Building Permits. The words alone can make home and business owners shudder with fear and shake in anger! The permitting process understandably makes many folks nervous: sometimes they don’t realize it’s a simple process, they worry permitting will be expensive, or they don't want the government meddling with the decisions they make about their own property.
At the end of the day, building codes are enforced for safety and the overall aesthetic satisfaction of the community. Building codes and the corresponding permit requirements are in place to ensure that plumbers, electricians and other tradespeople have clearly defined standards their work must meet, and zoning/building enforcement helps protect property values. Understanding the process for obtaining building permits and the benefits of enforced building codes makes the process of pulling permits much more approachable.
You may hesitate because of the cost of the metal building permit. Permit fees are usually determined by calculating the type of construction, steel buildings in this case, who is performing the work (owner or contractor,) and the material costs or estimated value of the completed construction. For the banditos and renegades out there - If you are thinking about just building and asking for forgiveness libertarians may commend you. However, the realists caution you. Usually the fines for building without a permit are double the original cost of the permit and you may be required to demolish or un-build part of your structure for inspections.
Improvements to your property will only add value if they are acknowledged by the assessor. For example, if you finish your basement at home the county assessor’s office may not reflect your added bedroom, bathroom and the all important wetbar in your property’s value if building permits were not issued. This is great for property tax assessments but not great when you’re trying to sell your property with a beautiful shop/storage building with a mother in-law apartment. If you don’t permit first, you may suffer fines and in the worst case you may never see a return on your investment.
Pre-Engineered Steel and other types of metal buildings are extremely versatile and useful for nearly any building application. A residential outbuilding, something many refer to as a “backyard work shop” or a “toy barn”, can usually be permitted and constructed by the homeowner. This applies to equestrian structures like stables and indoor/covered arenas as well. Applying for these types of permits can be quite affordable and easily accomplished. Typical steps for permitting residential and agricultural steel buildings are outlined in the text and links within this article. The focus here is on residential and agricultural buildings rather than the permitting processes and requirements for larger and more complex commercial or industrial projects. Qualified general contractors or construction firms should be enlisted to help with larger scale metal building projects.
The first step to determine if you need building permits for your project will be to figure out if you have a building authority and if so how to contact them. If you are in a city or town you should start there. Call the City or Town Hall and ask for the building department or let them know you are interested in getting a building permit. This information may also be available on line. If you are in an unincorporated area of your county you should reach out to the County Clerk’s office by phone or online.
What will you use your steel building for? Where is it going to be built? How big will your metal building be? These are questions that you will not only have to consider when budgeting for your project, but also for zoning and complying with the building codes. Essentially, zoning governs the size and density of structures, determines setbacks from property lines, limits building occupancy and defines the proper use of the land. We are using the term “zoning” in this portion of the article loosely. Much of what is being discussed is technically part of the local building code, however the broad definition of zoning is a good fit in this context.
Unless a variance is needed, which is rare, zoning should be the simplest part of the permitting process. Land that is zoned for single family homes, agriculture or a mix of agricultural and residential should not have restrictions on secondary metal building structures. Codes generally require, however, that non-agricultural buildings like metal garages and shops be no larger in square footage to the primary structure and no taller. Agriculturally zoned areas shouldn’t have restrictions on square footage. If you are in an area that is controlled by an HOA they may require secondary structures to be similar in color, overall architectural design and other basic features like roof pitch.
Additionally, areas zoned as residential will likely require a residence or another conforming structure to be existing, permitted or under construction prior to a permit being issued for a barn, shop or garage.
Simple observation of your surrounding area should be a good indicator of what is permitted in your area. If other properties in your immediate area have secondary structures, similar to your planned use then that is a good indicator your project will be permitted by the zoning rules and local building code.
Do you have the space? Keep in mind that you will likely have setbacks from your property lines. These setbacks can range from a few feet to more than 25, however a typical setback is 10’. Setbacks at the streetside of the property will likely be more than the sides and back.
You will likely not be allowed to build over or move any utility line that serves properties other than yours. This is rarely an issue and you should already be aware if there is a large gas pipeline or water main running through your property.
