Last updated on December 7th, 2022
If you’re planning to renovate your outdoor space, adding a pergola might be on your to-do list. One of the first questions you may ask is – “do I need permit for pergola?”
Well, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer as permit requirements vary by city and state. In many cases, you will not need a permit to build a pergola on your property, especially if it’s a small pergola or a freestanding unit. However, it would be unwise not to seek direction before you commence the project. You risk paying a fine or having your pergola pulled down altogether if you install it without a permit when the city or state requires one.
So, check with your local building department, council, or HOA for any building codes, zoning rules, and other applicable laws regarding pergola installation. This article will attempt to answer all your questions about pergola permitting as well as the requirements, considerations and how to obtain the permit.
What is a building permit?
A building permit is a type of authorization that must be granted by a government body to property owners, developers, or contractors before they can legally construct a building or carry out a remodeling project. In most cases, the permit will be approved by your city or county.
The main idea behind a permit is to ensure that your project complies with the local regulations and building codes for zoning, safe construction, and land use in the area. Thus building a pergola without a permit when it’s required can attract penalties later on, especially when the property is put up for sale.
Besides erecting a pergola, other activities that may require a permit include any new construction, changing the roof of your home, converting a room, adding or removing walls, adding new pipings, tearing down a section of the house, etc.
Is a Permit Necessary to Build a Pergola?
A permit may be necessary to ensure a pergola meets all the local codes once constructed. This is to ensure the building is secure and safe. As earlier indicated, it is unwise to build a pergola without a permit when one is required, as that could cause problems later if the structure falls or when you want to sell the property.
Some areas with lenient building codes do not require you have a permit to construct a pergola, especially if it’s a freestanding pergola. Freestanding pergolas do not impact the home structure, especially if installed many feet from the house.
However, if you’re building a pergola that is attached to the main building, chances are that you will need a permit. Besides safety, this is often required for insurance purposes.
So, make sure to check the zoning rules and building codes in your area before you embark on a pergola project or any other major home improvement project. Each city and state across the US have its own requirements, so it would be unwise not to seek counsel.
Depending on the pergola design and what you’re adding, you may need to get different permits, such as building permits, planning permits, electrical permits, or even HVAC permits.
Why Do I Need A Permit To Build a Pergola?
There’s a lot you stand to gain from having a pergola permit when it’s required.
First, a permitting process is there to prevent any safety issues in the future. It ensures the pergola is stable, secure, and complies with the building laws of the city or county. While a pergola may not look like a safety hazard, any building or construction that people will use is potentially dangerous and should not be taken lightly.
So, don’t be in a hurry to start building right away. Rather, you want to check with the relevant authorities to ensure what you’re building complies with local regulations.
Obtaining a proper permit for your pergola also helps to safeguard your investment. It would be frustrating to build a pergola only for it to be pulled down or re-installed after some time just because it’s not up to code. Besides losing your pergola, you would be incurring extra costs.
Besides protecting your property and interests, a permit also helps to reassure neighbors or anyone interested in your property that your pergola is secure.
What kinds of permits do you Need When Building A Pergola?
The kind of permit you need for a pergola will depend on your city or state. Some towns may require just one permit, while some may require more depending on the nature of the project. That said, there are two main permits often required when erecting a pergola or gazebo; these include a building permit and a planning permit.
As their name suggests, a planning permit covers the visual aspect (such as layout and design) of the project and boundary regulations, while a building permit covers how the structure will be built to meet safety regulations and local building codes. A qualified official might be sent to inspect your property before you’re issued a building permit.
If you plan to run water and electricity to the pergola, you may also need an HVAC/water permit and an electrical permit.
It might be best to hire a contractor to ensure things are done correctly. In fact, the easiest way to get it right with permits is to go through a contractor. A contractor will know exactly how to install your pergola legally.
Pergola permit requirements: State vs. County vs. City requirements
Pergola permit requirements are usually defined by local building codes. This often includes the maximums and minimums for most aspects of the pergola. A rule of thumb is to follow your local council requirements since they usually incorporate state-level rules. If your current city or county doesn’t have any specific code, then follow the state’s permitting requirements. In most places, the local council or building department will be responsible for approving your permit.
Some of the requirements often addressed in pergola permits include:
- Height: Some city codes limit the pergola height to no more than 12 feet from the ground. A higher point is recommended if the pergola is going to house a wood-burning fireplace or fire pit.
