A pergola over a deck is wonderful, both in ascetics and function. A deck pergola enhances the appearance of the deck while providing relief from the heat of the sun. For a south-facing deck, its almost a must, but you are already convinced of that. That you want a pergola on your deck, but the burning question is, are permits required for a pergola?
In most communities, a freestanding pergola less than 108 sq ft (10m2) does not require a permit. A larger pergola often requires a building permit and possibly a development permit. Some jurisdictions also differ between pergolas and roofs, giving more freedom with deck pergolas than a roof.
That is an excellent place to start., with a definition. Defining what a pergola is before listing Canadian Cities who do or do not require a permit. Hate to fill in all the forms and pay the fees only to realize that it’s not a pergola you had in mind.
What is a deck pergola?
A pergola is a sheltering open overhead structure providing shade and ambiance over the area protected. A pergola can be over a patio or a raised deck. One of the distinct features between a pergola and a roof is openness. A pergola’s rafters are close enough to shade but not close enough to block. Standing under a pergola will provide relief from the sun’s heat but not the rain.
I like how Mike Holmes defines a pergola.
“Unlike an arbour, pergolas have vertical posts that support large crossbeams and joists.”Mike Holmes
There are many beautiful yard structures, but one of the most defining elements of a pergola and everything else is the classic posts and beams. You see post extending out from a deck, and you know what lies above.
Yes, a roof can have crossbeams and joists but missing the sheathing for a roof. Without sheathing, an overhead deck structure is a pergola. Cover it with sheathing, and now it’s a deck roof. Often this distinction won’t matter, but, in some communities, the distinction changes the required permits.
Know what you want. Know what you are asking permission for.
If you are still not sure Luo E Green, the Pergola Lady goes into much greater detail defining and discussing the aspects regarding a pergola and other garden structures. To learn more, click here to go to her site.
Why does it matter if it is sheathed?
I like how the city of Saskatoon puts it.
“Pergola and trellis structures are considered to be architectural features and cannot be reviewed against the building code. These structures are not to be sheathed, as they become covered decks once sheathing is attached.”City of Saskatoon
This is the single, most natural definition. If you build something subject to building codes, it will probably need a permit. If it cannot be reviewed against the building code, it likely won’t require a permit.
A sheathed pergola becomes a roof, supporting a load. Loads can be dangerous. Therefore, they are covered by building code. But let’s look specifically at pergolas.
When does a pergola require a permit?
Well, that depends where you live. Cities differ with what is permitted and what isn’t. But researching Canadian cities, I have found some commonalities. Some principles that most communities share for pergolas.
Size of pergola determines the need for permits
In most Canadian cities, the defined size is generally 10 m2 (107 sq. ft.). If the pergola is larger, it requires a building permit. A smaller pergola not requiring a building permit.
Quick math, a pergola bigger than a 10′ x 10′, will need a permit. Most tables will fit under a 10′ by 10′ pergola, but if you want a larger table and pergola. Most likely, you will be applying for a building permit.
Freestanding pergolas, larger than 10 m2 (107 sq. ft.) are classified as accessory buildings. Pretty much, a large pergola is considered a shed or garage with similar building requirements and restrictions.
Canadian cities not requiring permits for small pergolas
- Grande Prairie
- Medicine hat
- Red Deer
- Saint Johns
Notable Canadian Exceptions
Victoria and Halifax, a pergola can be twice the size 20m² (216 sq. Ft) before requiring a permit. Interestingly two of the opposite extremes of our shores. Maybe being close to the ocean makes all the difference. Don’t get excited, Vancouver your not the exception.
Moncton gives you just a little more area for your pergola before requiring a permit. In Moncton, you can build a pergola up to 12m2 (129 sq. Ft) without applying for a permit.
Lethbridge is interesting in their wording of permits requirements.
“Accessory buildings less than 10 m2 (107 sq. ft.) provided they do not create a hazard.Lethbridge
Well, I hope so, I would hate to have a building in my yard that’s a hazard. But I get what they are saying. Otherwise, they are the same requirements as most cities.
London, Ontario, has an interesting exception, plumbing. An accessory building, including pergolas regardless of size, require a permit when it includes plumbing. For most pergola’s, this won’t affect them, but it raises questions in regards to a deck kitchen with a sink. Better make the phone call if you’re in London.
Freestanding or Attached can determine if a Pergola needs a permit
How the pergola is supported will impact if it needs a permit. Most jurisdictions classify a pergola an accessory building if it is freestanding but a house addition if attached. The city of Calgary requiring a specific distance of separation defining “attached” and independent.
“All accessory residential buildings 10 m2 (107 sq. ft.) or larger must have at least a 1.0 m (3.2 ft.) separation from the main residential building or house. “City of Calgary
I remember in my early days applying for a permit for an attached deck. Having a poorly drawn cross-section of the deck with the deck rafter extending unto the roof of the house. My sketch looking like the rafters where touching the roof. The clerk telling me that I would have to apply for a development permit if it was attached to the house. Quickly I erased the rafters off the roof as not wanting the extra complications.
