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Bathroom renovations and building permits

Renovating an existing bathroom can throw up several surprises when it has been stripped bare ready for new makeover. This can include rotten bottom plates, floor joists even bearers and stumps. If that’s the case, what should you do and what work requires permits and approvals?

    Undertaking a bathroom renovation that does not include any structural alterations will not usually require an approval authority, council or building surveyor/certifier’s consent in most states and territories.

    The general wording of the national, state or territory requirements for when a building permit is not required is similar to what Victoria and Tasmania require, as follows:

    “Alterations to a building are exempt from requiring a building permit provided the building work will not adversely affect the structural soundness of the building and does not include the removal or alteration of any element of the building that is contributing to the support of any other element of the building.”

    What is structural work?

    HIA is often asked: what is considered a structural alteration? 

    In most cases, this would depend on the particulars of the work. These examples reference common queries associated with bathroom renovations.

    The regulations exempt maintenance work from needing a building permit, where it doesn’t involve “the removal or alteration of any element of the building that is contributing to the support of any other element of the building”.

    A common example of non-structural work involves the removal of a stud to create a niche in the shower wall or recessed mirror cabinet.

    It would be be easy to demonstrate this work will not adversely affect the structural soundness of the building provided there is no direct roof or ceiling load on the stud and it is not part of a bracing wall.

    If the wall is deemed non-structural, no building permit would be required to meet the intent of the legislation.

    To confirm the wall is non-structural, the roof space is required to be inspected. This inspection is designed to ensure loads are not carried by the wall. It could involve removal of the plasterboard from the wall to determine the wall is not a bracing wall and documenting what you find for future reference. 

    If loads are carried by the wall or stud or the wall contains structural bracing, the wall would be a structural wall and a building permit would need to be obtained.

    Rotten timber requiring replacement

    Conversely, consider a situation where a cosmetic bathroom renovation revealed studs, a section of bottom plate and floor joists that need replacement due to rot. As studs, bottom plates and joists carry loads beyond the immediate affected area, this work is likely not to be exempt from the need for a building permit.

    In this case, it is advisable to stop work, discuss the additional work required with your client and obtain the permit required to replace the damaged building elements.  You may also need to vary your contract to cover the additional work. 

    The relevant approval authority (building surveyor/certifier) will advise what documentation they require for the building permit/approval.

    Is a waterproofing system structural work?

    HIA understands that some warranty insurance providers do consider this work as structural for the purpose of the premiums paid. However, the definition of a structural member in the NCC is a component or part of an assembly which provides vertical or lateral support to a building or structure.

    A waterproofing membrane system does not provide vertical or lateral support to a building or structure and would therefore not be considered as structural work under the NCC. It is unlikely to require a building permit to meet the intent of the legislation.

    The following scenarios concern other common changes that can be encountered when renovating a bathroom.

    Scenario 1

    The existing ground floor window of 900mm wide x 1200mm deep (600mm from the floor) is to be changed to a full height window of the same width. As the jamb studs and the lintel don’t need to be removed to create a larger opening, there would be no structural element that would adversely affect the structural soundness of the building. It would be exempt from the need for a building permit.

    Scenario 2

    The existing window 900mm wide x 1200mm deep is to be increased to a 1800mm wide x 1200 mm deep window. This would require the removal of at least one jamb stud and the installation of a new lintel. Two trusses are supported on the external wall top plate and would require propping to support the roof load while the opening is being increased.

    As this element contributes to the support of other building elements, this work would not be exempt from the need for a building permit.

    Scenario 3

    A client wants the entrance doorway to the bathroom/toilet to be increased to have a clear opening of 820mm in line with the new livable housing provisions. Confirming if the wall in which the door is located is non-structural will determine if the work is exempt from the need for a building permit.

    Compliance with current codes

    In all cases, even though an approval may not be required, building work still needs to comply with the relevant building regulations. These include those outlined in the BCA that are applicable at the time the building work is being done, to the greatest extent possible.

    Other obligations

    In some muti-unit situations, fire walls or ceilings may be used which would trigger the need for building approval. If there is any doubt whether the proposed building work requires a building permit, always consult your building surveyor/certifier or approval authority.

    To find out more, contact HIA's Building Services team.

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