls and other delays, for both of us! Projects that can use this service include decks, porches, storage buildings, conversions of attic or basement space, and additions of under 500 square feet.
The plan review process for one- and two-family homes normally takes one to two weeks. During that time, your contractors' licenses are verified, your plot plan is checked for compliance with zoning requirements, and your building plans are checked for compliance with NC State Building Codes. If all is approved, you will be contacted to pick up your permit.
The plan review process for commercial or multi-family permits usually takes three to four weeks. However, commercial construction can be a simple fit-up, or a major shopping center. The more complex permits will require a longer review time. During the review process, the Fire Plans Examiner will verify life safety requirements, contractors' licenses will be verified, and plans will be scrutinized by building, fire, plumbing, electrical, and mechanical plans examiners. Any problems found during the process are faxed to the project contact for updates or corrections. Upon approval, two sets of plans are returned to the applicant.
13. How can I schedule an inspection?
There are several options to choose from in scheduling an inspection:
- Building Permits Online allows you to schedule an inspection via the Town's Web site 24 hours a day, seven days a week
- 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Mon - Fri via walk-in at Town Hall, 316 N. Academy St.
- 24-hour fax machine(919) 462-3840
14. How can I contact my inspector to coordinate a time for an inspection that I've scheduled?
In order to offer customers the ability to efficiently contact their inspector on the day of their inspection, the Town has created a web page where daily inspections and the assigned inspectors are listed. Customers are encouraged to visit the Who’s My Inspector page between 7:00 and 7:30 a.m., to get the name and phone number of their inspector. Then simply call the inspector directly to find out when he or she expects to arrive. While we make every effort to accommodate everyone's busy schedules, we cannot guarantee specific times for inspections. Actual arrival times vary, depending upon work load and locations.
Customers may also contact the Development Support Contact Center during normal business hours, at (919) 469-4046.
15. How can I obtain a copy of my Certificate of Occupancy or Certificate of Compliance?
If you need a copy of a Certificate of Occupancy or Certificate of Compliance that has already been issued, contact Customer Service at (919) 469-4046.
Certificates of Occupancy for current projects are typically processed within one to two business days following the approved final building inspection. We automatically mail a copy of each new Certificate of Occupancy to the homeowner of record at the time the original permit was issued, and the contractor (if applicable).
16. How can I obtain a copy of my building permit?
The Town of Cary Inspections & Permits Department retains building permit records in accordance with the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Division of Historical Resources, Archives and Records Section, Records Retention and Disposition Schedule (typically 6 years from date of project completion or as required by North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources).
To obtain building permit records, please visit our Records and Reports page.
17. How can I find out how many permits were issued?
Please visit our Reports and Records page for monthly building permit reports containing the following information:
· New Single-Family Permits issued
· New Residential Multi-Family Permits issued
· Residential Additions & Alterations Permits issued
· New Non-Residential Permits issued
· Non-Residential Additions & Alterations Permits Issued
18. Do I need a backwater valve?
To protect your property and your health, households are required by North Carolina Building Code to install a backwater valve if the home's plumbing fixtures are below the top of the first, upstreet manhole on the street.
A properly operating backwater valve allows flow to go in one direction only, keeping wastewater from entering your home during normal sewer system maintenance or sewer system backups. If sewage backs up into your home, the cost to repair and clean may be high, and the Town cannot be held liable for damages when a backwater valve has not been installed. For more information, please see our Backwater Valve information sheet.