Do I Need a Permit to Install a Pergola?
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Do I Need a Permit to Install a Pergola?

06/13/2019
Do I Need a Permit to Install a Pergola?

Patio covers (or “pergolas” as they’re sometimes called) are a fantastic way to freshen up the look of your backyard. Not only are they an attractive visual centerpiece, they provide much needed shade to make a back patio more livable. However, before you rush to your local lumber store or dig your first footing, you’ll have to get your permits squared away.

Here’s what you should know to make sure your new patio cover meets code requirements.

Yes, a permit is required for patio covers

First and foremost, you do need a permit to install a new pergola in your yard. Like all home improvement projects, the permitting process aims make sure that construction is safe and stable. It might be tempting to try to get away with not obtaining the correct permit, but you should never cut corners. Lack of a permit will come back to haunt you in serious ways when you’re ready to sell your house or, worse, if your pergola’s structure fails.

State vs. county vs. city requirements

One of the most common areas of confusion when it comes to patio cover permits relates to managing multiple jurisdictions. There are state codes, county codes and city codes—which one do you follow? The short answer: the most local requirement. State building codes are usually the most general. They set the standard for minimum safety requirements. Cities and counties often establish their own permitting rules, but those requirements can only be more stringent than state code; local municipalities are never allowed to loosen the rules.  If you’re within a city that has its own permit standard, you must follow your city-specific rules. If your city has no specific code, then you must adhere to county permitting requirements.

A good rule of thumb is to look for city requirements. If you find none, then review your county’s rules. If again you come up with nothing, default to the state requirements.

What’s in a code?

The majority of permit requirements are in place to ensure safety, so you should never skimp on permit obligations. Here are some of the most common aspects of pergolas that are covered in city/county/state codes:

Height – The highest point of your patio cover cannot be more than 12 feet from the ground. To ensure easy access under the patio, you must allow a 6-foot-8-inch clearance between the ground and the lowest part of the cover.

Span chart – The majority of most permit regulations for patio covers are dedicated to the span chart, which is a grid that helps you determine correct wood dimensions. Depending on the span of your cover, you’ll need either larger or smaller dimensions of wood to carry the added or lesser load.

Distances, depths & diameters – Additional information in the permit requirements will usually include distance between beams, distance between posts, depth of posts, depth of foundation slab, and diameter of posts.

Attached or freestanding: different requirements for each

If your patio cover is attached to a house or structure, in most cases, you can often attach posts to existing concrete footings. However, if you plan to install a freestanding pergola, the code requires you to dig concrete footings to ensure stable support. You won’t be able to attach your posts directly to an existing concrete slab.

Read More: Patio Covers: DIY or Hire a Contractor.

Materials & structural differences

Most pergolas are made from wood, but aluminum is an attractive, cost-effective alternative. Aluminum patio covers often have their own code requirements that differ from wooden structures, so be sure to check permit rules closely. Also, look for differences between requirements for enclosed roof patio covers and those with open air beams. Closed-roof pergolas essentially act as giant umbrellas, so they must be strong enough to withstand powerful upward wind drafts.

Obtaining the correct permit for your patio cover is not a difficult process, if done correctly. Save time and money by reviewing the code requirements for patio covers in your area before you begin planning or investing in materials. If you’re unsure where to look or unclear about specifics, don’t be afraid to ask. The staff at your local lumber store will be able to answer many of your questions. Or, reach out to the permit department of your city or county. They deal with this stuff every day and are usually happy to answer all of your questions. If you take the time to obtain the correct permits, you can be sure that upon inspection for safety and code, your pergola will be covered. 

Thinking of freshening up your outdoor space with a new patio cover? Visit your local J&W Lumber and we’ll help you get started.

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Annazette Shillings
Annazette Shillings
2 years ago

Looking To build a lattice

Fernando Borja
Fernando Borja
1 year ago

Does a Attached pergola requires a permit? Open top, not covered.
I see on one site that “YES” and in another site is “NO”, I’m confused. Please help.

matthew klein
matthew klein
1 year ago

It depends on your county requirements. Municipal doesn’t handle building permits. Usually it’s always a good idea to at least check.

Michelle Bayer
Michelle Bayer
1 year ago
Reply to  matthew klein

Great Advice Matthew!!!

Jaime A Gonzalez
Jaime A Gonzalez
1 year ago

I am planning to build a pergola in a back yard patio part of it is going to be attach to a retaining wall, is this is permitted?

Michelle Bayer
Michelle Bayer
1 year ago

Hi Jamie-
You would need to check with your local cities building restrictions. You may have to get a special permit for a situation like that.
Happy Building!

Jaime A Gonzalez
Jaime A Gonzalez
1 year ago

I’m planning to build a pergola and there’s a retaining wall, can I attach part of it to this wall?

Michelle Bayer
Michelle Bayer
1 year ago

Hi Jaime-
Thank you for reaching out, that’s a great question! It would depend on the stability of the retaining wall. Your best bet would be finding a local contractor and have them come out and look at your situation and see if it would be stable enough to support the weight.
Happy Building!

Jason Vincent
Jason Vincent
1 year ago

I would like a quote for a 10×20 free standing cedar pergola with covered top.

Michelle Bayer
Michelle Bayer
1 year ago
Reply to  Jason Vincent

Jason
We would love to help you out- please email us at prefcust@jwlumber.com or call our San Marcos location at (760) 727-1510 and we can help you out!
Happy Building!

Abraham Chaidez
Abraham Chaidez
1 year ago

the pergola is a free standing 10’x10’x10, wooden in palmdale california do I need a permit please Thanks

Michelle Bayer
Michelle Bayer
1 year ago

Hi Abraham-
Thank you for reaching out- your best bet would be to look on Palmdale’s local city codes and building guidelines, they should have your requirements listed there.
Happy Building!

Magdalena Karczmarz
Magdalena Karczmarz
7 months ago

Hi, I am planning to build cover pergola. It will be attached from house structure. The max high will be 2.80 from the wall and it will go down to 2.50. Do I need permission to build ?

briangonzales
Admin
7 months ago

Hello-
Building codes will vary from state, county, and city so we suggest you visit your local municipality’s website for more details. Try the search term “Patio Cover Building Permit” for your municipality.

Abe
Abe
7 months ago

Hello,

We are looking to build a free standing pergola 16×19 two posts, 3ft footing. is there a size limit in the city of hollywood for the size of the pergola? Someone mentioned in Hollywood it can’t exceed more then 200sq ft and I can’t imagine that being true.

Last edited 7 months ago by Abe
briangonzales
Admin
7 months ago
Reply to  Abe

Hi Abe: We have not seen any size limits in various city codes; however, we are not familiar with Hollywood’s building code.
Hollywood is a neighborhood within the city of Los Angeles, so it’s likely you would follow LA’s code, if that’s the case here are some links that my be helpful.

https://www.ladbs.org/forms-publications/2017-code-documents
https://www.ladbs.org/docs/default-source/publications/information-bulletins/building-code/attached-patio-cover-ib-p-bc2020-006.pdf?sfvrsn=c59aeb53_19
https://www.ladbs.org/services/core-services/plan-check-permit/types-of-permit-processes

You’ll want to check with your local municipality to ensure you have accurate information. Happy building!