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What To Know About Building in Washington State

Mountains, coastlines, rivers, lakes, deserts and farmland make Washington State one of the most beautiful and diverse states in the country. Like you, we call Washington home. Since we started building barns in the late 1980s we’ve come to learn how these environments shape not only the landscapes and scenery of our home state, but also how they influence construction projects.

The diversity of Washington’s geography influences our state building codes and plays a significant role in project permitting and structure design. Here we will share what we’ve learned so you know what to expect from the journey, and how to make your project as efficient and enjoyable as possible.

As with all things construction related, every project cost and timeline are unique no matter where you are building. The below details are trends we have gathered by engineering and shipping structure packages throughout recent decades.

  1. Introduction
  2. Outline
  3. Summary: What Are the Main Things to Know About Building in Washington State
  4. Permitting: How to apply for and obtain building permits in WA.
    • What is needed to apply for building permits in WA.
      • Land feasibility
      • Definition of a site plan.
      • Where to find information about required permitting information.
        • Types of assessments and reports that may be required in your site plan.
        • List of professional services that you may need to work with to gather required land assessments and reports.
        • Things to consider for projects in Western Washington
        • Things to consider for projects in Eastern Washington
  5. Washington State’s updated energy codes.
    • What has changed and who is affected?
    • How Barn Pros accounts for the updated energy codes.
    • What these updated energy codes mean for your structure design.
  6. Appendix
    • Detailed list of potential land assessments and reports
    • Detailed list of professional services that may be required to conduct assessments and reports on your land.
    • Useful websites to reference when planning.
      • County-specific websites
      • WA state energy codes
    • Washington Structure Galleries
  1. Permitting timelines can be lengthy and require many assessments and reports of your land. Speak with your county office and begin any necessary land evaluations as soon as possible.
    • Your county office will be your biggest planning resource for your project. They will confirm if you can in fact build your desired structure at the desired location on your property, as well as provide information on specific assessments and reports that may be required to apply for building permits in your area. They can also provide you with a list of professional services who can conduct any required steps.
    • Once you have confirmed that you can build on your property, we’ll work with you to outline your structure and design. At this point we recommend you begin working with the necessary professional services as soon as possible. The goal here is to gather and account for any information that could potentially influence your structure design or halt your project before blueprint engineering begins. Once your necessary reports and assessments are complete, we’ll take care of the structural engineering and deliver your blueprints. At this time you’ll be ready to submit all your project details and apply for building permits.
  2. Washington State updated state-wide energy codes on March 15, 2024, affecting all new residential and commercial construction projects.
    • If you’re building a barn residency, or commercial space in a structure like the Denali, Huntington or Caretaker barn apartment, these new codes will affect the material required for your project as well as some of your finish options. If you’re planning to build a standard agricultural barn like the popular Olympic or Cimarron, these updates will not apply to your project.
    • Barn Pros offers a prescriptive approach to the engineering of your building which ensures the necessary energy credits are accounted for in your design and material in a cost-effective manner that your builder will be familiar with.

Reference the appendix for a full list of county websites and links to the updated energy codes in full.

Submitting for and obtaining necessary building permits in your county will likely be one of the lengthiest parts of your project. Because of the geographic diversity of the state, there are often many assessments and reports of your land that need to be done before you can even submit a request for permits. We’ve found the most efficient way to line up these details is to work with your county to complete the necessary assessments while Barn Pros prepares to engineer your blueprints. This way there will be less down time between the permitting phase, engineering phase and the start of construction.

What is Needed to Apply for Permits in Washington

  • Feasibility Assessment
  • Site Plan including any necessary property reports or assessments
  • Engineered Blue Prints

Feasibility Assessment

The first thing we recommend is meeting with your county building department for a feasibility assessment of your land. This meeting will determine if your land can in fact host your desired structure and use case, at your desired location on your property. The county will look at your property information and proposed structure size, design, and location and provide a list of necessary reports and assessments, the results of which will confirm if your land can support your project or not. The county can also provide a list of professional services you can work with to carry out these necessary evaluations and reports. This step is key and is essentially the green light for your project.

