Is the process of building a studio shed in Vancouver or Surrey different from other cities?

YES, YES, and unfortunately YES.

Unlike most municipalities Vancouver and Surrey require a building permit and/or development permit should you decide to build a studio / office shed in your backyard.

The following concerns apply to studio sheds / backyard offices.

Building Permits:

All sheds or studios that are going to be heated and insulated will require a building permit. We have had this conversation with city staff and building inspectors many times. There is no getting around this. Ff the shed has heat and insulation they consider it a living space and require that it has a building permit. I wish I could tell you otherwise.

Trees and Arborists' Report:

If there are any trees on the property, neighbouring properties, adjacent boulevards, alleys, and/or laneways, an arborist's report is required. Some contractors try to get around this and end up being fined by the city.

Site Survey:

Generally, projects that require a building permit will also require a site survey.

Shed Location, height and size

Both zoning and bylaws dictate where a shed or studio can or cannot be placed. Unlike other municipalities where this question can be somewhat easily answered with some exceptions, we recommend that you have our designer do a zoning check on your specific address. We provide a full service design build approach for our studio construction projects, which includes zoning and bylaw checks.

Electricity or Plumbing

Regardless of what a shed's declared use is, any shed with electricity will require an electrical permit and any shed with plumbing will require a plumbing permit. Furthermore, most municipalities will not permit much more than a sink in a shed as they are concerned about it being used as an illegal dwelling. Cities take a very dim view on this and will not permit anyone to live in a shed. The primary concern being that if someone has a medical emergency such as a heart attack or if a fire breaks out, how do the emergency responders know where to go if the shed does not have its own separate address?

Building PRocess

  • Initial meeting to discern viability of project and pricing. 
  • Site measurement and site survey (if required by city).
  • Creation of site plan with incorporated survey information.
  • FSR and ground permeable calculations will need to be added to the site plan.
  • Creation of elevation drawings that shows all 4 sides of the studio shed. 
  • Submission of site plan and elevation drawing with building permit application.
  • Submission of arborist's report if required. 
  • Submission of development application if required. 
  • Once building permit has been approved, construction can begin. 
  • Forms inspection by city building inspector.
  • Framing inspection by city building inspector.
  • Rough electrical inspection by city inspector. 
  • Insulation inspection by city building inspector. 
  • Final electrical inspection by city inspector. 

Building costs:

When building permits are required for a studio, the process will likely be similar to building a garage. This will result in significantly more design, labour and material costs.

So where does this leave us? A typical studio or backyard office costs about $25,000 to $29,000 to build in most cities, however in Vancouver and Surrey the same shed will cost between $45,000 and $49,000 dollars to build. Yes, this is unfair, but a studio shed with a build cost of $45,000 dollars is still much cheaper than renting office space. The resulting shortened commute to work will allow you to be far more involved in your family life. You will be able to attend your kids' sport games and take your aging parents to medical appointments. There are some exceptions, of course!

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