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Do I need a building permit for a shed in Rockingham County, Virginia?

Updated: Jun 4

An in-depth look at when you do and when you don’t need to secure a permit for your backyard shed when living in the country.

With over 849 square miles of land, and roughly 80,000 residents, Rockingham County is the third largest county in the commonwealth of Virginia. Established in 1778, large portions of the county fall in both Shenandoah National Park and the George Washington National Forest. 

Rockingham County is home to three institutions of higher learning and one four-season resort. Recreational attractions include golf, ice skating, hiking, and several caverns. Agritourism is huge in the county with several farm markets, vineyards, and orchards open to the public.

This rural setting might make you wonder if you need a building permit for a shed. Afterall, 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 to 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 shed in Rockingham County.

Why do we have building permits anyway?

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 happens if I don’t get a permit?

Failing to secure a building permit for a shed when required can result in some pretty stiff consequences. According to Joe Shifflett, Building Official with Rockingham County, the county has not adopted the same property maintenance code the city of Harrisonburg has so their compliance is complaint-driven. However, if the county receives a complaint about your outdoor structure, 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 will 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. Every time an inspector comes to your home to verify compliance, you will be charged an inspection fee.

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 building permit for a shed in Rockingham 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. “Because,” says Shifflett, “at that point it becomes a habitable structure.”

What are the finer points to consider?

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 Ulrich Lifestyle, 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 like 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?

  1. Wooden floor joists closer than 18 inches or wood girders closer than 12 inches to the exposed ground. Fortunately, all Ulrich Lifestyle buildings include pressure-treated floor joists and girders. If you’re shopping around, that’s a great question to ask other manufacturers.

  2. 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. 

  3. Sills and sleepers resting on a concrete slab unless a moisture barrier is used.

  4. 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 Ulrich Lifestyle buildings 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:

  1. The building eve is under 10 feet

  2. Floor level to grade doesn’t exceed 18 inches

  3. The structure is anchored to withstand wind loads as required by code

  4. Supporting structural elements touching the ground are level, on solid soil, and if wooden, preservative-treated.

  5. 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 Rockingham County of 24 inches.

What about zoning permit requirements for storage buildings in Rockingham County?

A zoning permit is different from a building permit for a shed. 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 Rockingham County wants you to consider about zoning permits for sheds:

  1. Every property is in a zoning district that has a classification (for example, R-1 and R-2 for residential and B-1 and B-2 for business). Each zoning district has its own “blanket requirements.”

  2. A few blanket requirement for residential zones.

  3. It must be set back at least 5 feet from the side and rear property lines.

  4. If the size exceeds 580 square feet, than it must be at least 15 feet from the side property line and 25 feet from the rear property line.

  5. Accessory buildings should not be placed in any recorded public easements or fire lanes.

Is there anything else to know?

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

  1. The same zoning and permitting rules apply to temporary structures, such as while remodeling your home or to store your things while moving.

  2. Your storage building must be detached from the main house.

  3. If you want electricity or plumbing, you need a building permit and a permit for the utility.

  4. If your building is for commercial purposes like an office that the general public will visit, you need a permit.

  5. 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 obtaining a building permit for a shed in Rockingham County, visit their website at

Also, regardless of size, contact the zoning department at 540-564-6063 to ensure your proposed building meets setback requirements and doesn’t encroach on any easements.

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