Home improvement projects can enhance a living space and provide a change of scenery, but a simple addition or renovation can quickly become not-so-simple.

Owners who aren't careful could find themselves in financial or legal trouble, which is easily prevented by checking with a local building department before beginning.

Two of the most common mistakes include starting work without a permit and failing to check a contractor's license, according to the Natrona County and Casper building departments.

"A lot of times they start constructing things and they don't have a permit for it," Code Enforcement Supervisor Shelley LeClere said. "And then it's illegal."

Improvements that are cosmetic, such as paint or decoration, do not require permission, but LeClere said everything else does. Everything from kitchen or bathroom remodels to fireplaces and fences all require a permit.

"People don't think about fences, but they do need a permit to put up a fence or to change a fence," she said.

Permits to change or install a fence are free.

For plans that involve outdoor additions, LeClere said owners also need to make sure the area zoning allows the project and ensure it does not cross property lines. Landowners of rental units also need permits for any renovation because of the public health and safety concerns that come with housing tenants.

Casper and Natrona County residents can apply for building, electrical, mechanical and plumbing permits at their respective building departments. Forms are also available online. Fees vary depending on project.

Doug Barrett, the city's code enforcement and building inspection manager, said the permit application process is fairly simple. After submitting the forms and a plot plan, which includes a simple drawing and material details, the department decides whether to approve the permit.

Inspectors only visit the site at an owner's request or to solve setback issues. Barrett said inspectors, electricians and plumbers are also on hand to answer questions during the permitting process.

"For a small fee for a permit, you can get some pretty good advice from guys that know what they're doing," he said.

For those who don't want to do it themselves, there is the option of hiring a contractor. Roger Currah, building official for Natrona County, said verifying the contractor's license is equally as important as obtaining a permit.

"There's a lot of nefarious types out there that will say they are, but people need to ask to see their license and make sure they are licensed in Natrona County," he said.

Currah said there have been some cases of unlicensed contractors doing "shoddy" work or accepting payment for a job that they never complete. He said owners should never take contractors at their word and should ask to see an up-to-date license.

Homeowners can also check licenses by calling either department or visiting the county's website.

If anyone has questions about a home improvement project, both the city and county building department staff encouraged people to contact them.

"We are more than eager to help out, make sure that they are doing everything the way it should be done, in a safe and healthy manner," Currah said.