- Distance, Diameter, and Depth: The local regulations may also include details about the distance between posts, post depth, post diameter, the distance between beams, and the depth of the foundation.
- Design: The code may require you to use concrete footings if you’re installing a freestanding pergola. For an attached pergola, in most cases, you can attach the two support posts to existing concrete footings. With each installation, the goal is to ensure the pergola is stable and correctly supported.
- Span Chart: Most permit regulations will dedicate a large portion to the span map. This is a grid that helps you decide the correct wood dimensions to use. The span of your cover will determine whether you will need smaller or larger wood dimensions to bear the lowered or added load.
- Material: Most pergolas are constructed with wood, but aluminum is also a viable choice. Aluminum is attractive, cost-effective, and durable. The code requirements for aluminum structures are usually different from wooden ones.
How Much Does a Pergola Permit Cost?
The cost of a pergola permit will vary by location. In most places, it is based on the complexity of the building and the cost, as well as the square footage. The agency approval fees will also be included. Thus, the more involved or complicated the pergola is, the higher the cost of the permit.
Generally, you can expect to spend anywhere from 0.5 to 2.0 percent of your total pergola construction cost. It can be higher, up to 10 percent, depending on your local regulations. Most pergolas will cost around $1300 to $10000 to set up, depending on whether you opt for a simple design or a more custom design. From this, you can estimate how much you may spend on a permit, assuming it’s required.
But there’s no way you can be sure until you’ve interacted with your local officials. In most cases, the cost of getting a permit will be higher in big cities than in small towns.
If you decide to hire a contractor, they can help you secure the necessary approvals and permits for your project. The cost can be added to the overall cost of the project.
How to Obtain a Pergola Permit
There are two ways you can apply for a pergola permit – hire a contractor to get the permit or do it yourself. Of course, the easiest option, which is the option most people choose, would be to hire a contractor. But if you decide to do things yourself, the process is generally convenient. It basically involves filling out some paperwork and paying a small fee. Some inspections may be required depending on the kind of permit.
The requirements for each city will be different, but here’s a general guideline of how to go about the application process.
Start Your Search Online
To find information on pergola permits, start by searching online. You can simply search “do I need permit for pergola in [name of city].” [name of city] would be your current city or state. For example, if you live in Calgary, you can search for, “do I need a permit for a pergola in Calgary?”. Likewise, if you live in California, you can search “do I need permit for pergola in California?”
Once you enter this query on a search engine like Google, you will be shown a number of results on the first page. Look for your city website. In most cases, it will be a .gov website. You may also find helpful information on other sites, but your city’s official government site should be your most reliable source.
Most government sites will have the basic permit requirements and several links or phone numbers to contact on how to get a permit for pergolas.
Visit Your Local Council or Building Department
Once you have the correct contact, you can call or visit your local government agency or council. Make sure they address all your questions and concerns. Each city will have its own requirements. Keep in mind the local regulations, codes, zoning laws, and other requirements. This will enable you to know what to submit based on your municipality.
Provide all the paperwork
Once you know what you need, prepare the paperwork for submission to the appropriate agency, which could be your local county or building inspector. Have the building plan ready; it should contain the materials, measurements, location, design, and other any other thing you want to add to the pergola. You should be clear about what you want, so the officials can understand you better.
At this point, it’s very important to stay organized. Providing all the documents required will help to speed up the approval process. Finalize all the building specifications, including the measurements, materials, location, and design, before you proceed.
Hire a contractor
If you find the whole permitting process a hassle, you can hire a licensed contractor to take care of things for you. A contractor will be in a better position to ensure your pergola installation adheres to the building regulations in your area. In addition, he will help you secure the necessary permits. You can search pergola installer directories online to see if there’s anyone in your area.
What to Consider When Applying For A Permit To Build A Pergola
Know your pergola plan
Before applying for your pergola permit, you must have a clear idea of the pergola plans. There are many structures that look like a pergola but are not pergolas. These include arbors, gazebos, carports, and verandahs. Many people tend to mix these up. The clearer you are about what you want to build, the more likely you’ll get the required permit.
The main feature that can determine whether or not you will need a permit for a pergola is the roof type. So depending on whether you choose tiles, polycarbonate, mesh, or no roof at all, it will influence the considerations by local authorities. Also, whether the pergola is freestanding or attached to your existing building will influence the permitting process.
