Inspection Department, 1 Junkins Avenue, Portsmouth, NH 03801 Phone: (603) 610-7243 Fax: (603) 427-1593



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Frequently Asked Questions

Q: When do I need to obtain a building permit?

A: Taken directly from the Building Code: Section 105.1 Required: An application shall be submitted to the code official for the following activities and these activities shall not commence without a permit being issued in accordance with Section 105.1. New construction and general renovation work requires the issuance of a building permit.

General renovation is defined as work which changes the overall size of a building or portions thereof or which involves the creation of rooms or spaces which did not previously exist. Expansion of existing electrical, plumbing, mechanical or fire protection systems is also considered general renovation. Types of work which may be so classified are:

  • Renovating rooms such as kitchens and bathrooms
  • Additions of any size.
  • Enlarging existing structures, rooms or spaces.
  • Creating new rooms or spaces within a structure.
  • Structural changes or repairs.
  • Dormers.
  • Demolition of all or part of a structure.
  • Changing exits or exit components in any way.
  • New structures including sheds, gazebos, pools (above and below ground decks, garages, carports, tents, awnings, etc.
  • Above or below grade flammable and combustible liquid tank removal or installation.
  • Fire protection system work (See Chapter 9).
  • Changes in Use or Occupancy.

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Q: Do I need to obtain a building permit if I’m “just” repairing my house?

A: Taken directly from the Building Code: Section 105.2.2 Repairs: Application or notice to the code official is not required for ordinary repairs to structures. Ordinary repairs are defined as work which is associated with the normal maintenance of a property and which affects only the surface or finish characteristics of a structure. Types of work which may be so classified are:
  • Painting or wallpapering
  • Repairing floors or carpets
  • Repairing interior trim
  • Repairing cabinets or countertops
  • Repairing windows, doors or siding
  • Repairing masonry or roofing material
  • Insulating


In general, for a work element to be considered a repair or replacement, the item which is being repaired must already exist. The above items are intended to represent individual replacement or repair work. 

When one or more of the above items are included in general renovations to structures, then all such items will be included in the construction cost.

Ordinary repairs do not include the cutting, removing or altering of any structural beam, joist, rafter or bearing support, or the removal or change of any required means of egress, or rearrangement of parts of a structure affecting the egress requirements. 

Ordinary repairs also do not include additions to, alterations of, replacement or relocation of any fire protection system, water supply, sewer, drainage, drain leader, gas, soil, waste, vent or similar piping, electric wiring or mechanical equipment or other work affecting public health or general safety.

Exceptions:

  • Repairs or renovations made to the exterior facade of structures in the Historic District shall require a building permit application review by the Planning Department. When it is determined that Historic District Commission approval is required, then a building permit will also be required.
  • When the total cost of ordinary repair work exceeds three thousand dollars ($3,000).

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Q: How do I obtain a Building Permit?

A: Building permit applications are available from the front desk in the Inspection Department or here on the website. Applications must be accompanied by plans or sketches accurately showing the scope of work. In most all projects, a site plan, showing the lot of record, all structures on the lot and their sizes, and all set back dimensions from each structure. Also, the size of any addition and it’s corresponding setbacks must be show on the plan.

Most projects require a floor plan of the new work and in many cases, the floor plan should include the surrounding areas, as the addition or modification may impact those areas. When the scope of work involves structural elements, plan and section views of the framing will need to be represented on sketches or engineered plans.

Most residential projects do not require sealed structural plans. It is up to the code official, based on State Law, to determine when engineered plans are required. Plumbing, mechanical and electrical plans are required on a case-by-case basis.

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Q: How long does it take to get a Building Permit?

A: That depends.... Many factors enter into the length of time a permit application takes. Accuracy and completeness of information have a major affect on application review time, as well as the fluctuations in the seasonal work load. Incomplete zoning information can hold up an application for days, and this is the first review done on virtually every application. Therefore applications for residensial additions can take as long as one to two weeks to process.

Interior renovations to single family dwellings (SFD) bypass a zoning review, so with adequate building information, a permit should be ready in 2-3 business days. Electric, plumbing and mechanical permits, are usually issued “over the counter” when the installing contractor (or homeowner of a SFD), comes to secure the permit. On larger commercial projects, an adequate plan review period is needed, generally 1-2 weeks.

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Q: When do I have to go to the Historic District Commission (HDC)?

A: Only projects which lay within the Historic District Zoning Areas and which involve new construction or additions to existing structures and any changes that affect the exterior of a building. Exterior changes include windows and window treatments, doors, building trim and any building element that changes in kind, form or shape.

If your project is affected by one of these changes, you must file a separate HDC application and submit drawings and / or photographs of the work element. Manufacture's cut sheets also must be submitted. All information shall be submitted with eleven (11) copies. The Commission meets once month and the meetings are publicly posted and advertised. So plan ahead, it adds at least an extra month to the review process!

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