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Do I need a permit for a backyard shed in Augusta County, Virginia?

An in-depth look at when you do and when you don’t need to secure a permit for your backyard shed in Augusta County, whether you live rurally or not.

With over 960 square miles of land and roughly 75,000 residents, Augusta County is the second-largest county in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Established in 1738 from part of Orange County, it was named after Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, the Princess of Wales in the 1760s. 

Augusta County has a diverse economy, including manufacturing, agriculture, and tourism. According to the county’s website, manufacturing accounts for 30 percent of the jobs in the county. Augusta boasts over 1,600 farms with an average of 188 acres each, grossing over $143 million in 2006. And visitors enjoy biking, hiking, or driving the county’s many trails and scenic highways. In Augusta County camping, fishing, and skiing are enjoyed right alongside the craft breweries, wineries, food trucks, fine dining, and more.

Of course, if you live in Augusta County, you may know all this. But, because of its rural setting, you might wonder if you need a building permit for a backyard shed. After all, if you own 15 acres with no neighbors in sight, who’s to care? Well, the county building department, that’s who. 

No matter where you live, before building a structure, you need to make sure you’re complying with local zoning and building codes. These codes and laws are adapted for both safety and community purposes. They make sure that all structures, whether you live in them or not, are safe to occupy or protect their contents and that they don’t infringe on the rights of adjacent landowners. Sometimes, the law requires the homeowner secure a permit for the work to be done, even in rural areas. This post discusses the reasons behind permitting, what happens if you fail to secure a permit, and whether you need a building permit for a backyard shed in Augusta County.

Why are building permits required?

A building permit is like a permission slip. You submit your plans for work to the county, they give you a permit to begin that work, then an inspector comes to make sure the work was done according to the Uniform Statewide Building Code before giving you permission to use the space.

Depending on the size of the project, an inspector will sign off on the job at various stages of the work. This provides assurance that each stage—framing, electrical, masonry—is done correctly according to code. A simple backyard shed wouldn’t require so many visits from a building inspector but a garage may.

What will happen if I don’t get a permit?

Failing to secure a building permit for a backyard shed in Augusta County when required can result in some pretty stiff consequences. According to G.W. Wiseman, Building Official with Augusta County, the county has not adopted the same property maintenance code some Virginia cities have so their compliance is primarily complaint-driven. However, if the county receives a complaint about your outdoor structure, or notices something amiss while inspecting your neighbor’s place, you will receive a visit from a zoning compliance officer or building inspector.

If, during their visit, the officer deems your structure non-compliant with building or zoning codes, they’ll require you to purchase a permit. If the inspector finds issues with your structure, they’ll request an evaluation from an architect or engineer. This evaluation will be at your expense. If the architect or engineer finds an issue with your structure, you will be required to correct it, at your expense. 

Finally, if you go to sell your home in the future and the lack of permit is discovered, either because a Realtor reports it or through a title search, you will be required to secure one before being allowed to sell your home.

Do I need a permit for a backyard shed in Augusta County, Virginia?

That depends. First, let’s start with the myth:

FALSE: If your building is under 256 square feet, no building permit is required.

This common misconception is a half-truth. The whole truth is a lot more complicated. Here is the text verbatim from the “Exemptions from application for permit” section of the “Virginia Residential Code Requirements Pertaining to Accessory Structures.”

“One story detached structures used as tool and storage sheds, playhouses, or similar uses, provided the building area does not exceed 256 square feet (23.78 m2) and the structures are not classified as a Group F-1 or H occupancy.

Note the text in bold. If you intend to use your backyard shed as anything other than what is highlighted in bold, you need a permit. If you want a summer kitchen, guest cottage, in-law suite, backyard home office, or anything other than a tool or storage shed, even if it’s less than 256 square feet, you need a permit. 

What are the details?

This size exemption for storage sheds is only one part of the permitting puzzle. There are a number of other considerations. Primarily, a building of any size must be built to comply with Virginia Residential Code Requirements. If you’re building your own storage shed, it’s up to you to research what those code requirements are. If you’re buying from Byler’s, rest assured, we have that under control. But let’s look at a few code requirements that some other shed builders might not take to heart as we do.

Treatment of wood-based products—In some instances, the wooden components of your backyard shed must be either “naturally durable wood” like cedar or “preservative-treated in accordance with AWPA U1” or pressure-treated. What are those instances?

  • Wooden floor joists closer than 18 inches or wood girders closer than 12 inches to the exposed ground. Fortunately, all Byler Barns include pressure-treated floor joists and girders. If you’re shopping around, that’s a great question to ask other manufacturers.
  • All wood framing members that touch concrete or masonry exterior foundation walls and are less than 8 inches from the exposed ground. If you plan to set your building on concrete, you want to know this. 
  • Sills and sleepers resting on a concrete slab unless a moisture barrier is used.
  • Siding, sheathing and framing less than 6 inches from the ground or less than 2 inches above concrete or similar surface exposed to the weather. All of Byler Barns include treated wood siding.

Foundations and footing requirements—While your backyard storage building doesn’t require a permanent foundation, there are still a few rules to follow. The general rule from Section R403.1 of the building code reads:

“All exterior walls shall be supported on continuous solid or fully grouted masonry or concrete footings, wood foundations, or other approved structural systems that shall be of sufficient design to accommodate all loads according to Section R301 and to transmit the resulting loads to the soil within the limitations as determined from the character of the soil. Footings shall be supported on undisturbed natural soils or engineered fill.

Tool sheds under 256 square feet do not require permanent foundations but still need to be tied down for wind. Other exceptions include:

  • The building eve is under 10 feet
  • Floor level to grade doesn’t exceed 18 inches
  • The structure is anchored to withstand wind loads as required by code
  • Supporting structural elements touching the ground are level, on solid soil, and if wooden, preservative-treated.
  • The structure is constructed of light-frame materials or wood or light-gauge steel and not slate, tile, brick, or masonry.

When it comes to footings, if your building is greater than 600-square-feet, or has an eve height of greater than 10 feet, the footings must be below the frost depth for Augusta County of 24 inches.

What are the zoning permit requirements for a backyard shed in Augusta County?

A zoning permit is different from a building permit. Where a building permit has to do primarily with how the shed is constructed, a zoning permit regulates where the building is placed. Here are a few things Augusta County wants you to consider about zoning permits for sheds:

  • Every property is in a zoning district that has a classification (for example, General Agricultural, Single Residential, Multiple Residential, or Business). Each zoning district has its own “blanket requirements.”
  • Single Residential districts are broken down even further to include rural, single family, mobile home, duplex, and attached homes. 
  • A few blanket requirement for residential zones:
    1. Buildings must be set back at least 50 feet from any arterial or collector street and 20 feet from any right-of-way or private street.
    2. Setbacks for both rear and side lot lines vary depending on the size of the shed, the numbers of acres, and the zoning district.
    3. For details specific to your zoning district, visit the August County website.

Is there anything else I should know?

There are a few other items you may want to consider before signing off on a new backyard storage building.

  • If you want to rent a shed on a temporary basis, such as while your home is being remodeled or to store your things while moving, the same zoning and permitting rules apply.
  • Your storage building must be detached from the main house.
  • If you want electricity or plumbing, you need a building permit and a permit for the utility.
  • If your building is for commercial purposes like an office that the general public will visit, you need a permit.
  • Any garage used to store vehicles or gasoline-powered lawn equipment needs a non-combustible (concrete) floor that slopes toward the door.

For more information …

For more information about shed permitting in Augusta County, call the Building Inspection Office at 540-245-5717. Also, regardless of size, contact the Zoning Department at 540-245-5700  to ensure your proposed building meets setback requirements and doesn’t encroach on any easements.

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