Permitting Guide

Guide to Building, Electrical, and Plumbing and Gas Permits

The Melrose Building Department administers codes relating to:

  • New Construction
  • Alterations to existing structures
  • Handicapped accessibility
  • Electrical Installations
  • Plumbing and Gas Systems
  • Sprinkler and Fire Protection Devices
  • Use and Occupancy
  • Zoning compliance and enforcement

Building codes are developed and enforced to protect life and property. The City of Melrose issues permits granted by the authority of United States Law and Massachusetts General Law. These codes and regulations are enacted to protect all of the general public, real property and emergency response workforces.

Permits and Permit Types

The Department of Inspections Services issues the following Permit types:

  • Additions
  • Antenna
  • Awnings
  • Carnivals
  • Certificate of Occupancy
  • Chimneys
  • Decks
  • Demolition
  • Driveways (zoning compliance only)
  • Fences
  • Fire Alarms
  • Fire Suppression Sprinklers
  • Foundations
  • Garages
  • Insulation
  • Mechanical Systems (HVAC)
  • New Construction
  • Parking Lots (zoning)
  • Pools
  • Roofing
  • Sheds
  • Siding
  • Signs
  • Solar PV or Thermal
  • Solid-Pellet Fuel Burning Appliances
  • Tents
  • Walls

Building Permit Applications

Permit application forms are available in the office. The city uses standard state issued and approved application forms with slight modifications to comply with local ordinances.

A complete building permit application will include specific information that differs between residential single/two family uses and other uses. The following shall be submitted for each application unless waived by the Director:

  • Owners name, address and signatures
  • Contractors identification, including Home Improvement and Construction Supervisors License
  • A current valid plot plan highlighting the proposed work
  • Manufacturers specifications of special equipment
  • Architects affidavits, if the structure is larger than 35,000 cubic feet in volume
  • Foundation permits shall include: heights of walls, dimension of walls and footings and strength of concrete
  • Fire rating of structural and egress materials
  • Design plans detailing: interior room dimensions, identification of rooms and spaces, stairs, door sizes,windows, framing-siding materials and elevations of structure.
  • Mass Stretch energy code compliance report of additions and new structures.
  • Accurate cost of construction, including all sub-trades including materials and labor.
  • Conservation and Historical approval
  • Decks applications shall include: lumber dimensions, column and footing sizes and type of concrete
  • Pools applications shall include: fencing and security alarm details, location of the pool on a plot plan

Owners of single and two family homes may apply for a building permit to perform the work themselves. Any owner that applies for and is granted a permit and then hires a contractor to perform the permitted work may not be protected by the Home Improvement Guarantee Fund. Owners of other than one and two family homes may apply for a permit but a licensed supervisor or architect must sign the permit and be on the job site to assume responsibility of code compliance and construction if and when hired.

Other Permits Issued by Inspection Services

In addition to the building permit the department also issues permits for new electrical installations and repairs, fire alarm permits, security systems, telephone and cable connections as well as plumbing and gas permits, fire suppression, irrigation back flow preventors, and underground propane piping.

Work Requiring a Permit

The City of Melrose is duty-bound by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, General Law Chapter 143; section 94, and CMR 780 to enforce and use The State Building Code as the only document that regulates construction.


  • New building construction
  • Additions
  • Repair, renovate or install new material
  • Changes in use
  • Demolition of structures
  • Certificates of Occupancy
  • Fire suppression
  • Alter or install a means of egress
  • New electrical installations or repairs
  • Plumbing installations or repairs
  • Gas repairs or installations
  • Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning installations

The application requires a permit fee that reflects the actual total cost of construction. A complete fee structure is available on the Building Fees page.

Notwithstanding the inclusion of the related trades into the cost of construction, a separate permit is required for each of the sub-trades which, in accordance with law, must be applied for and granted to only licensed professionals.

Exceptions to permits are ordinary repairs or the following: carpeting, sandblasting, floor sanding, painting, wall papering, pools under 2 feet in height, swing sets.

Melrose Zoning mandates that sheds, fences, driveways and retaining walls which are not regulated by code are required to be permitted.

Depending on the location of the property in relation to the Melrose Historical District and the proximity to wetlands the application process may include a review and decision by the Melrose Historical Commission or Melrose Conservation Commission.

Who files for a permit?

Several representatives may submit a building permit application:

  • The owner may apply for a Building Permit for 1 & 2 Family.
  • For structures other  than 1 & 2-family a licensed construction supervisor shall apply for the permit application and be responsible for the construction.
  • For structures greater than 35,000 cubic feet an architect or engineer must sign and stamp all drawings and submit an affidavit guaranteeing compliance of design and assuring that they will perform periodic inspections of the work.
  • A licensed contractor may apply for a permit for building construction with the owner’s approval and consent and with the attached affidavit and approved stamped drawings.

Fences, pools, roofing, wall signs, siding and window replacement are all regulated by code but depending on the use and size an unlicensed contractor is allowed to perform the work with a permit.

The owner’s signature is always required on a permit application. The signature provides evidence that the owner has reviewed the document, signed a contract in accordance with the Home Improvement Contractors regulations and validates the application.

Electrical permits may only be issued to a licensed electrical contractor. Journeyman electricians may apply for a permit, however, a journeyman may not employ nor allow others to install fixtures or wiring. Homeowners may not apply for an electrical permit. Because a permit can not be issued to an unlicensed homeowner, the inspector, in accordance with code, is unable to perform inspections on unlicensed work.

