Walls & Patios – Are Permits required?

Patios, whether they are built with flagstone, interlocking concrete pavers, or even poured concrete, often do require a permit. Retaining walls may as well. There are various types of permits, and I’ll give an overview of some of the permits that may be required for a retaining wall or patio project.

If you hire a mason or landscape contractor to complete your project, he should be knowledgeable about local codes and comfortable working with the local municipality. The process is often faster when completed by a contractor who is well versed in code requirements than if you try applying for the permit yourself.

Zoning Permit

A zoning permit is likely the easiest, both to complete the application and get approval. At a minimum, you will need to document your home, property lines, distance from your home to property boundaries, and distance from the wall or patio to the property boundaries. Some municipalities will also require documentation of all existing improvements; this will include patios, walkways, fences, sheds, garages… yes, basically everything on your property that is a permanent fixture! The cost is typically a fixed fee.

Below is an example of the details that may be required for a zoning permit for your new patio and landscaping project. This level of detail may not be required for a zoning permit, but is always required for a stormwater permit.

Building Permit

A building permit is often required for outdoor kitchens, retaining walls over 4′ high, or sometimes for a concrete patio. Some municipalities have different requirements for paver patios vs. poured concrete slab or stamped concrete patios.

A building permit will typically require more documentation on the construction methods. If a retaining wall exceeds 4′ in height, they may require stamped drawings from an engineer, documentation or case studies from the manufacturer of the retaining wall block being used, or both. The cost is usually a fixed base fee, plus a fee based on the cost of the project.

Inspections are often required at multiple steps in the construction process. A list of inspections may include footer trench, base, geo-grid, and final inspections.


Stormwater Permit

While this is relatively new in the residential market, more and more municipalities are now requiring some sort of stormwater management. If you wonder why… just watch the muddy runoff after a heavy rainstorm. Since a lot of our work is in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, these local municipalities are mandated to reduce the contaminants. So what is required for a stormwater permit?

Well, in this case ALL impervious surfaces must be documented- driveways, walkways, buildings, etc. Pools technically qualify as impervious as well, since they don’t allow water to pass through to the soil. Most municipalities offer exemptions ranging from 100 to 1000 square feet, where no management is required.

Management options may include infiltration beds, permeable pavers, rain gardens, or other measures. Some municipalities only require that an infiltration bed be capable of storing a certain amount of rainfall on the proposed impervious surface. Others may have more complicated codes to be met, which may require a stormwater plan by an engineer.

What stormwater management requirements will you need to meet?

This is going to be dictated mainly by the code requirements of your local municipality. An experienced contractor may be able to make recommendations for your particular project, and present that as an alternative option to your township.

Here is a partial list of some local townships that we’ve dealt with regarding stormwater management. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but should give some examples of what may be required for a patio or outdoor living area at your home:

Berks County:

  • Robeson Township has a 500 sq.ft. exemption. There are 3 sections of the stormwater code that must be met after exceeding that exemption, and an engineer will be needed. Perc tests will also be required unless they are on file for your property.

Chester County:

  • Uwchlan has a 400 sq.ft. exemption, and requires enough storage to store a 1″ rainfall.
  • Upper Uwchlan has a 1,000 sq.ft. exemption.
  • West Chester has a 400 sq.ft. exemption, and requires enough storage for a 1″ rainfall.

Lancaster County:

  • East Earl Township has a 100 sq.ft. exemption, and capacity to store a 4″ rainfall.
  • Brecknock Township has a 1,000 sq.ft. exemption.
  • Manheim Township has a 1,000 sq.ft. exemption.

Stormwater regulations are constantly changing, so this list may become inaccurate rather quickly! Many municipalities have been very easy to work with on projects under 5,000 sq.ft. The contractor or the homeowner can collaborate with the code official to design a stormwater management system. Projects over 5,000 sq.ft. will typically require review from an engineer.

But do I really HAVE to get a permit?

In conclusion, I hope this helps explain some of the permitting requirements that may need to be met for your project. Please remember that it is really not worth trying to sneak this past your township! While we’ve not encountered this on our projects, I’ve met an individual who had to remove part of her patio… because her hardscape contractor “didn’t realize” that a permit was required and she exceeded the maximum impervious surface allowed for her home.

Many townships require a home inspection when the home is sold, so unapproved work is likely to be discovered eventually. And stormwater management is best built into the design; an add-on system will likely be more expensive and possibly unsightly! You might even consider a permeable pavement system to help with stormwater management.

We’ve been working with various municipalities in Berks, Chester, Lancaster, and Delaware Counties over the last few years. To date, I’ve found that most have been very reasonable in their requirements! Mutual respect and good communication have been key in keeping the permitting process smooth (and really, isn’t that case for all things in life?)