Construction Services & Inspections

Frequently Asked Questions about Residential Projects

An owner occupant of a single-family home can perform nearly all work associated with the maintenance and renovation of the home.  This includes most building, plumbing, electrical, and mechanical work. 

If the homeowner is building a new single family home, the plumbing work must be performed by a licensed plumbing contractor until such time as the homeowner can occupy the home.  Outside plumbing must be performed by a licensed contractor.

The homeowner may perform electrical work on the house side of the main breaker in the service panel.  Work on the exterior side of the main breaker must be performed by a licensed electrical contractor.

Owner occupants of multi-family residential structures should call us to clarify what work needs to be performed by licensed contractors.

The better question might be, “What work doesn’t require a permit?” Work not requiring permits are things like painting, cupboards, countertops, floor coverings, most appliance installation (installation of gas appliances does require a permit to connect to the gas piping), or generally, things considered to be finish work. Click here for a comprehensive list of work that does not require a permit.

In general, any plumbing work that alters the water supply, including replacement or installation of fixtures (sinks, showers, tubs, etc), water heaters, backflow preventers, or gas piping, requires a permit. Reconnection of a dishwasher, icemaker, faucet, or toilet does not require a permit as long as the existing water supply is not altered.

Replacing light fixtures, light switches, or outlets like for like does not require a permit.  Installing new light fixtures, switches, outlets, circuits, etc. does require a permit.  A good rule of thumb is if wire is being cut into, new wire being added to the system, or you’re removing the cover to your service panel, you will need a permit. 

For building work, alterations impacting more than half a sheet of drywall require a building permit.  Window and door replacement, roofing, siding, framing walls, insulation and vapor barrier installation, structural alterations, foundation repair, decks, porches, etc., all require permits. 

These are some of the most common maintenance items requiring permits.  It’s not intended to be all-inclusive.  Call with any questions!

Generally speaking, any plumbing that is touched, needs to be brought up to code.  Any electrical that is exposed, needs to be brought up to code.

It is unlikely you will need an architect to design your residential project.  You may choose to contract with a drafter/designer to help you produce drawings.  In some cases, when the building code can’t prescriptively address the design, you may be required to provide engineering submittals.  Please see the handout here that speaks to when a design professional is needed.

The State of Minnesota requires that site plans for various projects must be tied to a legal boundary survey.  If the homeowner can locate at least three property corners on the property (for most lots within the City of Duluth), and provide a copy of the legal boundary survey, no new survey will be required.  In most cases, if these items are not available, a survey will be required.  Please click here for our survey handout, and call to discuss your project.

Shipping containers are not permitted in residential zones, aside from potential temporary use requiring Planning approval.

The setbacks to the home from the front and rear property lines are 25’.  The setback to the side property lines is 6’, unless your lot is a corner lot, in which case, the setback from the side street is 15’.  For the detached garage, the setbacks are 5’ from the rear and side property lines (or 20’ from the side street on a corner lot).  Detached garages cannot be situated in front of the home.  Click here for all the zone district setback information.

In addition to setback information per zone, there are also specific uses permitted in each zone district.  Click here to find the permitted use table, broken out by zone district.