Permit Exemptions

There is specific work that is exempted from the Code entirely; this exemption means that the work does not have to comply with the USBC, usually because other governmental agencies regulate the work. This includes work by a publicly regulated utility, for example sewer and water pipes and power lines.

Factory Machinery & Playgrounds

Factory machinery is also exempt but not the electrical, plumbing or mechanical systems connected to the machine. Playground equipment is exempt, but this does not include inflatable kiddie rides or the rides you see at an amusement park.

Farm Buildings
Farm buildings are another exemption and possibly the most confusing; farm buildings are defined by the Code of Virginia as buildings on land where farming operations take place. The law gives a list of farming operations that seems to cover all the possible types of farming.

Here’s the tricky part; the exemption does not apply if any portion of the building is used for a purpose that is not farming. Remember, it is not the style of construction that determines if the building is a farm structure but the actual use of the building.

A pole barn used to store a Recreational Vehicle (RV) is not a farm building. Farm buildings are typically animal barns, run-ins, chicken coops and the like. Even though a building permit is not required for a farm building, you will still need a Zoning Compliance permit. The Zoning Compliance permit is for verifying that the new building’s location and proposed occupancy is allowed by the Zoning Code.

Additional Exemption Requirements
As confusing as that sounds, this next category covers work where the need for permits and inspections is waived but the work is not exempt from the requirements of the USBC. You do not need a permit, but you must still do the work just as the building code requires and the Building Department will pursue violations of the code even though a permit was not first obtained. These are the exemptions from needing a permit:
  • Wiring or equipment that operates at less than 50 volts, or for network powered broadband communications systems will not require a permit. However, there are exceptions to the exemption (you gotta love Virginia law). A permit is still needed for the following: fire alarm, detection and suppression systems, work in a plenum ceiling, systems that affect door locking arrangements and any wiring penetrating a fire rated wall, floor or ceiling. This seems to make sense because these are all the most important life-safety issues.
  • Detached 1-story accessory structures used as tool and storage sheds when the floor area does not exceed 256 square feet will not require a permit. We see this 1 abused a lot. An accessory building is the term given to a structure whose use and occupancy are directly related to and a part of the principle occupancy of the main building of the land. This exception is allowed in all but Factory and High Hazard occupancy conditions.

    Basically, you don’t need a permit if the land already has a primary building on it, if your use is for storage or tools and closely related to the occupancy of the main building, and if it is 256 square feet or less in area. An example is backyard sheds for lawn care equipment, including the type delivered to your property already constructed.
  • Detached prefabricated buildings housing the equipment of a publicly regulated utility service, provided the floor area does not exceed 150 square feet will not require a permit.
  • Tents with 900 square feet or less of area and an occupant load of 50 persons or less will not require a permit. This covers all tent structures regardless of what type of property it’s erected on. However, large tents or tents that will have more than 50 people inside would still need a permit.
  • Fences and privacy walls less than 6-feet high unless the fence is a barrier for a swimming pool will not require a permit. Tall fences create potential hazards from wind loads. The barrier for a swimming pool is typically only 4-feet tall but it’s designed to defeat an unsupervised toddler from gaining access - a self-closing and self-latching gate is required here.
  • Retaining walls, if supporting less than 36-inches of ordinary unbalanced fill, will not need a permit. This applies dirt where the differences of the height of the ground from 1 side of the wall to the other are 36-inches or less.
  • Swimming pools that are less than 24-inches deep with a volume of less than 5000 gallons and a surface area of less than 150 square feet will not need a permit. This allows for kiddie pools to be utilized.
  • Signs with conditions as described in Appendix H will not need a permit.
  • The replacement of above-ground existing LP-gas containers of the same capacity in the same location when installed by the serving gas supplier will not require a permit.
  • Ordinary repairs will not require a permit. Ordinary repairs do not include:
    • The removal or cutting away of any wall or partition
    • The removal or cutting of any structural beam or load bearing support
    • The removal or change of any required means-of-egress (exits), changing or adding any wiring or piping or duct work.
Ordinary Repairs
Ordinary repairs are not to include anything that affects public health, safety and welfare but reasonable work needed to maintain buildings. “Ordinary repairs” include the following:
  • Floor coverings or porch flooring
  • Replacing windows and doors
  • Same-for-same replacement of mechanical and plumbing appliances or equipment (unless fueled by gas or oil)
  • Electrical fixtures, outlets, switches, lights or ceiling fans
  • Roof coverings or siding (for most residential building types)
  • Repair of flooring, interior wall coverings/plaster or tile
  • Cabinets and painting
Additional Information
We hope this makes sense of what is a convoluted set of regulations. We would like you to know that permitting brings with it the experience of the Building Department at minor cost to you.

Our processes are fast and we try to be as user-friendly as possible. Should you have any questions regarding our policies or the code, feel free to contact us directly at 804-556-5815.