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First, a short and personal story: in my early twenties, working, residential carpentry and construction in Seattle, I helped build a lookout tower that could not (by code) be occupied. We actually built windows rather than doors, and omitted a ladder, so it would pass inspection. Then, per the plan all along, the owner replaced those windows with doors, added steps and finished the tower and adjacent outdoor deck … all minor work technically requiring no permit.

Even without working around zoning restrictions and building codes, however, the possibilities are often surprising for those who take the time to research what is or isn’t allowed. SUB-PLAN is a book tackling exactly that topic.

Of particular interest is the line between what requires a building permit and what can be done without one. In many instances, a massive addition or significant modification is allowed without having to go through any red tape, simply because a chimney may be defined in a different way, or an extension might just fit within permitted dimensions.