Site Plan

Once the county building department has confirmed your land can support your desired structure, the next step is to work with the necessary professional services to gather the required land assessments and reports and combine them into a site plan. At this time Barn Pros will work with you to confirm the layout, size and details of your structure and prepare to engineer your blueprints.

When your site plan contains all the needed land assessments and reports, Barn Pros will account for these details in your blueprints and you’re ready to submit your building permit application. 

See the appendix for example site plan details and professional services that you may need to pursue.

Where to Find Permitting Information For Your Location

Your county building department will be your best resource for scheduling, land feasibility assessment, and gathering additional information pertaining to permitting and site planning.

Some counties offer permit expediting services that assist you in navigating the permitting process. These services can be very beneficial in saving you time and energy while ensuring you have all the documents, reports and information needed to successfully apply for building permits. Ask your county building department if they offer any services like these.

Reference the appendix to find your county website.

Types of assessments and reports that may be required in your site plan.

No two site plans will be the same thanks to Washington State’s varied terrain. With this in mind, common assessments and reports for your site plan may include the following:

  • Property information including lot size and shape, property lines and boundaries.
  • Existing topography, vegetation, structures, utilities, and bodies of water.
  • Proposed structure information such as footprint, dimensions, and setbacks, building height, floor plans and elevations.
  • Necessary site improvements including driveways and access, landscaping, grading, drainage, fences, and walls.
  • Utility and services connections, septic systems, and stormwater management.
  • Regulatory compliance of zoning and easements
  • Environmental considerations around wetland mitigation, erosion control, environmental impact assessments and critical area reports.

Reference the appendix for more details around potential land assessments and reports and contact your county building department to confirm which are needed for your specific site plan.

Professional Services You May need to Work With

  • Land surveyor
  • Civil engineer
  • Architect
  • Landscape architect
  • Environmental consultant
  • Geotechnical engineer
  • Traffic engineer
  • Utility consultant
  • Land use attorney
  • Permit expediter

Reference the appendix for more details on what these professional services do and how they apply to your site plan.

Things to Consider for Projects in Western Washington

The west side of the state, if you will, often will require more focus on environmental impact assessments, critical area studies and geotechnical reports due to the proximity to water. Lakes, rivers, streams, coastlines, and wetlands all require specific criteria, and some are seasonal due to the wet winters and dry summers. Your county will be able to confirm what is needed for projects near bodies of water like these.

Things to Consider for Projects in Eastern Washington

The hot summers and snowy winters of eastern Washington bring their own unique needs to your site plan. Along with reports around bodies of water like western Washington, details around water wells, winter snow loads and fire requirements are common and may affect your structure design details and finish options. Leverage your county to provide details that apply to your site plan.

Construction may slow in the winter time, but that doesn’t mean you cannot build between November and March. In fact, this can be a great way to take advantage of less traffic in the permitting offices and builders may have more availability outside of the summer months. Our resource “5 Reasons to Build Your Barn in the Winter” speaks to this and explains more benefits.

In March of 2024, Washington state updated the state-wide building code, resulting in higher energy standards and requirements for the design and engineering of all new residential and commercial construction in the state moving forward.

These updates affect any conditioned space, such as residential homes, guest houses, ADUs and mother-in-law spaces as well as commercial spaces. If you are planning to build a barn apartment, barn home or business building, you will be required to address these standards in the engineering and material of your structure.

What Does This Mean for You?

First, accounting for your necessary number of energy credits for your building is critical to the permitting timeline of your project.

When it comes to your structure design, there are many ways to achieve the necessary number of energy credits required for your structure size. Upgraded electric HVAC systems are common options, but can cost significantly more than others and bring complicated installation methods for builders. To account for this Barn Pros takes a prescriptive approach to implementing the necessary number of energy credits for your space. We will suggest energy credit options that are cost effective for you and use installation practices that are familiar to your builder while ensuring that your structure meets the necessary standards.

If you have knowledge of renewable energy practices and would prefer to implement the necessary energy credits in a unique way, we can work with you to include these options instead of or in addition to our suggestions.

How Do These Changes Affect the Design of Your Structure?

The biggest change that these new standards create for your Barn Pros living space or commercial building is the requirement of additional insulation. A continuous exterior insulation layer around the entirety of your structure is now required. This added layer of insulation is placed between the structural framing members of your building (your posts and walls) and the exterior siding.

