In most parts of our country (and probably most other developed countries), it will be a necessity to acquire a building permit in order to construct a new barndominium, shouse (shop/house) or post frame home. Easiest way to find out is to contact your local authorities to find out if indeed this is your case.
Whether a structural building permit will be required or not, there is some homework to be done before ever considering contacting anyone to get pricing on a new building.
Don’t worry –this homework is not difficult and there is no final exam!
Call your local Planning Department.
If no Planning Department is listed when you do a Google search, a call to city hall, or your county courthouse can get one directed to proper authorities. Just let them know a new home is being considered to be constructed, and they will tell you what you need to do to satisfy any local requirements.
When planning folks are reached, give them the physical address or parcel number where your barndominium (shouse) being thought about will be constructed.
Tell them what you would like to build.
Approximate footprint size is a place to start. Let them know where on your parcel your new building will ideally be placed.
Ask your planning people what restrictions there may be on a new building. Is it limited in size or in height? Setbacks – how far away must it be located from other buildings, property lines, streets, sewer lines, septic systems or drain fields? Are there any other restrictions prohibiting your building from being constructed, such as amount of square footage of residence in relationship to garage/shop areas? Are there restrictions on roofing and/or siding types, materials or colors?
While a telephone call will often handle most of these questions, it may be necessary to draw a scaled drawing of your property. If so, this drawing should show all property lines, existing structures, your new proposed building, as well as anything else acting as a possible impediment. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but please do use regular sheets of plain white paper, and not your local coffee shop napkins or paper towels!
A personal visit to your Planning Department, with this drawing in hand, should help to get all answers needed, in order to move on to the next steps.
A hint – if told there are restrictions keeping your ideal dream building from being able to be built, ask what processes exist to be able to move past some or all of these “objections”. Sometimes it’s just a matter of filing for a special type of permit or “variance”, and having your local commissioners vote on it. You’d be surprised how many local jurisdictions have laws or rules which are “behind the times” and are happy to discuss changing them to better suit public wants and needs.
I’ve found some Planning Departments are allowed to administratively go “beyond the rules” right there at the counter, without a need for costly and time consuming hearings. One example is within Spokane, Washington’s city limits. The largest allowable detached accessory building within city limits is 1000 square feet, however if requested at the counter, this footprint can be increased by 10%, right then and there!
As my Daddy used to tell me, “the asking is for free”, so don’t be shy. Often a planning department official is not going to offer this information, so it’s up to you to ask lots of questions. If you see other buildings near your building site similar to what you want to build, you can bet someone else figured out “the right questions to ask”.