A licensed plumber must perform all Plumbing and Gas work. A Journeyman may apply for and be issued a permit. Homeowners may not perform any plumbing or gas installations.

Are plans needed to apply?

A plot plan is always required, especially when an addition or new construction affects the exterior lines of an existing structure and on all new construction. Plot plans are also require for demolition, sheds, parking lots, pools, driveways, filling of lots, retaining walls and fences.

The State Building Code requires a design plan for modifications of structures or new construction of buildings or homes greater than 35,000 cubic feet in volume. The code also requires plans to be submitted when any change to a structure affects a means of egress or fire hazard index.

In addition, when new construction involves the creation of a bedroom in an existing single or two-family structure, plans are to be submitted for assurance and placement of smoke detectors throughout the dwelling.

For installation of fire suppression sprinkler systems and cooking hood fire suppression, a registered fire protection engineer shall submit the design and plans for approval.

Generally when an architect has designed an addition, new construction, or remodeled a structure, or when a contractor has been retained based on a specified set of plans, those plans shall be filed with the application.

Where do I get a plot plan?

Plot plans are necessary to ensure compliance of zoning, environmental protection and fire protection. In accordance with the State Building Code plot plans are required for all new construction. In addition a plot plan is required for any construction or demolition that affects the open space or land area of a parcel.

Applications for new construction shall include a current, scaled plot plan drafted by a registered land surveyor. Those plans shall identify the owners, parcel and lot area, existing distances to lot lines, proposed distances to lot lines and proposed foundations and floors elevations.

In most instances the homeowner receives a less than acceptable version of a plot plan when they purchase the home. Usually specific language on those documents prohibit their use to establish lot boundaries. They may be used for general conversation and informational purposes.

All plot plans will carry the registration number, date of the survey, and seal of the Land Surveyor.

Do I need a variance to build?

Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 40A, is the governing legislation that controls land uses. Part of the law is a fundamental requirement that variances of dimensional regulations may only be granted to parcels that meet specific conditions.

During the process of application for a building permit, a review and determination by the Building Commissioner is performed for verification of zoning compliance of the lot and any existing structures and proposed new construction.

If the existing structure does not fully comply with the present zoning regulations then the legal definition of the property is titled non-conforming. As a non-conforming structure rights such as a change of use or altering the building lines may require a finding of the Zoning Board of Appeals.

When the proposed construction does not comply with the local zoning regulations, a building permit may not be issued.

Can a homeowner apply for a building permit?

In Massachusetts a homeowner is entitled to apply for and receive a building permit to construct or alter a single or two-family structure. When granted a permit the homeowner may perform the work. It is important to note that homeowners who apply for a permit and subsequently hire contractors to perform the work are not entitled to protection under the Home Improvement Contractors Guaranteed Fund.

Permits for structures other than single or two-family dwellings must be issued to a licensed professional. This is not to say that an owner is prohibited from submitting an application or applying for building permit. This means that an application for structures other than single and two-families must be submitted either by the owner, architect, engineer, or licensed construction supervisor. When the owner applies they must submit proof that a licensed supervisor will perform the work and be present at the site during all construction phases. If the owner hires a contractor, that contractor must be licensed.

The limitations for a homeowner are that they may only construct one single or two-family home in a two-year period. If the desire is to build more than one home within that time frame, a licensed professional must be the applicant and be responsible for construction.

To protect homeowners the legislature passed a law known as the Home Improvement Contractors Guaranteed Fund. This law protects homeowners who sign contracts and hire home improvement contractors who fail to abide by the agreement.

A HIC license is required on all jobs, which are valued at more than one thousand dollars.

Homeowners that apply for permits and then hire contractors to perform the work are not protected or guaranteed access to the fund. The HIC contractor is obligated to apply for the permit and to perform the work outlined in the contract.

Electrical and Plumbing/Gas permits may only be granted to licensed professionals.

How do I arrange for an inspection?

On the back of each building permit weather card are items that are inspected for code compliance. On the face of the card are the usual inspections of each inspector.

Generally the Building Inspector will perform as many as eight periodic inspections for things such as excavation, footings, foundations, frame, wall siding, chimney-fireplace, insulation, and final for occupancy.

Inspections by the Building Commissioner take place Monday through Thursday and must be arranged on the day the inspection is desired by calling 781-979-4135 between 8:30-10:00 a.m. The Commissioner and the contractor will meet at the site beginning shortly after 10:00 a.m. Late calls are asked to call the following day between those same hours.

The Wire Inspector’s office hours are 8:00-9:30 a.m. Monday through Friday. For inspections you may call 781-979-4134. The Inspector will arrange the best available time to meet your electrical contractor. He is a part-time official and arranges his appointments personally.

The Plumbing and Gas Inspector is a part time official. Office hours are 12:00-2:00 p.m daily. Inspections are made from 2:00-4:00 p.m. daily. To arrange an inspection please contact the inspector at 781-979-4136. In most situations both wire and plumbing inspectors perform three inspections on each project. Generally, they inspect underground services, rough, and finish work for compliance of their particular codes.

What is Required for Solar Installations?

Solar installations require building and electrical permits. Please see the Solar Permitting Checklist for more information.