To account for this, we engineer your structure to leverage a R-6 rating Zip System. This uses a sheathing made of 1/2in OSB plywood backed with 1in of foam insulation which your siding is then installed on top of. You can learn more about the Zip System here.

This change has resulted in 2×6 Doug Fir tongue and groove (T&G) no longer being an option for lower siding on residential and commercial models due to the installation methods and fasteners required. Instead, you have the option to upgrade to Cedar Board and Batten or rough sawn Douglas Fir, both of which take paint well. Or you have the option to provide your own siding such as cement board or composite wood.

In these cases, your project specialist will collaborate with you to find the right siding for your project.

Along with the Zip System, the following insulation is accounted for in engineering designs:

  • Roof framing accommodates the use of spray foam and fiberglass insulation to meet the R38 vaulted ceiling requirements.
  • Floor joists are designed to accommodate R30 batten or fiberglass insulation in the sub floor to meet R30 requirements.
  • Slab-on-grade foundations are engineered to accommodate R-10 rigid foam requirements around the perimeter of the foundation.

Potential Details That May Be Required in Your Site Plan

Creating a site plan for new construction in Washington State requires detailed and accurate documentation to meet local regulations and ensure the project is approved. Here are common elements that may need to be included in your site plan:

  1. Property Information
    • Property Boundaries: Accurate depiction of property lines, with dimensions and bearings.
    • Lot Size and Shape: Detailed measurements and shape of the lot.
  2. Existing Conditions
    • Topography: Contour lines to show the slope and elevation of the land.
    • Vegetation: Existing trees, shrubs, and other significant vegetation.
    • Structures: Existing buildings, fences, and other structures on the property.
    • Utilities: Location of existing utilities such as water, sewer, gas, and electric lines.
    • Water Bodies and Wetlands: Streams, rivers, ponds, and wetland areas.
  3. Proposed Construction
    • Building Footprint: Outline of the proposed buildings and structures.
    • Dimensions and Setbacks: Distance of the proposed structures from property lines, roads, and other structures.
    • Building Height: Proposed height of the new buildings.
    • Floor Plans and Elevations: Detailed floor plans and elevation views of the proposed structures.
  4. Site Improvements
    • Driveways and Access: Location and dimensions of driveways, access roads, and parking areas.
    • Landscaping: Proposed landscaping plans, including trees, shrubs, lawns, and other plantings.
    • Grading and Drainage: Proposed grading changes and drainage systems to manage runoff.
    • Fences and Walls: Location and type of any proposed fences or retaining walls.
  5. Utilities and Services
    • New Utility Connections: Location of proposed connections to water, sewer, gas, electric, and communication lines.
    • Septic Systems: If applicable, design and location of septic systems.
    • Stormwater Management: Plans for managing stormwater runoff, including detention/retention ponds, swales, and other features.
  6. Regulatory Compliance
    • Zoning Information: Zoning classification of the property and compliance with zoning regulations.
    • Easements and Rights-of-Way: Location of any easements, rights-of-way, or other encumbrances.
    • Permits and Approvals: List of required permits and approvals from local, state, and federal agencies.
  7. Environmental Considerations
    • Wetland Mitigation: Plans for mitigating any impact on wetlands.
    • Environmental Impact Assessment: If required, a detailed assessment of the environmental impact of the project.
    • Erosion Control: Measures to prevent erosion during and after construction.
  8. Additional Documentation
    • Survey: A professional land survey showing existing conditions.
    • Architectural and Engineering Plans: Detailed architectural and engineering plans for the proposed structures.
    • Title Report: Current title report for the property.
    • Neighbor Notifications: Evidence of notification to adjacent property owners, if required.
  9. Process for Approval
    • Consultation: Meet with the local planning department to understand specific requirements.
    • Preparation: Hire professionals such as land surveyors, architects, and engineers and prepare the site plan.
    • Submission: Submit the site plan along with any required applications and fees to the local planning department.
    • Review: The planning department and other relevant agencies review the plan for compliance with regulations.
    • Revisions: Make any necessary revisions based on feedback from the review.
    • Approval: Obtain all necessary permits and approvals before beginning construction.