They will be able to direct you to the zoning information for your property. Counties and towns with larger populations may have an online map or search feature to help determine how your property is zoned. You may need to inquire in person. Secondary structures in residentially zoned areas and agricultural buildings like detached garages, shops and pleasure barns/arenas are usually allowed. While verifying that your property is zoned correctly for your project you should also inquire about your property’s setback requirements. This information should be published online. Setbacks determine how close you can build to your property line which will help determine the overall size, dimensions and location of your steel building.
While verifying that your property is zoned correctly for your project you should also inquire into your property’s setback requirements. This information is usually published online. Setbacks determine how close you can build to your property line. Which will help determine the overall size, dimensions and location of your steel building.
Your building authority’s website is the best place to begin. You should be able to find all of the information you need online. If you need help give them a call, or call Great Western and we can set you on the right path. An internet search with www.google.com or another search engine should yield results. For example: to find out about permits in Douglas County, Colorado just outside of the town of Castle Rock, (where the author of this article lives,) use the keywords “Douglas county Colorado building permits”. The first search result was a direct link to the building department’s page. From there the navigation is pretty straight forward.
In a matter of minutes you should be able to determine exactly what the building department needs in order to grant a permit to build your metal building no matter what state or county you are in.
The building department will be able to provide a list of all items that you will supply in order to apply for the permit. Most will provide a pre-made checklist for you to print and use and eventually turn in with your documents. Here is a typical list of documents needed for a pre-engineered steel building that will be used as a secondary residential structure.
**Please note the term “residential” is being used to mean anything built in a residentially zoned area, whether the building is a horse barn with a hay loft, a riding arena, a residence/house or your shop to store the camper and the Harleys. Building authorities refer to any building on a residential property as such. While a steel building may be more similar to a warehouse or commercial building rather than a residence or a house, the building authority will not consider it to be a “commercial” building.
Permit applications detail the specifics of the project to the building department. Be prepared to provide names and phone numbers, the address of the property, the type of construction, whether electrical, plumbing, and hvac will be installed, who is applying for the permit (owner or a contractor), and other information that varies between building authorities.
A site/plot plan will show the property lines and dimensions, the location of all existing structures/improvements and any proposed structures/improvements. Site plans normally need to be drawn to scale and include the legal description of the property. Site plans usually do not need to be created by a licensed architect or civil engineer. Great Western Steel Buildings will help you with your site plan if you are having difficulty.
You will need to get a map of your plot from the building authority. Some departments allow you to get them online and others will require you to come in, stand in line and pay to have them print the document. With this document you can recreate a map of your property. Sometimes building departments will allow you to draw directly onto the plot plan they have provided and will create a new official record once construction is completed. The cost of this may or may not be included with the permit fee.
The building plans provided by Great Western Buildings will be sufficient to cover all areas concerning the structure itself. Pre-Engineered steel buildings are considered “non-conventional” construction. This means that the building code alone does not give the building official enough information to ensure the building is structurally sound and properly built. That is why Great Western provides building plans that have been signed and sealed by a state licensed engineer. These drawings provide all details to the building authority and allow the building inspector to verify the construction has been performed in accordance with the Engineer’s design.
For Pre-Engineered Steel, Building authorities almost always require a foundation drawing that has been approved/created and sealed by a state licensed engineer. Great Western recommends the use of a local civil engineer for this work. However, if needed, Great Western can also perform this work with added cost. Whatever engineering company you elect to use they will need the engineered plans from the building supplier.
In some areas other documents may be required. An example would be properties in or adjacent to flood plains. You may be required to show that the building is above a certain elevation or provide a plan showing the dirt work that will be done to bring a building to a certain elevation.
If the building will have plumbing or electrical an additional plan may be required showing location of fixtures and junctions. Usually this type of plan is only needed for commercial projects. An inspection to confirm that the work is code compliant will usually be all that is required for residential and agricultural projects.
When building in pre-engineered steel or other types of “non-conventional” construction, (e.g. block buildings, brick construction, steel stud and even adobe or poured concrete buildings) you will need to provide engineered drawings. Many customers feel that they should not have to pay for engineering or building plans when they do not yet have a permit. The fear is that they will invest into the project only to be turned down by the building official.
Unfortunately engineering companies and steel building suppliers will not typically provide engineering and drawing services without payment for their work. However, with a little bit of research into the building authority’s rules you should be able to determine if a permit is attainable. Remember, if the zoning is correct and you have the space to build and you follow the rules, the building official cannot just arbitrarily refuse your right to improve your property.
