5 Safety Tips to Conquer Home Improvement Season

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May is Building Safety Month – just when you may start to wander the aisles of your local home improvement store, dreaming of updated outdoor patios, kitchens and other upgrades to a house or condo. But before you power up the electric drill, we’d like you to keep in mind these safety tips and how-tos.

Hiring a contractor, permitting and inspections will most likely be part of your plan, but you may not realize when or how. We are here to help!


Swimming Pools

Nowadays, the “kiddie” pools you buy are getting bigger and bigger. But did you know that any pool that is 24 inches deep or deeper needs a permit before use?


Pools can be a real safety risk, especially for small children. Building code requires that homeowners place a proper barrier around or over a pool of this size to prevent accidental drownings. So be prepared to apply for a permit and get an inspection before enjoying your summer of splash time. For more information about pool regulations, see our publication, “Pools, Spas & Hot Tubs” and the pools episode on the Code Talk podcast .


New Decks

The nice weather inspires many to increase their home’s outdoor space by adding a deck. Industry tells us the 2.5 million decks are constructed in the United States annually – and many in Fairfax are quite large. We’ve all seen stories about deck collapses in the news, so making sure your deck is properly permitted and inspected will greatly reduce that risk.

  • Most often, you or your contractor will need to supply plans for review before obtaining a permit for deck construction. Luckily, we have standard deck construction plans available to submit in lieu of a plan, making the application process easier.
  • If you already have a deck, be sure to maintain it regularly and inspect it often.
  • Many people are choosing to replace their aging wooden decks with one made of a weather-resistant composite material. Replacing a deck in this manner most likely will mean obtaining a new permit and getting new inspections.

Learn more on our deck web page and the Code Talk podcast .


Gas Appliances

Our inspection staff has a saying: If it goes “BOOM,” it needs a permit.

So — your gas fireplaces, furnaces, water heaters, dryers and ovens all need a permit before first installation AND when you need a replacement.

It may seem like a hassle, but the consequences of a faulty installation can be catastrophic.


Tree/Play Houses

When building outside play structures for your kids, just keep in mind the size. Anything over 256 sq. ft. requires a building permit. This is the same rule that applies to sheds and any outdoor “accessory structure.” Regardless of the size, if you are putting electrical or plumbing in this kind of structure, you will need trade permits.


Hiring a Contractor

Protect yourself when hiring a contractor. It is a big investment and there are some easy ways to make sure the person you hire is top-notch:

  • Verify the contractor is licensed. You can look them up on Virginia’s Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation website or call 804-367-8511.
  • Though you may obtain permits in your own name, we recommend that your contractor be listed on your permit application to indicate their responsibility for the work. Enforcement action against the contractor becomes more difficult if the permit is issued to the homeowner.
  • Make sure you read the contract before you sign and request a cost estimate.
  • Always ask questions for clarification. Check references and seek advice when needed.

We have a special initiative to protect older adults from door-to door solicitors who unscrupulously prey on vulnerable people with home improvement scams. Read more about the Silver Shield Anti-Scam Campaign .


More Information

Planning something not on this list? We have a new website, www.fairfaxcounty.gov/Plan2Build , that breaks down the permitting and inspection process for residential projects.



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