Introduction to Building Codes and Building Permits

Blog Post
During the first week of Building Safety Month 2020 we'll learn about how building codes and permits benefit you.
In this article

What are building codes and building permits and how do they work?

Video on building codes and building permits. Closed captions are available by clicking the CC button on the video player controls.

What are building codes?

Building codes exist to protect our homes from natural disasters, electrical fires, and health and safety risks. Building codes are a set of rules for how buildings are built and maintained. There are rules for everything like what kind of materials you can build with and what the building is used for.

The core family of building codes includes the building code, this group of codes covers all things structural like the weight-bearing frame of a building. Then there's the plumbing code, the electrical code, and the mechanical code, like for heating and cooling systems.

What are building permits?

At the City of Portland's Bureau of Development Services, we make sure that buildings are planned and built according to the building codes. We do this by giving people legal permission to do the work they want to do. This legal permission to build is called a building permit. 

How do permits work?

A permit is a two-phase process. The first phase is Plan Review and the second phase is Inspections. 

When applying for a building permit you'll need to show the City what you want to build in a design plan. We'll look at your building plans and make sure they follow the building codes. You'll need to respond to any feedback we give you. Once your plans are City-approved, you get your permit; permission to start building! 

During the second phase of the permit process, you'll be required to schedule inspections at certain points during your construction like after the framing is up. Our City inspectors will visit the project site to make sure what you've built matches your City-approved plans. When you're done with your project the City inspector will come by for a final inspection to make sure your finished construction matches your City-approved plans. And if it does your permit will be finaled.

Resources for your project

  1. Define the scope of your project

  2.  Research and consult

    • Plan reviewers need to know the current condition of your project site. Research is recommended so you can find out if you can build at your project site and to see the property's permit history. If you don't have any records on your property, here are a few ways to get them:
      • Research your property's permit history for free online with Please note that PortlandMaps may not have all the records on your property.
      • For property records request go to GovQA.
    • How much will my permit cost?
    • For any project questions call or email us.
  3. Prepare your application

  4. Plan Review

    • The first phase of the permit process. We'll make sure your plans follow the building codes.
    • Respond to any feedback we give you. The feedback you give you is called a "Checksheet". A Checksheet is a list of corrections that you need to make to your plans.
    • Some plans need more time to be reviewed. You can check the status of your permit application with Make sure you have your IVR number handy for a faster search.
    • After your building plans have been approved and you've paid for your permit, you can start building.
  5. Inspections

    • Inspections are required to verify that work is being done according to code requirements and the stamped approved plans.
    • To schedule an inspection call 503-823-7000. Have your IVR number ready.
    • Due to COVID-19, our inspection procedures have changed.
    • If you previously had an inspection and need reinspections, please use our Remote Video Reinspection program for quick results.

Terms to Know

Building: A structure people use for shelter, living in, or having a place of business in.

Building Codes: A set of rules on how buildings can be built and maintained. They exist to protect people from structural failure, fires, and health and safety risks.

Building Permits: Legal permission to build. You must get a permit before you start building.

Building Safety: The protection of people from danger, risk, or injury when interacting with buildings. This can include safety during construction, when people are inside the building, and when the building is taken down.

Dwelling Unit: A single unit providing complete independent living facilities for one or more persons including permanent provisions for living, sleeping, eating, cooking and sanitation.

Inspection: City inspectors will visit your building site to make sure what you've built matches your City-approved plans. You'll be required to schedule inspections at certain points during your construction.

Life Safety: Addresses how to limit the dangers caused by fire, smoke, heat, toxic fumes, and other human hazards through proper building design and construction.

Occupancy: What a building is used for. Another way to think about it is what you can do in a building. Also how many people can safely be in the building at once. If you want to change what the building is used for or how many people can be inside it at once, this is called a Change of Occupancy. You'll need a permit for that.

Permit Issuance: When we give you a permit. This is done when your plans have been approved and fees have been paid.

Plan Review: To get a permit your building plans must be reviewed and approved by the City of Portland before you can start building.

Residential Permit: A building permit for projects involving one and two family dwelling units. This includes single-family homes, duplexes, townhouses, and detached accessory dwelling units (ADUs). Anything more than two family dwelling units, like a triplex, will require a commercial permit.

Structure: That which is built or constructed, a building of any kind, or any piece of work artificially built up or composed of parts joined together in some definite manner. Examples include buildings like your home, bridges and towers.

Building Safety Month

To check out the other Building Safety Month weekly themes visit