Permitting a backyard shed in Henrico County, Virginia

An in-depth look at when you do and don’t need to secure a permit for your backyard shed in Henrico County, Virginia.

Named for Henry, Prince of Wales and oldest son of King James I of England, Henrico Towne was established in 1611 by Sir Thomas Dale with 300 settlers. In 1634, it became one of the original eight counties of the colony of Virginia. 

Currently, Henrico County covers 245 square miles with a population approaching 350,000 residents. The county surrounds the city of Richmond, the capital of Virginia.

Both residents and visitors to Henrico County enjoy the Chickahominy River to the north and the James river to the south. Richmond Raceway, located in central Henrico County, holds two NASCAR events each year. The Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens has something for everyone to learn about plants or just relax and marvel at nature. And for shoppers, there’s always the Short Pump Town Center, home to 125 stores and restaurants and host to a wide variety of entertaining events and activities throughout the year.

No matter where you call home, 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 backyard shed in Henrico County.

The Reasons Behind Building Permits

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 storage building wouldn’t require so many visits from a building inspector but a garage may.

Consequences of Not Securing a Building Permit

Failing to secure a building permit when required can result in some pretty stiff consequences. Generally, if the county receives a complaint about your outdoor structure, a zoning compliance officer or building inspector will pay you a visit.

If, during their visit, the inspector deems your structure non-compliant with building or zoning codes, they’ll require you to correct the violations. 

Finally, if you try 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, the buyer’s lender could make things difficult for the sale.

Do you need a permit for a backyard shed in Henrico 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 storage building 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. 

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?

  • 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.
  • 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 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:

  • 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 Henrico County of 18 inches.

Zoning requirements for storage buildings in Henrico County

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

  • The requirements for a storage building depend on the principle use of the property. Residential storage buildings are regulated differently from agricultural storage buildings, which are different from commercial storage buildings.
  • A few requirements for residential storage buildings:
    1. Accessory buildings and structures are allowed only in the rear yard unless a conditional use permit is approved by the Board of Zoning Appeals.
    2. They must be set back at least 10 feet from the dwelling, 6 feet from any other building or structure on the property, and 3 feet from the side and rear property lines. (Buildings within 5 feet of property lines may need to be fire-rated.)
    3. On a corner lot, an accessory building must meet additional setbacks from the side street.
    4. 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 shed in Henrico County.

  • The same zoning and permitting rules apply to temporary structures, such as while remodeling your home or to store your things while moving.
  • 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 zoning requirements for accessory structures in Henrico County, call the Permit Center at 804-501-7280. For building permit questions, call 804-501-4360.