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One of the first questions asked about building a pergola is whether or not a pergola permit is needed.
Pergolas are open structures with an open covering that is not considered a complete roof. They do not alter your home’s structure. Their posts do not penetrate deep into the ground if they are not secured above ground. They are usually located in the back or side yard, with front yard versions that are smaller and placed over a front entrance gate. Therefore, a pergola does not usually require a building permit. However, we cannot offer legal advice, and every state & city has different requirements so please check with your local laws, building codes, and zoning rules prior to construction.
Said this, every state and city have different requirements. These regulations are related to things such as materials to use or avoid, structural integrity and, in some cases, minimum construction standards to follow. Please check with your local authorities any applicable laws, building codes, and zoning rules prior to construction.
Possible Kind of Permits Required
Depending on the state and city, you may need to have more than one permission.
First, you may need a planning permit. This one usually covers aesthetic aspects and boundary regulations that need to be revised before starting to make any actual building at home.
Working to get this permit has an added usefulness because it makes you go deeper into the budgeting, layout, and design of your pergola, since this information may be required to get it.
The other permit is the one you may think when you talk about permits: the building permit. This one may require a visual inspection of a registered official who will make a report to the authorities who will issue or not the permit for you.
But, why a permit?
Building permits are all about procuring safety and certain projects pose a greater risk than others, depending on the zone they’re made or the materials used.
A pergola may not seem as a public hazard issue, however, this cannot be taken for granted and just start to build it right away. It is necessary to check with the appropriate authorities because there may be risks we are not aware of or regulations that you need to comply.
It is much more likely if you live in an area governed by a Homeowner’s Association (HOA) that you will need to get clearance to build a pergola. HOA rules frequently restrict things like setback from a fence or structure and they are very particular about protecting property owner’s views.
Be prepared when you check with your local official
To ease the process of speaking with your public official or HOA, you’ll want to be prepared with your pergola plans. This means you should have your design, materials, measurements, location, etc. chosen ahead of time. Have the proper documentation and even pictures with you to show. The more clear you are about what the pergola will look like, the better they will understand.
For example, a typical pergola cover is not a roof, so don’t call it a roof. That is, of course, unless you are truly putting a roof on your pergola.
Another determining factor will be whether or not you are attaching to an outside wall of the house.
Have a clear idea of your pergola
There are very similar structures to the structure of a pergola and having the idea unclear may cause an issue when getting permits or even could mean the difference between needing a permit or not.
Carport image by RaBoe/Wikipedia under CC by-sa 3.0
Some of these structures are verandahs, carports, arbors, and gazebos. The characteristic features of each one of them are sometimes too similar to any eye, which is why is necessary to be able to differentiate them.
One of the main features that can make a difference in getting a permit or not, as briefly mentioned before, is the kind of roof your structure will have. Depending if your selection of roof is made of polycarbonate, tiles, a mesh or no actual roof; it will modify the considerations of your local authorities.
Ask for possible exceptions
On the same train of thought, don’t forget to ask your authorities if there is any exception that may let you build your pergola without getting a permit.
Check the building guidelines and codes of your location and look for the exceptions that may apply to your case to exhaust all the possible resources.
There are chances that by only making some modifications to your original design or your choice of materials you can be free of the requirements of a permit, making your building process less bureaucratic and more expedite.
Spending less money and time sounds like an appealing idea.
Do I need a soil sample?
Not normally, however, it is important to make note of the frost level in your area if you intend to secure the posts by digging into the ground and pouring concrete footings. If you have frost it is critical that the footings extend below the frost line to prevent upheaval and shifting of the structure.
What if I am buying a pergola kit?
Pergola Kits are an efficient way of building your pergola, and sometimes city officials prefer you use a kit rather than building a pergola from scratch. This is more out of concern for safety and construction quality from their perspective. For instance, some states require that you pass a basic construction test before being granted a permit to do any building on your own. Others may always want a licensed contractor to do any work. Many others require nothing at all which is why you should always check before embarking on any project. No need to waste time and money if you don’t need to!
Cities that require/not require permits
To have a clearer idea of how the regulations for building a pergola work, you can find below a list of cities who require or not permits for this kind of structure and a link to learn more about them.
In this way, you can start to study similar requirements that may apply in your city and have a head start in your planning and building process.
Cities requiring permits
- Calgary, Alberta, Canada (it is treated as an addition when it is an attached pergola)
- Boise, Idaho, United States
- Stafford County, Virginia, United States
- Los Angeles, California, United States
- Mointain Home, Idaho, United States
Cities not requiring permits
- Hume, Victoria, Australia (except if the pergola is located further forward than 2.5m forward of the front wall of the single dwelling)
- Maroondah, Victoria, Australia (except if the pergola is located further forward than 2.5m forward of the front wall of the single dwelling)
- Greater Dandenong, Victoria, Australia (a great example of the roof making a difference on needing a permit or not)
- Maplewood, Minnesota, United States (except if the structure is larger than 200 sq. ft)
- Tasman, New Zealand (criteria to meet in link)
- New Plymouth, New Zealand (except when it is a new dwelling, additions or alterations, if it changes the use of a building or if recladding with different materials and/or method)
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If you’ve decided that you really want to add a pergola to your property, then your next step is to check out our Guide to Building a Pergola in One Weekend.
- 5 Tips Before You Build a Pergola
- Site Preparation to Build a Pergola
- Pergola Plans – Free, Flexible & Easy to Follow
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