Permits and Ordinances for Your Backyard Wedding

Before holding an event at home, you may be required to get a permit for your tent – and possibly more. These can vary from region to region, so check your local ordinances and make sure all of your bases are covered. The health department may have requirements for your restroom trailer. The permits office may want to inspect your generator, and the zoning department may want to inspect the tent set-up along with the fire marshal.

When inquiring with these bureaus, take detailed notes on the information given to you, including the name of the person you spoke to, in case you need to refer back to it later. Most local regulations about tenting are written for public events that last more than one day and where alcohol is sold. Presumably your wedding is none of the above, so the rules might be slightly different for your permit process.

Tent permits often ask that you provide your floor plans for the wedding, including locations of exit signs and fire extinguishers, as well as copies of the tent’s fire resistance certificate. Your tent company will likely offer you the option to compile and submit the permit application on your behalf for a small fee. I advise that you take them up on it; preparing the paperwork can be time consuming and stressful if you’ve never done it before.

You may be subject to a fire marshal inspection shortly before the event begins in order for the permit to be issued. Be sure to assign someone to handle this inspection, and make sure that someone from the tent company is still on site to deal with any issues that the inspector might have.

 If you are going to have candles or other exposed flame in the tents at your wedding, such as those under chafing dishes on a  dinner buffet, you may be required to get a separate permit for open flame. I have learned that fire marshals are very particular about open flame, and will often have an example of what they deem an appropriate container for a burning votive candle. I recommend that you save yourself the time, and plan to go with battery-powered candles from the beginning. There are nice battery-powered tea lights that offer the same flickering effect as regular candlelight. And a reputable caterer will know how to keep food hot without using chafing dishes.

If you’re going to have a DJ or band out in the yard, you cannot overlook the noise your event will create. Check your local noise ordinances to see what they mandate; usually there is a time frame during which your DJ or band should not be playing at all. (Where I live, it’s 11 pm to 7 am.) Even if you aren’t technically breaking the law with regard to the noise, you do want to be courteous to your neighbors. If they decide to complain to the police, the police will come to your event, which is a wedding experience most people would prefer to avoid. It is far easier to ask a DJ to turn down the volume and keep it down. If bothering your neighbors with the noise is a concern for you, I recommend that you use a DJ, since bands are louder by nature.

Photo made by Katie Stoops Photography

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