From time to time we answer reader’s questions. Building codes, and where to live where there are Few or No Building Codes so as to reduce construction costs, is our #1 most popular topic.
Q: I’m thinking about building a 120 sq. ft. structure as a home to get around the building codes. In my area, sheds of this size don’t need building permits. What are your thoughts?
A: I am not at my desk at the moment so not able to view the code, but I’ll take a stab. To get it permitted as a residence under the IBC or IRC you need to have basic services such as water, power, waste disposal, etc. Without these things there is no building dept that will issue a permit for this as a residence. This specific provision is to allow non-occupied structures to be built that are very small. Obviously the intent of the provision is to make it easy for folks to build a shed or unoccupied structure. You guys are not the first to have this discussion. Also, it would make little sense to hook up to utilities or put in a septic for something so small. The minimum costs of those services would lead you to a different conclusion.
Once you add services, it will require a permit. That is my opinion, not what I am reading in the code. Again, there is no building dept that will let you slide without a permit if services are intended to be hooked up.
It is easy to do it under the radar and covert it once anyone who cares is looking the other way. Some places require you to file for a permit for something like this, they just won’t do any inspections. Boulder would strike me as one such place, or most places in the Bay Area, etc. It would fall under planning ordinances even though a building permit would not be required. Does that make sense? They would still want to know about it even though they would not inspect it.
As far as the word “accessory” goes, it applies to any zoned property that allows such, no matter if another primary structure is in existence or not. The word “accessory” is not exclusive of any use, such as living or non-living uses. It is simply an accessory use to what is intended to be the primary use. For example, if a property is zoned residential, sure you can build a shed as an accessory structure without a house there first. However, many zoning/planning dept will not let you build a granny unit as the only structure, acting like it is the primary structure and use. They would require a development plan showing your total build-out ideas. The question here is about uses, not about whether you can put up ten 120 sf sheds and call them all residential. If you are working in a place where there is a weak planning dept you will have an easier time getting away with stuff folks in cities are unable to do. You can’t offer anything like this as a solution that would work anywhere due to a supposed hole in the code. It is not a building code issue as much as it is a zoning and planning ordinance issue. Not everyone can do this, and to lead them to believe otherwise would not be honest.
BTW, check out my blog at http://afghan.jeffruppert.net. It is self-explanatory. Things have changed in my world.
Jeff Ruppert PE
(Jeff is one of the most influential people in the strawbale building movement. He moved to Afghanistan about two years ago to help rebuild the country, and his blog is really interesting.)