Building a deck could take as little as a week or as long as several months, depending on the size and complexity of the design and on unpredictable events such as weather delays. Despite these variables, most deck construction follows a basic sequence: preparing the site; installing the foundation; building the structural system; adding decking, railings, and stairs; and finishing the job with protective sealers, stains, or paints. While the methods used for each step can vary somewhat from builder to builder, the basic process is straightforward. Being familiar with these steps helps the homeowner make necessary decisions and anticipate problems so the deck building proceeds smoothly and efficiently.
Obtaining Building Permits
Any outdoor structure attached to a main house - and often any freestanding structure as well - requires a building permit before construction can begin. Building permits are issued after a member of the local building or planning department reviews your plans and evaluates them for safety and structural integrity. If your plans were not produced by an architect, you can have them reviewed by a registered structural engineer before submitting them to a building department. This is an especially helpful step if your deck is complex. Plan to spend $300 - $600 for a structural engineer to review your plans and make suggestions that will address your deck building challenges.
Your plans for building a deck must also meet local setback requirements. Setbacks determine the distance that new construction may be from property lines. In certain circumstances, you may be able to apply for a variance that allows you to build within a setback zone. Your application for variance must put forth compelling reasons for the request, such as the construction of a wheelchair ramp.
Your building department also will be able to tell if your property includes any right-of-ways. Right-of-ways usually are corridors that allow utility companies or neighbors legal access through parts of your property. You will not be able to build your deck in right-of-way areas.
Continued on page 2: Building Inspections and Underground Utilities