Once you have completed your checklist and gathered all required documents you can submit your plans for review and apply for the building permit by paying the permit fee. Some building departments will break the cost of the permit into two payments. The first payment is usually only for review and the balance is due when the permit is granted.
The permit fee will need to be calculated and paid when you submit for a permit. The permit fee schedule should be available online or in the permit packet provided by the building authority. Calculating permit fees is usually a very simple process based on the cost of the construction.
If you have done thorough research and provided all of the correct documents there should be no delay in receiving your permit. However, you may be asked for more information or to correct some portion of your application. Typical reasons for a required resubmission are as follows:
Drawings not to scale or not provided in the correct format. You may be required to submit plans to a specific scale or page size or in a specific electronic file format, e.g. .PDF or .DWG. If the building department has requirements it will be listed in their permit application packets or in their online resources. Great Western Buildings will provide your building documents in any format required, and can usually help with other needed documents and drawings.
Non-conformance. If part of your application does not meet the department’s structural requirements you may need to resubmit. Building load and code year is a typical issue that arises. Prior to submitting your permit documents you should verify the building code year and the applicable loads. Great Western provides all drawings, as standard designed to the latest IBC Code year. We do this because nearly every building official, department or plans reviewer will accept newer codes than required. Some areas have only adopted the 2009 or the 2012 code, while others are still using older codes as minimums. If needed and only at your request, Great Western will provide any code year required.
Snow and Wind Loads are also important. These design load requirements are ultimately the customer’s responsibility to verify and can change from year to year. Snow loads particularly vary with slight changes in topography. Great Western does everything it can to ensure proper load requirements have been met/quoted/contracted but it’s always best practice to verify prior to the first submittal.
Once your permit has been issued you can begin construction. Periodic or Mile-Stone inspections will likely be required. Some building authorities have developed sophisticated user-friendly online tools to schedule inspections, others just need a call made for an appointment to be set.
Site Work and Foundation Inspection. Prior to pouring your concrete foundation an inspection will probably be required. The inspector will want to verify that the building location is as shown on the site/plot plan, that the building will have the proper elevation for drainage and that the foundation has the internal features required by the building code or as shown on the engineered foundation drawings. If your building is being built at the limit of the set-back it may be a good idea to hire a surveyor to verify the proper setback has been met. If the building is well beyond the setback minimum a surveyor should not be needed.
Primary Framing Inspection. While almost always required for commercial projects, framing inspections are rarely required for secondary and ag buildings. This inspection is usually performed post construction. If required the inspector will verify that all framing members are installed and that all bolts are torqued properly. Great Western uses the turn-of-the-bolt torque method which is outlined on the engineered documents for the building official/inspector so a torque wrench and other specialty tools will not be required.
Roof Sheeting Inspection. The building inspector will also want to inspect the roof sheeting for weather tightness and proper installation. This may be the final inspection and once completed a “Certificate of Occupancy” should be granted. Fortunately, because of the pre-engineered and prefabricated nature of our buildings a licensed roofer should not be needed.
Electrical and Plumbing. If the building has plumbing and electrical an inspection will be required. This inspection can usually be scheduled to coincide with the other inspections as work is completed.
Other Inspections. Depending on the use of the building other inspections may be required. Indoor horse training facilities will generally require inspections for safety and buildings that have HVAC systems or other mechanical systems will likely need inspections. Again, for the sake of efficiency these inspections should be coordinated to coincide with the other required inspections.
At Great Western we specialize in projects that are being permitted and constructed by the building’s owner and they are often by first time do-it-yourselfers. Great Western is founded to help end-users meet their building dreams affordably. The purchasing process is designed to help you succeed and provide the help you need along the way. Look into our project steps and timelines page to see how this support system works.
*All information provided on Great Western Building System’s website is provided for informational purposes only. Although every effort is made to present current and accurate information, local building authorities vary greatly by state, county, and region, and Great Western makes no guarantees of any kind and cannot be held liable for any outdated or incorrect information. Great Western assumes no responsibility or liability for any consequence resulting directly or indirectly for any action or inaction you take based on or made in reliance on the information or material on any Great Western Building System’s pages.