When a Permit is Required
A permit is required for most new residential and commercial construction in Fairfax County. However, there are exemptions for small detached structures and ordinary repairs. Below are two excerpts from the Virginia Construction Code describing when a permit is and is not required.
The permit process is generally the same for all types of projects, but more specific requirements may be required for commercial construction and residential construction. If you have any questions regarding the permit process or if you need help in determining if you need a permit, consult our FAQs or contact the Permit Application Center by e-mail or telephone at 703-222-0801, TTY 711.
Watch the video! When Do I Need a Building Permit?
When a Permit is Required
- Construction or demolition of a building or structure.
Installations or alterations involving
- the removal or addition of any wall, partition or portion thereof,
- any structural component,
- the repair or replacement of any required component of a fire or smoke rated assembly,
- the alteration of any required means of egress system,
- water supply and distribution system, sanitary drainage system or vent system,
- electric wiring,
- fire protection system, mechanical systems or fuel supply systems or
- any equipment regulated by the Virginia Construction Code.
- For change of occupancy, application for a permit shall be made when a new certificate of occupancy is required. A new certificate of occupancy is required when the change of occupancy requires a greater degree of structural strength, fire protection, means of egress, ventilation or sanitation.
- Movement of a lot line that increases the hazard to or decreases the level of safety of an existing building or structure in comparison to the building code under which such building or structure was constructed.
- Removal or disturbing of any asbestos containing materials during the construction or demolition of a building or structure, including additions.
For typical home improvement projects, this means the following require a permit:
- Attic pull-down stairs.
- Attics, finish existing.
- Basements, build or enlarge.
- Carports, new or enclose existing.
- Decks, new (on footings or posts) or enclose existing.
- Dormers, new.
- Fences and privacy walls exceeding 6 feet in height.
- Masonry chimneys.
- Porches, new and enclose existing.
- Retaining walls supporting more than 2 feet of earth.
- Sheds, attached to house.
- Sheds or playhouses, detached greater than 200 square feet or more than one story.
- Swimming pools, greater than 150 square feet, greater than 5,000 gallons and greater than 24 inches deep.
First time installation of fixtures and appliances permanently
connected to the electrical, mechanical, gas and/or plumbing
system(s). This includes, but is not limited to, the following:
- Fans, attic/ceiling/exhaust.
- Garbage disposals.
- Heat pumps.
- Hosebibs (exterior hose faucet).
- Ice makers.
- Laundry tubs.
- Lighting fixtures.
- Electric clothes dryers.
- Electric stoves/ovens.
- Electric water heaters.
- Pressure reducing valves.
- Smoke alarms/detectors, hard wired.
- Solar energy equipment.
- Sump pumps.
- Trash compactors.
- Water treatment equipments.
New and replacement installations of the following:
- Centralized air-conditioning systems.
- Gas clothes dryers.
- Gas or oil furnaces.
- Gas or wood stoves or heaters.
- Gas ovens.
- Prefabricated chimneys.
- Prefabricated fireplaces.
- Gas or oil water heaters.
wiring and equipment that operates at less than 50 volts, is for
network powered broadband communications systems or a publicly traded
utility, except when any such installations are located in a plenum,
penetrate fire rated or smoke protected construction or are a component
of any of the following:
- Fire alarm system.
- Fire detection system.
- Fire suppression system.
- Smoke control system.
- Fire protection supervisory system.
- Elevator fire safety control system.
- Access or egress control system or delayed egress locking or latching system.
- Fire damper.
- Door control system.
- Detached accessory structures used as tool and storage sheds, playhouses or similar uses, provided the floor area does not exceed 200 square feet, is not more than one story and the structures are not accessory to a factory or hazardous (Groups F and H) occupancy.
- Detached pre-fabricated buildings housing the equipment of a publicly regulated utility service, provided the floor area does not exceed 150 square feet.
- Tents or air-supported structures, or both, that cover an area of 900 square feet or less, including within that area all connecting areas or spaces with a common means of egress or entrance, provided such tents or structures have an occupant load of 50 or less persons.
- Fences and privacy walls not part of a building, structure or of the barrier for a swimming pool, provided such fences and privacy walls do not exceed six feet in height above the finished grade. Ornamental post caps shall not be considered to contribute to the height of the fence or privacy wall and shall be permitted to extend above the six feet height measurement.
- Retaining walls supporting less than two feet of unbalanced fill. This exemption shall not apply to any wall impounding hazardous liquids (Class I, II or III-A) or supporting a surcharge other than ordinary unbalanced fill.
- Swimming pools that have a surface area not greater than 150 square feet, do not exceed 5,000 gallons and are less than 24 inches deep.
- Replacement of above-ground existing LP-gas containers of the same capacity in the same location and associated regulators when installed by the serving gas supplier.
Ordinary repairs that include the following.
- Replacement of windows and doors in townhouses, detached single family dwelling.
- Replacement of windows and doors that are not required to be fire rated in a condominium or apartment building (Group R-2).
- Replacement of plumbing fixtures without alteration of the water supply and distribution systems, sanitary drainage systems or vent systems.
- Replacement of general use snap switches, dimmer and control switches, 125 volt-15 or 20 ampere receptacles, luminaries (lighting fixtures) and ceiling (paddle) fans in townhouses, detached single family dwellings and condominiums and apartments (Group R-2) where serving a single dwelling unit.
- Replacement of mechanical appliances provided such equipment is not fueled by gas or oil in townhouses, detached single family dwellings and condominiums and apartments (Group R-2) where serving a single dwelling unit.
- Replacement of an unlimited amount of roof covering or siding in townhouses and detached single family dwellings.
- Replacement of 100 square feet or less of roof decking in townhouses and detached single family dwellings unless the decking to be replaced was required at the time of original construction to be fire-retardant-treated or protected in some other way to form a fire-rated wall termination.
- Installation or replacement of floor finishes.
- Replacement of Class C interior wall or ceiling finishes installed in assembly, education and industrial groups (Groups A, E and I) and replacement of all classes of interior wall or ceiling finishes in other groups.
- Installation of replacement cabinetry or trim.
- Application of paint or wallpaper.
For typical home improvement projects, this means the following do not require a permit:
- Ceramic tile, hardwood floors, carpet.
- Crown molding, baseboards, trim.
- Doors and windows (in existing openings).
- Gutters and down spouts.
- Kitchen cabinets (new and existing).
- On-grade patios.
- Recreational equipment (swing sets, jungle gyms, skateboard ramps, etc.).
- Roof repairs.
- Replacement of siding.
- Sheds or playhouses less than 200 square feet and only one story; please note: you must still meet setback requirements per the Zoning Ordinance.