This is true for most cities, if the pergola is attached to the house it will require a permit and possibly a development permit. If attaching the pergola to the house is essential, a permit will most likely be required.
“Additions require both a development and building permit.”City of Edmonton
Edmonton is not uncommon for attaching a pergola to the house that it not only requires a building permit but also a development permit. Requiring a little more time, money and work in applying and receiving permission to add the pergola to our house. My advise if you want a larger attached pergola to plan for next year. Gather all the required information, fill out all the forms and be ready for next spring to add to your house next spring.
For a smaller pergola, less than 10m2 (107 sq. Ft) an option for a deck beside the house is two additional post creating a freestanding pergola. Not adding any extra strain on the house but still providing shade over the deck. Check with your city but often their concern is the houses structure and will allow a freestanding small pergola beside the house.
Interesting Deck Pergolas Permit restrictions
These are not universal but can highlight matters that you need to be aware of when apply for a pergola. These examples are all from my home city, where of course I build decks, Calgary.
Pergola permitted height limitations
Most cities have by-laws restricting pergola’s height. Often these limitations are in play regardless if the pergola is permitted or not.
“Not be higher than 4.6 m (15 ft.) from the finished floor.”City of Calgary
The height restriction for all accessory building including pergolas in Calgary. Still allowing a fairly high pergola structure. Most pergolas are built around 9′ (2.7m) tall. Creating an excellent ceiling height under the pergola but still low enough to provide the desired shade.
Height restrictions also lead to another restriction.
Height of pergola deck matters for permits
The height of the deck matters for pergola’s permits.
“Not have a finished floor higher than 0.6m (1.9 ft.) above grade, unless it is a private garage. For example, a pergola on a deck that is higher than 0.6 m (1.9 ft.), would not meet by-law.”City of Calgary
Most by-laws are in place to create uniformity in neighbourhoods. These is especially true with pergolas. A tall pergola on top of a high deck will tower over its neighbours. Your house has height restriction, so does pergolas. Pergola in Calgary can only be built on ground level decks or patios.
Soil tests requirements for pergola footings
Yes, a permanent structure like a pergola needs footings. Especially if it bigger than the 10 m2 (107 sq. ft.) common pergola permit threshold. Regardless of soil types, concrete footing needs to be below the frost line.
“The main thing to keep in mind is to get the poles below the frost line.”Mike Holmes
Soil test requirements for pergola will often be the same as for your deck footings. If your city requires soil tests for deck footings, they will require tests for pergola footings. Again, in Calgary, where I build pergolas, a soil test is not required, but a standard footing depth and size are. At least for smaller pergolas, increasing the size and weight of the pergola will require larger footings. Not so much based on soil test but engineering and bearing weight.
Pergola permit fees
It will vary by jurisdictions of how much a permit will cost. As an example, in Calgary as of 2020, a pergola permit will cost $210.08, but that will change. Permit fees are largely based on how complicated the permit and building are. A simple pergola will primarily be the cost to process the application, but a more involved build will increase costs.
What about Pergola permit exceptions?
Yes, there are sometimes exceptions. But to ask for an exception, you must be clear about what you want to do, and it impacts on your yard and community. Of course, exceptions are exceptions. Therefore, they will be dependent on safety codes officers’ feelings on the issue. If you are working with a safety code officer who operates on the “spirit of the law, not the letter,” it’s possible if you explain that your higher deck’s pergola, will not impact your neighbours that she will give a height exception. But it could also go the other way.
When asking for an exception, be very clear what you are requesting and why. In your permit application, show what you are planning to do, clearly. Too many safety codes officers have okayed what was believed to be a small change and were taken advantage of. Making them more reluctant unless you are clear and stick to it. They are doing you a favour, return the favour to them but not making trouble for them.
Do kit pergolas require permits?
There are two parts to answering this question. First most “pergola kits” are more tents than pergolas and our less than 10 m2 (107 sq. ft.) not requiring permits.
Secondly it depends on how easy to assemble the pergola. If it involves construction, more than a couple hours. It’s a permanent structure and, if large enough, will require a building permit.
“Temporary tent garages on residential properties do not require a building permit, however; they must comply with the rules listed under location and design.”City of Calgary
In Calgary, if it’s not permanent, it does not require a building permit. But as my in-laws experienced, a temporary deck shelter can also be taken down by a wind storm. If it’s not permanent, you need to pack it up at the end of the day. If you’re not packing it up, it is permanent, or at least it better be.
Community Associations limiting pergolas
One last box to check, your local community association. Some local communities will restrict pergola construction more precisely than the larger city by-laws. For example, a house beside a golf course may limit a pergola’s height as not to interfere with the golf course’s appearances. Check with your local community by-laws to ensure that there are no specific pergolas concerning your yard and community. The city website may not provide enough information specific to the community.