Image from

Pittsburgh was a booming steel town for the better part of the 20th century, providing an influx of people, money and new real estate.  As these homes find themselves over the hill, or even the century mark, it leaves residents searching for ways to update them into this millennium.  As you drift off to dream of a new sun room or finished basement, it is also best to prepare for the building permit process.  One major step must be taken for each home renovation, however: obtaining a building permit.  Greater Pittsburgh has its own set of standards in place for the use of land and getting a residential building permit to change a home, so be sure to follow protocol.  Let’s discuss the permit process.

Before You Leave the House

When do I actually need a permit? According to the Pittsburgh Bureau of Building Inspection, individuals require permits “prior to the construction, enlargement, alteration, or repair of any building, structure, or part thereof.”

What if I am hiring someone? Regardless of whether you’re hiring a contractor or doing the work yourself, the building permit still is essential, even if the project is small.  Now, the contractor may help with the process, but it is important to know what the Bureau office needs.

  • Address of the job site
  • Owner’s contact details
  • Residential permit application
  • Deck worksheet, if applicable, indicating proposed size and material makeup
  • Check of money order
  • Building plot plan, in case an occupancy permit will be required
  • Construction plans, including drawings and blueprints, possibly signed by contractor
  • Contractor registration, if a contractor is to be used

At the Bureau of Building Inspection

Map of the pittsburgh bureau of building inspection

Using the map above, look for the public parking lot located east of the Bureau of Building Inspection on the Boulevard of the Allies. Once inside, use the map below to guide yourself toward the Zoning Office.

A diagram of inside the pittsburgh bureau of building inspection office

1.  Zoning Office.  Pittsburgh residents wishing to perform a remodel and obtain a building permit must start the process with the Zoning Office.  Different classifications of zoning exist in Pittsburgh, and this office will need to review your project plans to approve your permit eligibility and determine whether or not an occupancy permit is needed, too.  Occupancy permits are usually required when the building serves as more than a single family home and must be obtained before proceeding with the project.

  • As-of-right Development Approval: Building plans are in line with the city’s zoning regulations and the Bureau doesn’t need to take additional action
  • Administrator’s Exception Approval: The Bureau notes things in the building plan that do not strictly meet the established zoning code, however may apply exceptions listed in the code.
  • Special Exception Approval: The plan does not conform to zoning regulations or established exceptions and will therefore need approval from the Zoning Board of Adjustments prior to permit issuance and building.
  • Conditional Use Exception: The zoning hearing board may require conditions to be met for approval on special exception cases, which will potentially be approved by the city council after a hearing with the planning commission.

This is the File Room at the Pittsburgh Bureau of Building Inspection

2.  File Room.  Upon obtaining zoning approval, building permit applicants will have to head over to the file room office at the Bureau.  This office has one simple duty: to check and see if any code violations occurred on the applicant’s part.

3.  Engineer’s Counter.  Here is where your actual permit application will be taken from you.  If it’s easier, download the permit form online prior to going out for the permit and fill it out.  Otherwise, the application can be completed with the engineer or technician who is looking over your plans.  Sometimes building plans must be considered further, in which case they will be put into Plan Check and held for a few weeks prior to granting or denial of the permit.

4.  Licensing and Cashier.  Congratulations!  If you make it to the licensing phase, you’re well on your way to obtaining a building permit for your home’s project.  The only thing left to do here is to show the land engineer’s approval and pay for the building permit.   Sorry, no plastic accepted at the counter.  So, what’s this gonna cost me?  That depends on what you’re building.  Most homes would likely fall into the R2 category for single-family homes, R3 and R4 being for 2-family homes like a townhouse.

With permit in-hand, builders are free to begin their projects.  Different inspections of the job site may be required through the duration of the project, however, and builders must comply.

  • Footer Inspection.  When trenches are dug out and reinforcement is laid, an inspection may be conducted prior to placing a footer or pouring concrete.
  • Rough-In Inspection.  Any work done on the home involving wiring will require this, as it is an inspection of the wiring system.  This will have to be done prior to installing insulation and drywall over the wiring to ensure safety and functionality.
  • Final Inspection.  Once the project is completed, an inspector may wish to check the finished work, noting measurements from the building’s footing to the top of the wall.

Acquiring a residential building permit is a thorough process, but it’s all in the name of abiding by Pittsburgh’s land and building regulations.  When all is said and done, your project will be underway and soon you could be enjoying a new pool, deck, second floor addition or many other home upgrades!

About Adam Packard

Adam Packard has been a marketing professional for over 10 years. During that span he has spent time in the gaming, racing, entertainment and real estate industries. Outside of the office, he enjoys all types of sports, including basketball, baseball, golf & harness racing. He resides in Moon Township, with his wife Jackie and two sons Nicholas & Jacob.