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Do you need a permit to build an outbuilding?

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Constructing an outbuilding can be a great way to make add value to your home and make effective use of the space in your property. But, before you get carried away, you need to make sure you do things by the book.

You might well need a permit before you can put up an outbuilding. This isn’t the case for every outbuilding project – but it’s best to assume that you might need one and check with your local authority so that you know you’re following the rules for your construction and your location.

Here are a few things to consider when it comes to outbuilding permits.

Which buildings require a permit?

Permission will depend on several key factors. These include:

  • size of the building
  • where you’re putting the building
  • specific rules and regulations in your state and county
  • purpose of the building
  • environmental impact

In general – the bigger the project, the grander your ambitions and the more expensive it is to make the more likely it is to need a permit. Putting up a small shed, greenhouse or playhouse will generally not require a permit, for example.

As a rule of thumb, anything under eight feet tall, and less than 160 square feet in area, should be fine. Again though, use this as a rough guide and double-check the specific rules to be sure.

Buildings that provide somewhere for guests to sleep are likely to be more significant. It’s also becoming more popular to create outbuildings as small affordable housing – but these dwellings have their own set of rules attached and should be treated differently.

How to get a permit

If you hire a contractor to carry out the work on your building project, they will often include the price of the permit when negotiating your deal. Always double check they have included the price and are requesting it themselves if this is the case.

If you’re building the structure yourself, you can start by calling your local building authority. They will want to see for a description of the project and will issue you with an application form (or forms) for your needs. This will cover the details of the construction – including plumbing and electricals if necessary.

You will need to submit this paperwork to your licensing office – along with any fees needed. Once complete, they will issue a permit certificate which you can display in a prominent place, close to where the work is being carried out.

Some structures may need to pass specific regulations, so be sure to read up on construction rules for your area, or more general engineering standards – like this guide for metal buildings. If you need your structure to adhere to building codes, you can also request inspections in some regions, to ensure the local authorities are happy with the quality of the work and can give feedback on anything they might consider to be ‘not up to code’ yet.

Can I ignore getting a permit?

You really should not ignore the need for a permit. While waiting for permission can be a lengthy process, it’s a necessary step towards getting your outbuilding constructed. (It’s also better to double-check and be certain that you don’t need one for a modest structure too)

Remember the risks of not getting a permit are far greater:

  • the permit will cost you more money to get sign off post-build – if you are allowed to
  • If a local authority finds out, they can also require you to remove the building, effectively rendering your project useless
  • If there happens to be an incident – such as a fire or a plumbing disaster that requires an insurance claim – then acting without a permit may mean that your insurance will not cover you and any damage or liability policies will be void
  • If you try to sell your home or property with an outbuilding and it is discovered in the buyer’s inspection that you did not have a permit, you can be prevented from selling and also asked to start the work all over again with the proper permits to ensure the structure is up to code.

So, for your next outbuilding project don’t neglect the permit stage. Check if you need one for your build. Size matters – more footprint and the likely answer is yes – you will need a permit.

Start your process with knowing and abiding by the rules in your area; now you know the risks should you choose to ignore the rules.

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