Important Building Permit Information updated

2021 update for Building Permit questions

A question we are asked regularly is “Do I need a building permit?”

Unfortunately, there is not a simple answer.

There is a wide range of interpretation of the rules, and there is seldom a month that goes by that we do not hear a new twist. This goes beyond the fact that certain areas get more snow and wind than others and therefore require sturdier buildings.

Please review this article fully since your proper understanding of the situation will determine how you approach the situation and often determines the outcome.  We are only offering information from our experience and do not guarantee any outcomes.

This type of building is not something which building officials deal with regularly and you do not want their confusion to become your problem and expense if you can help it.

Types of Building Classifications

MSS buildings are considered low human occupancy, temporary buildings. Most of our buildings go on agricultural land, but it is important to realize that the type of zoned land your building is going on makes a big difference.

The designation of “temporary” is what often determines if a permit is required. There is a wide variation in what constitutes “temporary”. It is important that you clarify and understand the ruling for your municipality. In some municipalities, if there is anything into the ground, it is no longer temporary. This has lead to people building on the big concrete blocks. In other municipalities, any use of concrete nullifies the classification of temporary. One of the reasons, many of our buildings sit on a base beam with t-post anchors is that it reinforces the idea of temporary.

There is also a significant variation on the threshold size of the building. In some jurisdictions, anything over 100 square feet, regardless of zoning, requires a permit. In other areas, anything under 40 square meters (approx. 640 sqft.) is a tent, as long as it meets the definition of “temporary” and does not need a permit.

Weather Dynamics

Our focus will continue to be on getting an understanding of what it is that you are dealing with so that we can put together a structure package that will serve your needs for years to come.

Educating our customers on weather dynamics on these buildings continues to be a valuable component of that process. Snow load is usually the point that comes up first but an equally important consideration is wind load. We want “temporary” to mean that the building can easily be relocated and not that it can easily blow away.

Many of our customers, who are putting their new building out of sight and they get along with their neighbours, will put up the building without asking questions. This is certainly not a practice we recommend or encourage but acknowledge as a reaction to officials who do not understand these buildings or how they work. We are available to offer an explanation, either verbally or written, upon request. Please be aware that our conversation with your building official does not automatically ensure a favourable outcome.

Engineered Drawings & Getting a Permit

To get a permit, you will need drawings with an engineer’s stamp. We have a generic set of engineer approved drawings for a number of our structure sizes. These are available upon request, at no extra charge for you to use. These drawings show what the building has been evaluated for in the past and what it is good for. The report highlights the requirement of the code and the conformity to it.

It is important that you understand the limitations of the generic drawings since it will impact how you present them. Since it is not practical to have drawings on every variation, it is important that you understand how, what we are giving you, is at least equal or what you are building is an upgrade from the drawing. Even though the sub section of the building code has not changed from when these buildings were reviewed, the way that engineers and building officials deal with them has changed.

Permit & Building Liability

From a liability perspective, engineers will not give a “blanket stamp”. Building officials also often want something current and specific to your project. Other building officials simply want to confirm what this building is generically good for and are fine.

A photocopied set of drawings with a stamp may get you the permit you need but it is important to remember that only a new or original stamp will get you a level of legal protection should anything ever go wrong. The insurance coverage which comes with an original stamp is one of the reasons for the cost. The unfortunate part of this process, is that there is nothing on this which we can do in advance.

We have ways of upgrading our structures for snow and wind loading. In most cases we will recommend these when discussing and quoting the project. Even if you are not going with the upgrades, it is important to understand the options so that you have a back up before your building official denies your request.

Completing the Permit Request

One last thing which you should verify with your building official if you are in a situation of needing a permit, has to do with how the process will be finalized or closed off.

Some officials will hold you responsible for adhering to the drawings and some will come, after completion, to check for themselves. Others will require the engineer to sign off on it.

In the case of the generic drawings, this is not an option and in the case of a new stamp, it will be an expensive add on that you should be aware of.

For an engineer to sign off on something, he or she has to do a visual inspection. Photographs are not admissible. Depending on where you live, there could be a significant travel cost added to the bill.

Ultimately, it is your responsibility to verify requirements and ensure compliance before building.

Anchoring: Base Brackets vs Anchor Posts

edit-Base Bracket
anchor post photo

We offer two main types of anchoring for our structures: Base Brackets (left pic) and Anchor Posts (right pic).

Which one you decide to go with largely depends on your application and location. They are not to be used together, it is a one or the other option. No matter which option you choose, please be aware, there is no such thing as too many anchors!

Although the building can be anchored directly into the ground with Anchor Posts, it can also sit on a slab, curb or beam or it can be elevated on some sort of a wall. Base brackets with lag bolts are supplied standard to fasten the building to the chosen form of foundation. Anchor Posts are available at an additional cost.

