- 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?
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."
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 (four feet or greater in height or retaining more than four feet of earth in backfill)
- screened or open porch
- sheds greater than 12 feet in any dimension
- detached garage
- carport (other than temporary 400 sq. ft. or less Aluminum or Canvas)
- Adding or relocating electrical fixtures or components
- attic fans
- ceiling fans (unless electrical box is existing)
- electric vehicle charging stations (please refer to our Residential Electric Vehicle Supply Guide for helpful information)
- lighting and receptacle outlets
- microwaves (hard-wired)
- range hood
- replacing surface lighting with recessed lighting switches
- under cabinet lighting (hard-wired)
- Adding or relocating plumbing fixtures or components
- backflow devices (i.e., RPZ)
- hose bibs
- ice maker water supply line
- pressure-reducing Valve
- sewer lines
- shower pan
- sinks or lavatories
- thermal expansion tank
- toilets, bidets, urinals
- water lines
- yard hydrants
- 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 relocating dryer vent
- Finishing or conditioning an unfinished space
- bonus room
- crawl space
- Fire sprinkler systems
- Gas line
- fire pits
- fireplace inserts
- gas appliances (i.e., range, cooktop, dryer, etc.)
- gas grills
- gas logs
- log lighters
- Foundation repairs
- Heating and cooling systems and/or components
- air conditioning coil
- air handler
- condensing unit
- gas pack
- geothermal systems
- 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
- 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
- Solar or photovoltaic equipment
- Turn on electrical power
- Open burning (please see Outdoor Burning)
Commercial Additions, Alterations and RepairsMost 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
- wall 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 311 or (919) 469-4046
- Low voltage exterior outdoor/landscape lighting (plug-in only)
- Low voltage security systems (plug-in only)
- Outdoor fireplaces that are more that ten feet from the main dwelling
- 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
- deck boards
- floor and wall coverings
- foldings and trim
- roof coverings with the same materials
- trellis/pergola attached to the main dwelling or greater than 12 feet in any dimension
- replace windows and doors
- replace pickets, railings or treads
- 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 change the design or capacity
- Tree houses/play structures
- Fences less than four feet in height (NOTE: Contact the Town of Cary Planning and Development Services Department for information on locations of fences)
Inspections & Permits Department
311 or (919) 469-4046
We are located on the first floor of Cary Town Hall at 316 North Academy Street.
The Permit office is open from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Field Inspectors work from 7 a.m. - 4 p.m. and are typically in the office until 7:30 a.m. and after 3 p.m. daily.
Apply for your permit online through our electronic plan review site. You will need to set up an account if this is your first application. Upload your complete set of plans and a plot plan in a readable scale if required. Be sure to include all of your contractors' names, addresses and state license numbers.
Apply for your commercial permits, on our electronic plan review site. Upload a set of complete plans, a 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. These additional documents may be need to be uploaded, water system calculations for 2-inch meters or larger, sewer flow calculations and grease interceptor calculations are required if applicable.
As a rule, any time that the "footprint" of a primary or accessory building changes, a proposed plot plan and as-built survey are required. This includes decks, porches, and storage buildings. Modifications inside the existing building shell do not require a plot plan or survey. See a sample Plot Plan. An as-built survey is required if the proposed construction is within 5' of a setback, easement or buffer. The Town accepts existing surveys and hand-drawn site plans.
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 12 months after completion of the work.
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.
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 & 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.
Building codes can be obtained through the N.C. Department of Insurance at (919) 661-5880 or by visiting the Building Codes online.
There are currently no restrictions on obtaining building permits.
The process differs based on the type of construction project.
Remodeling, repairs, alterations, decks, porches, and many other projects require a residential building permit. Apply for your permit online and schedule a SPOT appointment or let your application go through the regular review cycle. The regular review cycle is approximately seven business days.
Eligible SPOT projects include:
- Decks, porches, storage buildings, additions less than 500 square feet.
- Interior alterations less than 1,500 square feet.
A plans examiner will advise the applicant if a project is too complex to be reviewed as a SPOT.
Both processes begin with your electronic application.
Effective March 17, 2020 – Remote SPOT appointments ONLY
As part of our ongoing efforts to keep citizens safe from COVID-19, we are asking our SPOT program customers NOT to come into Town Hall for appointments. Applications will be processed remotely.
Apply for your permit and schedule your SPOT appointment through the electronic plan review portal as usual.
Staff will review your permit remotely at your appointed time
Be available via phone for questions during your scheduled appointment time
You will be notified by email once your SPOT permit is complete
There will NOT be a permit card – the permit will be issued electronically
You’ll need to print your documents and plans and have them available on-site for the inspector
Please contact email@example.com with questions.
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.
There are several options to choose from in scheduling an inspection:
- Building Permits Online allows you to schedule an inspection via the Town's website 24 hours a day, seven days a week
- 8 a.m. - 5 p.m., Mon - Fri via walk-in at Cary Town Hall, 316 N. Academy St.
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 311Cary during normal business hours, at 311 or (919) 469-4046.
If you need a copy of a Certificate of Occupancy or Certificate of Compliance that has already been issued, contact 311 or (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).
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.
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
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.