Permits for High Tunnels, Hoop Houses, and Greenhouses | Ag Exemptions, Engineer Drawings, Temporary Use

Whether you want to build a high tunnel, hoop house, or greenhouse, (or a combination of both), the way you want to configure your structure could have large implications as far as permitting is concerned.

Permits are issued based on different guidelines depending on what municipality you are building your structure in, and the hoops you need to jump through (pun intended) to get a permit, can differ widely.

Agricultural Permit Exemptions and High Tunnels

Some states have what is called an agricultural exemption whereby structures being built for the use of agriculture have no need to get a permit.

This state-wide agricultural exemption should exempt high tunnels or greenhouses from needing a permit. In other words if you are building in a state with these exemptions you're fine... right? Not entirely.

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Some local municipalities, cities, villages, townships, etc. will actively ignore the state law regarding agricultural structures and will still make you get a permit in their municipality.

Whether the local municipality can do this legally is out of our expertise. However, if you want to build your structure without any issues it is best to try and work with the local municipality even if your state government is saying something different.

Permitting High Tunnels vs Greenhouses

If we are comparing high tunnels and greenhouses with regards to which one needs permits, and which may be able to get by without a permit, high tunnels are the clear winner.


High tunnels, in addition to being agricultural structures, can often qualify as temporary use structures when anchored without concrete footers, or without a concrete pad.

As a part of this temporary structure designation, municipalities may also require that heating elements not be used since those would require permanent utility hook ups.

Temporary Use Structure Designation

If your high tunnel hoop house is considered a 'temporary use structure' by the municipality, it could help the permitting process move much more quickly.

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High tunnels are also less likely to require engineer stamped drawings to accompany a permit application, which is a big deal due to the fact that engineer stamped greenhouse drawings:

  • Are expensive
  • Often require additional structural features to meet code
  • Slow the project down

If your project can get by without engineer stamped drawings it could save you a TON of headache and money.

Engineer Stamped Drawings for High Tunnel or Greenhouse Permitting

Not everyone is lucky enough to live in a municipality that accepts that high tunnels and greenhouses can be 'temporary structures'.

GET QUOTE: Request a Quote for an Engineered Structure

Many building departments will look at the structure you plan to build, will realize you never plan to remove the structure, and they'll call you out on your attempt to designate your structure as 'temporary'.

In this unlucky scenario, you may need to pull a permit, and the municipality may require stamped engineer drawings.

Needing stamped engineer drawings means:

  • Your structure needs to meet your local building codes: This will often require some structural feature additions to make the structure even stronger. If your municipality wants drawings it likely means they want your structure to be as strong as any other building in your municipality, which could mean meeting 130 mph wind loads.
  • You will need to let your high tunnel or greenhouse manufacturer know BEFORE purchasing: Don't find this all out AFTER you purchase your high tunnel or greenhouse. Most high tunnels or greenhouses are non-engineered structures, and going through the engineering process is easiest and least costly if done BEFORE you purchase your high tunnel.
  • Your project will take longer to get permitted: This is partly due to the bureaucracy of it all, but also has to do with the required back-and-forth that is required when your high tunnel supplier is working with the engineer to configure a structure that meets your code.

Our company has gone through the engineering process for our structures, and when doing so for our 30 ft. wide gothic high tunnel, the process has been relatively painless. Of course the process costs a little more, but our 30 ft. wide structure(s) have a solid robust framework to start the process with.

Approaching a Municipality...or Not?

Some people ask whether they should approach their municipality about a permit or not. While some people swear it is better to ask for forgiveness rather than permission, we have heard some ABSOLUTE HORROR STORIES.

RELATED: High Tunnels vs Greenhouses | Which Structure is Right for Me

For that reason, we recommend approaching your municipality before proceeding with a structure purchase or build.

Building Departments Might be Unfamiliar with High Tunnels

Many municipalities may be unfamiliar with high tunnel or hoop house structures. For this reason, it would be wise to build a portfolio of examples that could be shared with your contact at the municipality:

  • Bring pictures
  • Details on how the structures are anchored
  • Examples of why you think the structure should be classified as temporary
  • Answers to FAQs about the structures

Remember... you are building your case when you walk into a building department, and having answers in advance will help build your case faster.

In our experience, the above approach has helped customers avoid future headaches. In some instances, municipalities have even allowed structure installations to proceed without requiring a permit.

Whether you require a permitted structure, or not, we can help put a quote together for you. Just let us know what you need when you submit the contact form on our website.