The Building Permit Process: Cost, Timeline and What to Expect

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Submitting for, and obtaining building permits for your structure may be one of the most time-consuming segments of the building process, and is often accompanied by a significant financial cost. Before you begin applying for your building permits, we recommend learning as much as possible about the process so you can efficiently navigate the often lengthy lead times prior to construction. 

A building permit from your local building authority is the first thing you’ll need to start your building process. Permitting timeframes, necessary documentation of your structure plans, and costs to obtain permits and land assessments vary per state, and sometimes even per county. The better understanding you can have before beginning the submission process, the better chance you have of a smooth and time efficient permitting process.

Barn Pros does not offer any permitting services, so you will have to work with your local building authority on your own to acquire the necessary permitting.

In this article we will discuss the following permitting topics to gain an understanding of the whole process:


  1. Why permits?
  2. What kind of permits you may need
  3. Where to get your permits
  4. Permitting costs
  5. Permitting timeline
  6. Creating and submitting your building plan
  7. To consider: Permit expeditors, pre-application meetings, and zone and use tables

Why Permits Are Required

Permits are necessary to keep the land, your structure, and yourself safe. Adding a structure to  your land may require several permits, which confirm that all users (you and your contractors) are operating within the parameters of safe and environmentally sustainable construction. The correct permits will ensure that your structure lasts a lifetime with minimal long-term issues that could otherwise arise from a lack of proper analysis of your land and intended structure use.

What Kind of Permits Will You Need?

Permits vary depending on a structure’s intended use and where you’re building in the country – residential buildings require different analysis and permits than agricultural or commercial structures. The lay of your land will also influence how and what kind of structures you can build, and is assessed throughout the permitting process. Reports are created for each of the necessary permits and combined with your structure blueprints to create a building plan, which is submitted to the local building authority for approval.

Common Permits:

  • Building Permits
    • Residential
    • Commercial
    • Agricultural
  • Dirt work and land clearing permits
  • Utility permits
  • Septic system permits
  • Critical area/ wetland permits

Dirt Work/ Land Clearing Permits 

Land disturbing activities such as removing trees, brush and large boulders, the addition or lengthening of access roads, and addressing steep grades or hills on your build site are all considered in land clearing permits. 

Land clearing is an early first step when your construction commences, but it is extremely important to wait to begin land clearing until you have obtained the necessary permits. Clearing any land before permits are obtained can cost tens of thousands of dollars and months-worth of time on the back end of your build, and can drastically affect your final costs and inspection timeline. So, it is important to refrain from any land clearing until you have all the necessary permits in hand.

Permits for all necessary utilities – Sewer or septic, water, power, and gas permits will be necessary to equip your structure with power, water and heat.

Geological technician reports – To assess the stability and capability of your soil to support a structure. 

Wetland biological report or critical area report – Used for properties near lakes, rivers, wetlands or the ocean and will often be among the permits required ahead of construction near these areas. Critical area reports can sometimes take up to a year to be scheduled and created. Other necessary reports may need to be created seasonally. For example, water table assessments and wetland reports, as these often need to be conducted in the winter months when water runoff and rain is highest.

Where to Get Your Permits 

If you have property secured the best place to start is your local building authority.  This may be the city or county depending on where your property is located, but the easiest way to figure out who to contact is with who you pay your property taxes to. Typically, most of the information you are seeking will be located on this authority’s website. If you do not yet have land and you are in the market, be sure to research what kind of building is permitted on any possible plots you may be exploring.

While you may find all the information you need on the building authority’s website, the most effective way to learn exactly what you need is to call and speak with a building planner. They are the experts and can more quickly and accurately share the necessary details to include when submitting your building plan for approval.

Permitting Costs 

A general ballpark cost for the permitting process is often between $5000 – $15,000 depending on your location and intended structure use. As we’ve mentioned before, no two states or counties are the same. The permitting costs in your area may be more or less than $5000-$15,000. The best way to get an accurate cost estimate for the permitting processes in your region is to contact a local building authority. Keep this in mind as you craft your project budget. 

If you are building a structure for commercial use, permitting costs may be higher. The same goes for residential, commercial or agricultural construction in critical areas near water (rivers, lakes, wetlands, oceans.) Including septic or sewer in your structure will also increase your permitting costs.

Permitting Timelines 

As every structure and project is different, there is no set timeline or schedule for obtaining your building permits. We have found that depending on the complexity and usage of your structure you can anticipate an average of 6-12 months to gather information, submit documentation, and obtain your building permits. Just like the pricing aspect above, the timelines will vary per location, and could be shorter or longer than 6-12 months. Again, we encourage you to contact a building authority in your area to get a more accurate representation of the permitting timeline.

Creating and Submitting Your Building Plan

Your building plan consists of all the necessary permitting material and reports, along with your blueprints. This is the building plan you will submit to your local building authority for review and approval to attain your permits. If you require any additional information the building authority will either reject your submission, or request revisions to your plan. If your plan is rejected, that’s ok. The building authority will provide you a list of the additional information you need to provide, and you can submit your plan again. To reduce the chances of rejection, check with your local authority ahead of time to ensure you have all of the necessary documentation and reports before submitting.

Once all necessary documentation and plans are submitted, the building authority will add your project to the queue for review. The hard work is complete at this point, and all that is left to do is wait. This phase can take up to 6-12 months or longer to approve your building plan, so it’s important to be patient. There is a lot to be reviewed. The health district will review and approve plans that include water, septic, or sewer. The local building authority will review the building plans and intended use, including land disturbing activity,drainage needs, and any other critical area needs.

When your building plan is approved, you will receive all necessary permits needed for your project, and you will be set to begin construction!

To Consider: Permit Expeditors, Pre-Application Meetings, and Zone and Use Tables

It can feel overwhelming at first, but the local building authorities are there to help you cover your bases on the front end of your project. In many locations, there are options to work with a local permit expeditor, who can help you through the permit submission process, ensuring that you gather and submit all necessary information the first time. You can search for permit expeditors online, or by reaching out to local builders or contractors who may have recommendations.

Pre-application meetings with your building authority are another option you can explore before you start gathering documents and reports for your building plans. These can take a lot of time to schedule, but once you do get a meeting, you can quickly gather a list of all of the necessary information that will be needed in your building plan.

Also reference any zoning and use tables for your property and the surrounding area, so you can confirm early on if your land can support the structure use you have in mind. These kinds of resources are often available on your building authority’s website.

In Conclusion

There is a lot that goes into the permitting process, as it is one of the most important steps in planning and bringing your dream structure to life. Hopefully you have learned where to start and what to expect along the way. Once you have your permits in hand, the real fun begins!


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