Frequently Asked Questions
If you’re a homeowner planning a project for the first time, the permit process can seem confusing. This page will provide information and tips to clarify permitting for you.
If you are a homeowner working on your residence, you may act as your own general contractor. This means that you may perform the construction work yourself and/or hire licensed subcontractors to work with you. Homeowners must get the same permits as a contractor would. If you intend to act as your own contractor, you will need to sign the permit application acknowledging your responsibilities as an owner/contractor.
If you have questions concerning your eligibility to work on a building, please call 406-258-3701.
The Health Department issues permits for septic systems and wells. There are no exemptions allowed for homeowners who do their own work. Septic systems can only be put in by installers certified by the Health Department. An updated list of certified installers is available online. If you are interested in becoming a certified septic installer, please call or email the Health Department.
Missoula County does not have certification requirements for well drillers. State law requires water well contractors and drillers to be licensed by the Board of Water Well Contractors. Review the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation’s Water Well Drilling for the Prospective Well Owner handbook and its list of licensed drillers/contractors for more information.
An issued building permit will be considered abandoned if 180 days pass and no work is done. An issued permit will expire at 365 days of issuance. You may request an extension by calling the Public Works Building Division at 406-258-3701.
A septic permit will expire two years from the issue date. A well permit will expire one year after the issue date.. A well permit holder may request a one-year extension by contacting the Health Department before the initial one-year expiration date.
The Missoula County Building Division was created to enforce state building codes in 2006. The county also began issuing land use permits in 2006, while zoning compliance permits have been required since 1976. Any work prior to these dates in Missoula County jurisdiction would not require a permit. Some commercial work may require a permit through the State of Montana. If in doubt on whether your building must be covered by a state building permit, call 406-841-2056.
Permits can be issued and inspections can be performed for existing work that was done without a permit that was needed. The process is the same as is required for new work, except that covered work will need to be exposed to verify that it was installed to code and according to the approved plans. The inspector will work with you to determine the extent of covered work that may need to be exposed. Review the permit fee information for details on any additional fees.
If a well or septic system is installed without a permit, the Health Department will direct the property owner to take the appropriate steps to obtain permits for the system or well, as long as the illegal system or well meets location and construction requirements. The Health Department charges three times the current permit and application fees if the system was installed without permits.
If your property is in a platted subdivision, you may be required to install a water source for fire suppression. Please check with Community and Planning Services about requirements for your specific property before submitting your permit application. If a system is required, your application will need to include additional information demonstrating compliance with your subdivision's fire suppression regulations.
Depending on your project, you may need to submit plans that label rooms in a structure. This sometimes results in confusion, because the Building Division and Health Department approach bedrooms differently.
If a space is labeled as a bedroom on plans you submit to the Building Division, it must have:
- A means of egress, i.e., a way to exit the structure in an emergency. Building code defines a suitable means of egress as a window that has an area of 5.7 square feet when open, with a minimum width of 20 inches and minimum height of 24 inches. The window sill must be no more than 44 inches from the floor.
- A smoke detector
- A carbon monoxide detector
The Building Division will verify these criteria have been met before issuing your permits.
The Health Department, on the other hand, must count any room that could reasonably be used as a bedroom, even if you don’t currently plan to use it as one. This is because the Health Department must make sure your septic system is sized appropriately for any possible increases in use.
In general, these features or qualifications support a space being designated as bedroom:
- Means of egress
- Area greater than 70 square feet
- Defined as a bedroom by an assessor or on the building plans
- Room is next a bathroom
- Room is on the second level but not a bathroom
- Room is in an accessory building without plumbing
Features or qualifications that may disqualify a space from being designated as a bedroom include:
- Room is obviously a kitchen, bathroom, living room, dining room, laundry room, storage room (without windows) or family room.
- Rooms with no door, large entryways, half walls or other features limiting privacy
- Low ceilings
- No source of ventilation or lighting from outside
- Rooms used as a passage to other rooms
- Open lofts that lead to other rooms
- Media rooms with sloped floors
- Rooms with mechanical facilities or laundry plumbing connections
- Room in a separate building that is not finishing living space, such as a storage shed or greenhouse
For more details on how the Health Department designates bedrooms, read Identifying Bedrooms to Determine Wastewater Design Flows.