Potential Professional Services You May Need to Work With

  1. Land Surveyor
    • Role: Conducts detailed surveys of the property to establish precise property boundaries, topography, and existing conditions.
    • Why Needed: Accurate surveys are essential for creating a reliable site plan and ensuring compliance with zoning and setback requirements.
  2. Civil Engineer
    • Role: Designs site infrastructure, including grading, drainage, stormwater management, and utility connections.
    • Why Needed: Ensures the site is properly prepared and that infrastructure meets local regulations and environmental standards.
  3. Architect
    • Role: Develops the building design, including floor plans, elevations, and architectural details.
    • Why Needed: Creates the visual and functional aspects of the structures, ensuring they meet building codes and aesthetic requirements.
  4. Landscape Architect
    • Role: Designs landscaping elements, including vegetation, hardscapes, and outdoor amenities.
    • Why Needed: Enhances the site’s appearance, provides environmental benefits, and ensures compliance with local landscaping regulations.
  5. Environmental Consultant
    • Role: Assesses environmental impacts, identifies wetlands, and advises on mitigation measures.
    • Why Needed: Ensures compliance with environmental regulations and minimizes the project’s ecological footprint.
  6. Geotechnical Engineer
    • Role: Evaluates soil conditions and provides recommendations for foundations and earthwork.
    • Why Needed: Ensures the site can support the proposed structures and that earthwork is done safely and effectively.
  7. Structural Engineer
    • Role: Designs the structural elements of the buildings, including foundations, framing, and supports.
    • Why Needed: Ensures the structural integrity and safety of the buildings.
  8. Traffic Engineer
    • Role: Analyzes traffic flow and designs access points, driveways, and parking areas.
    • Why Needed: Ensures safe and efficient access to the site and compliance with local traffic regulations.
  9. Utility Consultant
    • Role: Plans the connections to water, sewer, gas, electric, and communication services.
    • Why Needed: Ensures all utility services are properly integrated into the site plan.
  10. Land Use Attorney
    • Role: Provides legal advice on zoning, land use regulations, and permitting processes.
    • Why Needed: Helps navigate legal requirements and addresses any legal challenges or disputes.
  11. Permit Expediter
    • Role: Assists in preparing and submitting permit applications and coordinates with regulatory agencies.
    • Why Needed: Streamlines the permitting process and helps ensure timely approvals.

Useful Websites

Washington County Websites

  1. Adams County: Adams County
  2. Asotin County: Asotin County
  3. Benton County: Benton County
  4. Chelan County: Chelan County
  5. Clallam County: Clallam County
  6. Clark County: Clark County
  7. Columbia County: Columbia County
  8. Cowlitz County: Cowlitz County
  9. Douglas County: Douglas County
  10. Ferry County: Ferry County
  11. Franklin County: Franklin County
  12. Garfield County: Garfield County
  13. Grant County: Grant County
  14. Grays Harbor County: Grays Harbor County
  15. Island County: Island County
  16. Jefferson County: Jefferson County
  17. King County: King County
  18. Kitsap County: Kitsap County
  19. Kittitas County: Kittitas County
  20. Klickitat County: Klickitat County
  21. Lewis County: Lewis County
  22. Lincoln County: Lincoln County
  23. Mason County: Mason County
  24. Okanogan County: Okanogan County
  25. Pacific County: Pacific County
  26. Pend Oreille County: Pend Oreille County
  27. Pierce County: Pierce County
  28. San Juan County: San Juan County
  29. Skagit County: Skagit County
  30. Skamania County: Skamania County
  31. Snohomish County: Snohomish County
  32. Spokane County: Spokane County
  33. Stevens County: Stevens County
  34. Thurston County: Thurston County
  35. Wahkiakum County: Wahkiakum County
  36. Walla Walla County: Walla Walla County
  37. Whatcom County: Whatcom County
  38. Whitman County: Whitman County
  39. Yakima County: Yakima County

Updated Energy Code Information

Washington State Structure Galleries

Exploring existing project galleries is a great way to begin the design of our structure. Look for different siding options, stall packages and layout options in these galleries and take notes of which you prefer. You can share these with your project specialist and they can provide you with options that fit your style.

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