Anchor Posts must be set into concrete when:

  • the soil has been recently excavated (within the last 5 years)
  • it is required by the building code (use of concrete usually classifies the building as permanent)
  • extremely windy and exposed areas exist (at least use on the corner posts)
  • more than 10% of the anchor post will be out of the ground (upgrading anchor post size may be needed)
  • there are areas where erosion has been a problem in the past

Anchor Posts SHOULD NOT be used (and base brackets used instead) when:

  • the soil is a very heavy clay (heaving would be a constant problem)
  • there is a shallow rock layer
  • there are major amounts of rocks interfering with the accuracy of anchor post setting
  • the structure will be moved shortly (anchor posts must be cleaned out before reusing)

Recommendations are based on years of experience. Ultimately the customer is responsible to properly anchor a structure
Please see our installation pages for a more detailed breakdown of this topic Base Brackets vs Anchor Posts

Adding a Softcover Structure to the Side or End of Another Building

There are two ways of adding a structure to the side of a building. It can be done as a lean-to (half structure) that goes parallel to the building and up to the eave, or it can be a complete building at 90 degrees to the existing building. This article applies to the latter option.

When considering attaching an MSS structure at 90 degrees to another building, there are some important considerations to be mindful of before the purchase.

The first is that these buildings are almost always considered high humidity (especially when it is a greenhouse). This means that you will be subjecting that wall to a higher level of moisture. Extra waterproofing should be considered. This high level of humidity should be an extra concern if the intent is to use the warm air as a source of heat for the solid building.

The other thing to bear in mind is the potential snow shedding patterns from the bigger building roof. If the height difference is more than 2’, measures should be implemented to slow the process of shedding snow. Without slowing the rate that the snow comes off the taller building, the force of the impact could be triple or quadruple the weight of the actual snow.

If there is a likelihood of significant snow levels being shed, we recommend reducing the rib spacing of the first 12’ of the building. Going from 4’ to 3’ spacing will increase the strength by 1/3. Going from 3’ to 2’ is a 50% increase in strength. This will give your building the added strength for the impact of shedding snow and the volume that would potentially be on the roof.

The third thing that needs to be considered is how the cover will be fastened to your shelter at the wall. For a stand-alone building, you would be on a ladder or platform off the end but this is not possible if the end hoop is right against the wall.

One option is to have the first hoop about 2’ from the wall and then cover that section with something solid (plywood, sheet metal, Lexan, etc.). This will give you a place to crawl up and secure the cover into the wirelock.

Another option would have you put the first hoop about ½” to 1” from the wall. The wirelock channel would be installed on the underside of that hoop. During the cover installation, you would slide the cover through the gap and then wrap the cover around to the bottom. The wire inserts would be installed from the underside. This option is a little more tricky when doing the double plastic cover. After the cover is installed, the gap can be filled with square foam strips which are available at the building centers. Extra care must be exercised to protect the cover from bolt heads and nuts.

The third option would be to install the structure as per normal but about 1’ from the wall. The covering would be done as usual and once this is complete, the building would be slid up against the wall. This process is a bit risky since the building is not secured to the anchors for a short period. The longer the building is, the more challenging this option is.

The last challenge which needs some attention has to do with the method of ventilation which will be used. Typical ventilation flows through the building. In this scenario, ventilating though the building would also mean that you have to go through the attached building. It can be done, but you would be best to get some additional advice on the process.

If roll-up sides are going to be used, it must be noted that the attached building will interfere with proper airflow.

The challenge with using forced ventilation is “where does the air get into the building. It would be best to create a sketch of the building with thoughts as to what you intend to do. We will use our experience to advise you.

It is important to understand and work through these challenges before you purchase. We are here to advise.

Greenhouses 101 & 202

Norm spoke at the Guelph Organic Conference January 31, 2015 on Greenhouses 101: Knowing the basics before you buy-Choices and Consquences
You can find the articles and information posted, as well as a video of his presentation and the Q&A below.

Greenhouses 101: What are you trying to accomplish? What are you dealing with?Greenhouses 101: Climate and Air Effects on your Structure
Greenhosues: 101: Covering Options
Greenhouses 101: Greenhouse Shapes & Configurations
Greenhouses 101: Orientation and Location
Greenhouses 101: Knowing the basics before you buy Greenhouses 101: Greenhouse Choices

Norm did a presentation at the Guelph Organic Conference on Greenhouses 202: Making sure your structure survives the elements. The presentation is broken into three parts for easy viewing, the last section of which is the Q&A. These tips apply for greenhouses, storage buildings, livestock shelters, really anything we sell. Key Points Covered in the presentation:

  1. Some basic principles of engineering so that the forces exerted on the buildings could be better understood.
  2. The many components of anchoring. Anchoring prevents a structure from settling under snow load, prevents lifting under aerodynamic forces and prevents shifting with wind forces.
  3. The similarities of an airplane wing to the shape of a structure. What happens when surfaces become bigger, wider. lower and higher.
  4. How uneven loads can happen and how to prevent them.
  5. The proper procedure to removing excessive snow load

Read more here: Greenhouses 202: How to get your structure to survive the elements

Watch more here:

Wind braces for structures

There is no dispute on the need for wind braces on any structure. There is often confusion on how and when those braces need to be installed.

