You usually need a building permit when performing construction, demolition, or repair work on your home. But what about decks? Since you’re not making changes to the home itself, you’re probably thinking it might be on the list of projects that don’t require a permit.
But look at it this way. Would you be willing to dine with your family on your neighbor’s second-story deck if it hadn’t been properly inspected? Poorly constructed decks are a real concern for resident safety. That’s why, depending on the kind of deck you’re building, most cities and municipalities require building permits.
International Residential Code
It would be difficult to give you an exact answer as building codes differ from region to region. But we can tell you that many local building codes are based on the one developed by the International Code Council (ICC). It will give you a good idea about the building regulations in your area.
On decks, the ICC says under the International Residential Code that permits shall not be required if:
- decks do not exceed 200 square feet (18.58 m²) in area; and
- are not more than 30 inches (762 mm) above grade at any point; and
- are not attached to a dwelling; and
- do not serve the exit door required by Section R311.4 (vertical egress).
*Note: In construction, grade means ground level. “Above grade” means above ground level, “below grade” means below ground level, and “on grade” means on ground level.
For comparison purposes, our local building code follows the one developed by the ICC fairly closely. Namely, that decks don’t need permits if they are not more than 100 square feet in area, are not more than 600 mm above grade, are not attached to a building, and do not form part of an exit required under the building code. They want to make sure that nobody falls from high up, that the structure is sound, and that everybody is able to exit safely, especially in an emergency.
How to Apply for a Permit
We imagine that most decks won’t meet the specific requirements of the ICC or local building codes. Therefore a permit is usually required. If you’re in that situation, you probably want to know how you can get a permit.
To get a permit, you have to submit detailed plans about your construction to your local building department. This will typically include a site plan, which shows a bird’s-eye view of the components of your deck drawn to scale, and an elevation drawing, which shows the front or side of your deck.
As you may imagine, these aren’t simple illustrations. You may need to hire a professional designer to draw them for you. In fact, many municipalities will only accept drawings that are prepared by a qualified individual. You can try to hire a professional designer at your local home center to help you draw out your deck design.
What Happens if You Don’t Pull a Permit?
There’s nothing worse than someone getting hurt from a collapsed deck that wasn’t properly examined for safety. By applying for a permit, a field inspector will review the deck at certain stages of the build. It’s like having a second set of eyes to make sure the deck is safe and built to last.
But besides safety, there are lots of reasons why applying for a permit makes sense for homeowners. For starters, you may wound up with a hefty fine for building a deck without a permit. Plus, you may end up having to tear it down or rebuild it to satisfy building codes, which could end up costing you more. And that’s not all. When you go to sell your house, you’ll scare off potential buyers or drive down the price of your house because no one wants to buy someone else’s problem.
If you’re the buyer, you can pull up records from your local building department to see if there’s a permit for the deck. If not, chances are it was built without a permit, and you may not want to get yourself into future problems by buying a house with an unpermitted deck.
You’re Playing with a Full Deck
Getting a permit for your deck, if required, is a smart decision. You ensure the safety of your friends and family, avoid hefty fines, and make it easier to sell your house down the road.
Besides, the illustrations that are required as part of your application will help you plan out your deck so that you can avoid costly mistakes. Though permits can seem like a nuisance, in reality they work in your favor.
Have Fun Out There!