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ABC’s of Building Permits Archived Discussion Room

Fairfax County, Virginia

ABC’s of Building Permits

Spring is here and with warming weather, many people turn their thoughts to home improvement projects. But did you know projects could require a building permit? Join staff with the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services on Tuesday, April 16 at 2 p.m. in a discussion on the ABC’s of Building Permits: when do you need a permit, when you don’t, what’s the process like, etc? Shetal Kapoor and Steve Kendrick with the DPWES Customer and Technical Support Center will be online to answer your questions.

Shetal Kapoor : Hello, welcome to today's chat about the ABC's of building permits. Steve and I are here to help answer any questions you might have for any current or future home improvement projects.

Anonymous User : I'm looking at buying a house and I often wonder when walking though homes if something has had a permit. How would I know if something was properly permitted? Whatever house I end up buying, would i be liable if something happened that wasn't permitted by a previous owner?

Shetal Kapoor : Land Development history is available online at Using this system will allow you to find information such as building permits, residential use permits, site plans, etc. When you a purchase a new home, you do become responsible for all unpermitted work performed by the previous owner. 

Anonymous User : I plan on building a deck this summer. What is the process? Do I need to work with my HOA separately from the county?

Steven Kendrick : The process begins with the permit application.  Applications may be submitted by the homeowner, tenant or contractor.  The permit application is available online at  You will need a completed application, two copies of your house location plat with the deck drawn on it and two copies of your plans.  The applicant must bring these items to the Customer and Technical Support Center located in the Herrity Building to be reviewed by a technician.  Our technicians will ensure your project meets current codes and regulations.  Once your application has been approved by all departments and the fees have been paid; your permit will be issued.

As the homeowner you will need to coordinate with your HOA to receive all necessary approvals.

Anonymous User : do you have any plans to open satellite offices? driving to the government center is a real pain sometimes, especially with all the traffic

Shetal Kapoor : We do not have any plans currently to open satellite offices. You can start the permit process online and mail in your application and/or plans to the Customer and Technical Support Center, 12055 Government Center Parkway, Suite 234, Fairfax, Virginia 22035.

If you would like to start the permit online the website is: and if you would like to see an overview of publications that we offer you may visit

Anonymous User : I'd like to build a screened-in back porch. Do I need a permit for that? If so, how much will it cost? Thanks,

Steven Kendrick : Yes, per Section 108.1 of the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code (VUSBC) you need a permit to build a screened porch.  The fees are based on the square footage of the project.  The cost is roughly ten cents per square foot, the minimum fee for a permit is $90.

Nina : Do I need a permit to construct a closet/small pantry in one corner of a dining room?

Steven Kendrick : We actually get this question quite a bit.  Yes, per Section 108.1 of the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code (VUSBC) you need a permit to construct a wall.  The code does not differentiate between a load bearing wall or a non-load bearing wall.

David : Is there any type of landscaping that requires a permit? Or am I pretty much free to do what I want on my land with trees, shrubs, flowers, rocks, bird feeders and other things?

Shetal Kapoor : It depends on the scale of your project, a site permit may be required if your project disturbs more than 2500 square feet.

Guest : The link you posted to find out if there are any old permits on a house does not work. Is there a place I can looking to see what permits an existing house has?

Shetal Kapoor : The correct link is:

Joe S. : To repair an existing deck, is a permit required?

Shetal Kapoor : Yes, a permit is required for deck repairs.

Kirsten : The zoning laws are rather daunting to me. Where do I go to find out what kinds of permits I need and how much they will cost? I am considering a lot of different things (maybe a shed, pergola, patio, etc...not sure what yet) and the cost may impact my decision. Thanks.

Shetal Kapoor : All permit information and fee information is available online at

Karen : If you are replacing a hot water heater that currently has a tank with a new high efficiency tankless water heater do you need a permit? Although not really in the scope of permits, do you know if the tankless water heaters are better than the ones with tanks?

Steven Kendrick : Yes you do need a permit for this type of project.  The benefits of tank-less water heaters largely depend each homeowners individual circumstances.

Alher : What are the penalties if work was done without a permit? Is there a process to straighten things up if a modification was done without a permit?

Shetal Kapoor : Penalities vary depending on the scope of the project. We frequently work with homeowners and contractors to correct unpermitted work.

Anonymous User : We had our gas range replaced and noticed that the contractor had gotten a permit to replace it. I didn't know that was something we needed. So i'm glad they did it. I then realized that we had replaced our water heater a while back but I don't recall seeing a permit. Would we have needed one for the replacement? And if so, what should we do if we didn't? Thanks!

Steven Kendrick : Permits are required for replacement of any gas appliance.  You can obtain a permit after the fact and have it inspected.  You can even apply online at

Anonymous User : What are the costs associated with obtaining a permit? How long does it take to get it approved?

Shetal Kapoor : The costs depend on the type of permit. Fee information is available online at: The approval time depends on the scope and complexity of the project.

Anonymous User : Are there any permits required in order to change the roofing of a home?

Shetal Kapoor : If you are talking about replacing shingles only, you do not need a permit. If you need to repair more than 100 square feet of plywood, a permit is required.

Guest : I have searched everywhere and can't find an answer... I am going to have a shed installed (bought) ... how far from the property line do I need to be? I'm assuming I can't be right in the corner.

Shetal Kapoor : You need to contact the Zoning Review Branch at 703-222-1082 to obtain the setback requirements for your specific property.

RACHEL : I'd like to build a green house/ playhouse for myself and my daughter. I plan to use recycled doors and windows. What are the maximum requirements need to avoid having to go through multiple inspections and and permits. Dimensions etc.

Steven Kendrick : If your accessory structure is detached, one story and less than 200 square you are exempt from permit per Section 108.2 of the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code (VUSBC).  You would still need to contact our Zoning Department at 703 222-1082 to see where you can place your green house.

Guest : I am going to be replacing my deck at the end of summer. It's going to be a complete teardown and rebuild with the new approximate size of 20x18 (down from 20x24). There are going to be steps going to the backyard. Am I required to have lights on the steps if I have an outside light when you first access the deck?

Shetal Kapoor : You are required to have a light on the top landing of the stairs, so that all the stairs are illuminated.
The Fairfax County Typical Deck Details document outlines the code requirements for the deck construction. While you do not have to follow the design exactly if you choose to submit drawings, the document does provide an overview of code requirements. You may find the details at:

Harriet Homeowner : I want to build a deck on my house and was wondering if I need a permit? If so, what do I have to do to get that and how much will it cost? Are professional drawings required or can we provide our own sketch? Please let me know. Thanks.

Steven Kendrick : Yes a permit is required to build a deck.  You or your contractor can start your application online at   Bring your completed application, plans and house location plat with to the Customer and Technical Support Center located in the Herrity Building (12055 Government Center Parkway, Suite 230).  The fee is based on the square footage of the deck, the minimum fee for a permit is $90.  Professional drawings are not required, you can sketch the deck yourself or if it meets certain requirements you can use the drawings included in our "Typical Deck Detail" publication available at
For more information go to

Steven Kendrick : Thank you for joining us this afternoon in our discussion about building permits.  If you have additional questions about a building permit for your project, please contact the Customer and Technical Support Center at 703-222-0801, TTY 711. You can also obtain building permit information online at