The sooner that some sort of bracing is installed on a building, the easier it is to maintain plumb or vertical. For this reason, we stress the importance of tying off a building, both ways, as soon as the first section has been erected.

One detail that many overlooks are the total surface area of the hoops. It does not take very long to have the combined surface of a 4’x8’ sheet of plywood. For this reason, it is important to not rely for an extended period on your initial tie-down ropes as your “bracing”. There have been instances where the combined surface area of the hoops is more than the entire gable end.

If you are doing a long building with long hoops, i.e. 30’ wide, it would be wise to install the bracing before the whole structure is assembled.

Wind bracing can be installed in two directions, one goes away from the end wall and one goes toward the end wall. Both ways are acceptable, provided that you do both. If you install them toward the end at one end, you must do the same at the other end. By doing the same concept at each end, you are essentially holding things in opposite directions.

When bracing goes away from the end, the load is referred to as “tensile load”. Cable is often used for this. The cable and the clamps used must be rated against stretching and breaking. This is a convenient system since you are not limited by a precise measurement. When using this system, it is important to end up at the ground, in the 4 corners.

When bracing goes toward the end, the load is referred to as “compression load”. Round tubing with flattened ends is most often used. It is important to make sure that the tubing is strong enough as to not bend as it is being compressed. This is the method which has been used the longest since the instinctive way to brace something it to “prop something against it”.

With either method of bracing, where you start and end is very important. For bracing to be effective, you must start at a point that is connected to the whole structure. This would be either the ridge or a row of purlins. Starting at a mid point of a hoop will give little reinforcement since the hoop can flex from side to side. The closer that bracing goes at 45 degree angle, the stronger it will be.

In the case of longer hoops with multiple rows of purlins, it is advisable to have a series of shorter braces than one long one. This means you would start at a certain hoop/purlin connection and go down and over for 3 or 4 hoops and anchor at that hoop/purlin connection. Go over to the same hoop you did the first brace on and repeat the process from the lower purlin. You would then be going down to the base or the next row of purlins. Remember that if at one end, if you are going left to right, on the other end you go right to left.

Where ever you end up, it is wise to have extra anchoring at that point.

For extra clarification, please watch our “installing wind braces” video on the website.

Aerodynamics Considerations on Greenhouses

Aerodynamics is a very complex concept in how it applies to greenhouses and similarly constructed buildings. The better that you understand these dynamics and how to deal with them, the better your chances of having long-term success with the structural integrity of your building.

In many of Norm’s presentations, he has compared the similar shape of a greenhouse to that of an airplane wing. The basic challenge is that you want the opposite result. An airplane needs to efficiently get off the ground while a greenhouse needs to stay where it is.

The greater the distance over a surface is (wing or building), the greater that the lift is. When height is combined with distance, there is a multiplier effect. That is why a pilot will extend the flaps on a wing when taking off and landing.

It is the vacuum on the backside of a structure or a wing that causes the lift. The upward force of the vacuum on the backside is actually double what the leading edge force is.

This effect happens exponentially even when a small change is made. Many people have suggested, “I am only lifting the building two feet (or some other relatively small amount)”. They do not realize that doing that small lift is sometimes adding 50% or even doubling the wind load on the building.

These forces must especially be considered when a structure is oriented so that the prevailing winds hit the sides of the building. Structurally, it is preferable to have the structure facing into the prevailing winds. If the lay of the land or the logistics of how you work in the structure do not allow this, there are ways that the stress on the building can be minimized.

The least expensive way to stiffen a building is to add crossties (also known as collar ties). Crossties tie the left and right sides of the structure together so that the load is more balanced in how it affects the structure. Reducing the hoop spacing will automatically make the structure stronger with a greater ability to resist the effects of external forces.

Ultimately, however, a structure’s ability to deal with the aerodynamics of a situation is only as good as the anchoring provided. Anchors provide stability for resisting up, down and lateral forces. There is no such thing as too many anchors.

These things add to the structural ability to handle things but it does not help the cover. Extra steps must be implemented to secure the sides of the cover. This includes but is not limited to adding extra and longer screws for the cover fastening system.

A discussion on aerodynamics is not complete without discussing windbreaks. The only effective windbreak is trees. Trees restrict the speed of the wind coming through and therefore minimize aerodynamic stresses on a building. There is an optimal distance from a windbreak. This is determined by the size, density and texture of the trees involved. Since this is something that changes with age and season, there is not a perfect formula.

One last note on windbreaks. Another building, especially a bigger building is not an effective barrier. If anything, this building will significantly increase the aerodynamic stresses on your building. Wind will be swirling in one direction and then a slight shift in wind direction will reverse the direction of the swirling.

Please note: We are not engineers and as such can not give structural opinions. The above points are simply items that should be considered and come from 40+ years of experience of watching what wind does to buildings.