Checking if there are rules that favor the use of pergola kits
Pergola kits make things easier. They save you the stress of building a pergola from scratch and are more reliable in terms of safety and construction quality, which is why many city officials prefer them. Most kits will come with precut wood which might be prestained or not, vinyl, or some other material. The wood will be notched and drilled to save time. You will also find all the hardware you need to assemble the pergola in the kit. If you’re not using a pergola kit, some cities may require you to use a licensed contractor, or a construction test might be carried out.
Asking for exceptions
Don’t forget to ask the authorities for exceptions that can allow you to build a pergola without obtaining a permit. Try to review the building codes and guidelines and see if an exception may apply to your case. You want to exhaust all available resources before you get started with the project.
Sometimes, what may be required to change the permit requirements could be a change in the choice of materials or a modification to the initial design.
Do I Need a Permit for a Pergola if I Have an HOA?
If there’s a homeowner’s association (HOA) in your area, make sure to check their rules and regulations for building a pergola. Most HOAs will have guidelines and bylaws for building different outdoor structures. The requirements will be slightly different for pergola permits, but in most cases, the code will include things like height clearance and restrictions, distance from property lines, location considerations, and structure placement. In some cases, the organization will outrightly prohibit the erection of a pergola and similar structures.
What happens if you build a pergola without a permit?
Building a pergola without a permit can lead to problems down the road.
If a government office discovers the structure, you could end up with a fine or lawsuit. In some cases, the pergola might be completely demolished or moved to another location on your property, both of which would require you to spend more money.
Even if you’re not discovered initially, you will be caught when you try to sell the property. Someone from the local government office will come to inspect your property before you can be issued a certificate of occupancy. If they discover you erected a pergola or some other structure of note without any documentation, you can receive a fine. Or worse still, the pergola can be replaced or pulled down completely.
You can avoid all these by obtaining the proper permits and sticking to the requirements. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!
What other outdoor structures need a permit?
Generally, if you’re constructing any permanent outdoor structure, you will most likely need a building permit, especially if it’s attached to an existing building. Besides pergolas, other outdoor structures that might fall into this category include gazebos, arbors, carports, storage sheds, and detached garages. Depending on the size and your area, these structures might be subject to building codes. On the other hand, patio covers like pop-up canopies, tents, and umbrellas are not permanent structures, so they don’t require a permit.
To be on the safe side, you can call the building services department in your local council before building any structure in your outdoor living space.
FAQS – Do I Need Permit for Pergola?
Is a Soil Analysis Required to Build a Pergola?
This depends on your city. A soil analysis may be required if you intend to dig concrete footings for your pergola. In this case, a soil engineer will come and take a sample of your soil and test it to determine if it’s strong enough to support the pergola. In places like Calgary, a soil analysis is not usually required for a pergola.
Do kit pergolas require building permits?
This mainly depends on the pergola size, design, and how it will be assembled. Some kit pergolas that look more like tents and cover less area than regular pergolas may not require a permit. However, if the pergola is large and/or requires some kind of construction work, you will likely need a permit. But there’s no way to really know until you check with your city officials.
Where Do I Get a Pergola Building Permit?
Your local council or building department is usually the first place to look when you need a pergola permit. Another option is to hire a professional pergola company that will handle both the pergola installation and getting the correct permit if required.
Who Can Determine If You Need a Permit?
A licensed contractor can help you determine whether or not you need a permit for a pergola. You can also seek advice from a trusted real estate attorney or agent, or building inspector. Otherwise, check the building department in your municipality. Don’t just rely on advice from people or neighbors; you want to stay within the confines of the law.
Do pergolas increase home value?
Yes, they do. With the increasing popularity of outdoor living, the value of homes with a pergola has been on the rise. However, factors such as the pergola type, your home location, and the quality of installation will determine how much value is added. Generally, you can expect around 50 to 80 ROI.
To conclude, erecting a pergola may not require a permit, especially if it’s a small one or is installed away from the main building. However, attached pergolas may require a permit, especially if it’s of considerable size. A permit is often required to ensure the structure is safe and secure and complies with local codes and zoning rules. You may need more than one permit, depending on your pergola design and what you’re adding.
Each state or city has different regulations, so it’s up to you to find out what the requirements are for your area. This will help you avoid problems with the authorities in the future.
There are two ways to apply for a permit. You can either contact your local government office, or you can hire a contractor and let them handle the permitting process for you.
Let us know if you have any more questions about permit requirements for pergolas in outdoor living spaces. Until then, happy pergola installation!