Do I need a permit to build a deck?

Decks are the perfect way to jazz up your outdoor space. They provide the perfect stage for creating a relaxing outdoor area for al fresco meals with family and cozy social events. 

Decking provides new functionality for your garden or yard. Throwing a cookout can get cold on the grass, and without a dry place to sit, limits the time spent outside your property if it rains. Decks are also easy on the eyes: a good deck will make your property look updated and attractive and can even increase its sale value.

Before you start building, know that you’ll probably need a permit. Read on for everything you need to know about permits for building a deck—and why you shouldn’t skip this important step.

Why Do I Need a Permit?

Some may think that putting in a deck is like any other DIY home improvement project, most of which don’t require any special license or permit. However, most decks do require a permit because of their size and construction requirements.

A permit will ensure you comply with local regulations. Building without the proper permit means you could face fines or even be unable to sell your house because it contains an unauthorized addition.

Additionally, a permit ensures that you build a structurally-sound deck. It will prevent injuries and damage to the foundation of your home—and keep everyone on top safe.

Are There Exemptions for Permits?

The particulars of whether or not you need a permit depends on regional laws. Consult your local government for the requirements specific to your area. 

In rare cases, you may not need one. For instance, a deck that meets the following criteria usually does not need a permit:

  • Has an area of less than 200 square feet
  • Is below 30-inches above grade
  • Is not connected to the home
  • Does not serve as the home’s exit door

Unless you’re planning a deck that fits these specific requirements, you will most likely need a permit.

How to Get a Permit

The application process will look different depending on where you live. Generally speaking, the process involves a few different steps.

First, contact your city’s Building Inspections Department. You can do this by visiting your city hall or finding the contact information via a quick Google search. 

Once you contact your city’s department, they will tell you how to proceed. They should tell you the requirements for building a deck in your area. They should also tell you what documents you need to apply for the permit.

You’ll need to submit an application along with two copies of your construction plans and a site plan. 

Two Copies of Construction Plans

You’ll need to submit two separate copies of your construction plans. These scale drawings should show an overhead view of the deck. You may also need to submit an elevation drawing that shows the deck from the front or side. 

The construction plans should include information like: 

  • The sizes, spacings, and locations of the beams, joists, and frost footings
  • Descriptions of how you’re going to install the stairs, guard rails, etc. 
  • The types of fasteners and hardware you’re going to use
  • What kind of materials you’re going to use

You can make these plans yourself with ¼-inch graph paper. However, it might be tricky to make an acceptable plan without professional help. 

Many homeowners hire contractors to draw up the construction plans. This is often the best of both worlds. A professional draws up the plans with computer software, and you can still build the deck yourself to save money.  

A Site Plan

You’ll also need to submit a site plan. To make a site plan, start by finding your home’s professional property survey. If your home was built after the 1980s, it will likely have this document with its closing papers. 

Can’t find the document? Ask your Building Department if it has a copy you can have. If you still can’t find it, you may need to hand-sketch a property survey. 

Once you have a property survey, use it to draw your deck to scale. Note the distances between the deck and property lines. 

The inspector needs to see that your deck will be a certain distance away from property lines. This ensures you:

  • Comply with fire codes. If your deck were to catch fire, it needs to be far enough away from other properties to ensure they don’t catch fire as well.
  • Comply with planning/zoning rules/HOA requirements. Some neighborhoods require a certain amount of space in between properties for aesthetic reasons.   

What Happens If I Neglect to Get a Permit?

If you don’t get a permit when you need one, you may be on the hook for more than just fines.

For one, an improperly constructed deck can be dangerous. You or others might get hurt walking on it because of an unstable foundation or poor materials.

A deck built without a permit could also lead to legal troubles. The city might:

  • Give you a hefty fine
  • Require you to tear down the deck 
  • Prevent you from selling your home until the problem is resolved

What If I Hire a Contractor? 

Many homeowners decide to forgo the DIY route and hire a contractor to save on time, money, and stress. Licensed contractors face the same permit requirements as homeowners when building a deck.

A contractor can face consequences for building without a permit, but you may also have to deal with trouble if your home is found with an unpermitted deck. A qualified contractor should be able to take care of the entire permit process, but you can ask before they begin the construction process to provide you with a copy of the permit.

Have More Questions? 

If you have more questions about getting a permit (or about decks in general), contact our team today! We can help you get started on building the deck of your dreams.