So you’re thinking of putting up a gazebo in your backyard? Firstly – good idea, gazebos are great! Secondly – are you clear on whether you need a permit to do this?
Depending on where you live in the US, you may need a permit to build a permanent gazebo. In fact, you may need up to four permits based on intended usage: planning, building, running water, and electricity. Check with your local planning department and HOA before starting to build your gazebo.
In this article, we’re going to discover the intricacies of getting a planning permit for your gazebo, and look at the type of preparation and paperwork you’ll need to do before kicking off your project…
Do I Need a Permit To Build a Gazebo?
You are likely to need a permit to build a gazebo – but we’re afraid that it isn’t a simple yes or no answer! As always, the permissions you need depend on the gazebo’s size, features, location, and whereabouts in the US you live.
A gazebo doesn’t have walls, so isn’t technically a building. Also, it’s freestanding, so it doesn’t affect the size or looks of your actual home. So if it’s not a building or a house extension, surely it doesn’t need a permit?
Sorry, unless your gazebo is less than ten feet by ten feet (think kids’ play house size), then you will need to obtain a permit from your local permit office. Even if it is going to be a tiny, ten-by-ten gazebo, it’s still worth dropping the local office a line.
Before you set out to design and order your gazebo, think about what you want to use it for. This will inform which permits you need. For example, if it’s an “off-grid” gazebo with battery-powered lights and simple seating space, then it’s not too complicated.
If you need to install power and water for your dream outdoor kitchen, then you’ll need to do some more paperwork.
Is a Gazebo Considered a Permanent Structure?
Can you take your gazebo down without leaving a trace? If you can, it’s not a permanent structure. If it has a foundation base and services leading up to it, it’s a permanent structure.
In some counties and HOAs, you may even need permission to have a temporary gazebo in place over the summer. This article from a Dearborn MI newspaper shows how specific local yard regulations can be.
It may not be a building or count as part of your home’s square footage, but if it’s permanent, it’s permanent.
What Are The Permits Required To Build a Gazebo?
You may need a few permits in place before you install your new gazebo. In general, you could be affected by these four permits: planning, building, running water, and electricity.
Firstly, please check with your local permit office. Now, we know this sounds like an easy answer, but that’s simply because rules vary so much from county to county, that it’s quite tricky to generalize.
This isn’t local authorities going regulation-crazy – it’s because of factors such as the climate in different parts of the country. The building regulations in a hurricane state are going to be different to those in an area that gets a lot of snowfall, for example. (Stronger foundations in the first example, and a really tough roof in the second.)
Based on this, always start with an informal conversation with your local office. They can then advise you on what other permits you may need. Before your chat, make a list of your gazebo’s structural and internal features: this will help you discuss what permissions you might need.
Here are some questions to help you plan for that conversation:
- How big do you want the gazebo to be? How many folks need to sit in it?
- What’s it made from? Does it have a metal or canvas roof? How is it going to be fixed?
- Is the gazebo close to your home or further down the yard? (Top tip: if you need your gazebo to have services running to it, it’s easier and cheaper if it’s close to a building that already has these installed.)
- Is the planned location exposed to wind, rain, or snow? The permits clerk will know all about the general local climate, but won’t know whether the wind whips through your yard or not.
- Does it need running water? (This could be to service your state-of-the-art outdoor kitchen, or simply because you need a second hose pipe in that part of the yard.)
- Does it need electricity? If so, will there be solar installations, or cabling from the house, or both?
- Will you have a grill or fire pit in the gazebo (ventilation and fire safety)?
- Also, if you have professionals lined up to help with construction, electricity, and water, have their details to hand. It always helps to look organized.
Why so many questions? This is because you may need separate permits for the planning, the building work, the plumbing, and the electricity. Make sure you have all the relevant permits in place before you start the work.
How Do I Apply For a Permit To Build My Gazebo?
Now you know what you need, you can go ahead and apply for the right permits. But how do you do that? Again, it’s all about making contact with your local planning office.
If you know what you want and you’ve explained this clearly to the permit clerk during your conversation, they should be able to mail the right forms to you. Don’t start until you have your permits approved and returned.
If you live in an area managed by a HOA, please check with them as well. There are often very specific local rules that apply to your immediate neighborhood. These could affect the size, materials, appearance, and location of your new gazebo. They could even have a clause that prevents outside structures being built at all (some HOAs even refuse washing lines, so you may have to tread very carefully here…)
How Close Can a Gazebo Be To a House?
Typically, a gazebo can be up to three feet away from your house. But hey, guess what we’re about to say? Yes, how close your gazebo can be to your home may be down to local regulations. So, when you have that conversation with the helpful permit clerk, being able to explain where the gazebo is going is a really helpful point.
Draw up a plan of your entire lot, and show where the gazebo will be in relation to your home, driveway, services, access points, neighbors’ views and so on. Some folks have been known to install a gazebo right up to their home as a way of building a porch: this will definitely need a permit.
One of the reasons that planning officials and HOAs are so fussy about gazebo location is the impact this may have on the neighboring properties. Yes, your gazebo may be attractive to you, but it’s not necessarily the view your neighbors want to have.
If it’s close to your house, the gazebo may blend in more and be less obvious from other properties – or it could have the opposite effect if the homes are close to each other. For the sake of neighborly harmony, have a chat with your neighbors right at the outset of the project (even before you speak with the permit clerk) and get any concerns out in the open at this stage.
Do you want the gazebo to be close to your house? This depends on a few factors. If your yard is a modest size, you may not have much of a choice. If you want services to the gazebo, it will be an easier and cheaper job if the new structure is close to your existing water and electricity supply. Also, if your yard is exposed to the elements, the house walls could afford it some extra shelter.
However, if you have a larger lawn and like the romantic image of a landscaped gazebo at the end of the garden, go for it. It may be trickier in some respects, but it will add a lovely extra feature to your yard. (And yes, ask that friendly clerk first.)
So as it turns out – depending on where in the States you live, you may need up to four permits to build your permanent gazebo: planning, building, running water, and electricity.
Local planning authorities and HOA’s can be notoriously picky about what they allow and don’t allow, so make sure you’re clear on what you want from the outset and have completed all the relevant permit paperwork before breaking ground.
Let’s end on a positive note though – gazebos add a lovely outdoor space to your property that can be enjoyed by friends and family alike, so best of luck with your gazebo building project. All the paperwork will be well worth it in the end! 🙂
Homeowner and property investor Larry James founded Take a Yard in 2020 to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >