Light polished wooden stairs leading to a wooden deck with a wooden railing, that is lined by creepers and plants with a wooden bench at the right top corner

Are you about to add a deck to your home? You may wonder why your city requires a permit for a seemingly easy, DIY project. You may also toy with the idea of building your deck without the hassle of permitting. If either is true, read on to find out why your city is so strict on deck permitting, and what consequences you may face for defying your city’s regulations.  

Why does the city want me to get a permit for my deck? 

If you disregard the code or don’t give the building department an opportunity to examine your deck’s design, the structure you build may not have a sufficient level of seismic resistance.

To make sure that the deck is safe. Decks constructed in violation of the building code might be unsafe for occupants. Not following the code may leave your deck vulnerable to earthquakes, while non-compliant stairs or guardrail systems can pose a serious fall hazard for your family and a strangulation hazard for your children.

To make sure the deck construction doesn’t damage your home. When decks are attached to a dwelling, a penetration of the building envelope occurs. When such a penetration is made without following relevant codes, ensuing errors can allow air, moisture, and water to find their way into your home. 

Further, since an attached deck is connected to, and supported by the structure of the house, additional loads are added to the home. Done incorrectly, such an addition may compromise the home’s structural integrity. 

To ensure occupant safety, envelope continuity, and the structural integrity of your home, the Building and Residential codes provide standards for deck construction. Local agencies need you to follow these as you build your deck and enforce compliance by requiring permits for this type of work.

What are the consequences of skipping a deck permit? 

The likely consequence of skipping out on permitting is the myriad of potential safety issues. If you don’t follow the code requirements and don’t give a building official the chance to inspect the plans and your work, there is a chance that your deck may be unsafe. 

Because we live in earthquake country, any structure built in California must be designed to withstand lateral seismic loads. If you disregard the code or don’t give the building department an opportunity to examine your deck’s design, the structure you build may not have a sufficient level of seismic resistance. This being the case, any seismic activity can jeopardize the safety of the deck’s users. 

Like any other elevated structure, a deck must have proper, code-compliant guardrails and stairs to reduce the risk of falls and strangulation. Adhering to the code requirements and getting the building’s department’s feedback can go a long way in preventing accidents and keeping your family and guests safe. 

Decks can be attached to the home or freestanding. The former require a connection to the home’s rim joist; this type of attachment entails a penetration through the home’s envelope - the cladding system that keeps the weather out. If the penetration is made without professional input, the home may suffer from moisture ingress and the resulting damage. Going through with the permitting process enables the building officials to point out such design errors, while an inspection would catch these blunders before they are covered up. 

Additional loads on the home. Even without seismic forces, an attached deck imposes extra loads on the structure of your home. Designing this type of connection without professional guidance is a risky business, as you don’t know how much more load you can safely add to your home, and how to perform the work in the safest possible manner. 

Safety and quality aside, performing unpermitted work may simply land you with a stop-work order. You will face fines and will be forced to apply for a permit in the end

Because you started work before the building officials had a chance to inspect it, you may have to dismantle what you’ve built to let the inspector evaluate your project’s code compliance. Should the quality of your work not satisfy the inspector, you will have the option of redoing it to meet the code or demolishing the deck altogether.

Fines. 

Any fines you’ll have to pay should the unpermitted work get discovered by building officials will surpass the standard permit fees. Ultimately, you will still have to apply for a permit and pay the applicable fees.

If you manage to build an unpermitted deck and get away with it, the lack of permit will still catch up with you if, and when you try to sell your home. By law, you must disclose all unpermitted additions and alterations you’ve performed on your home to the buyer. If you choose not to, chances are their real estate agent will ask to see the permitted drawings used for construction and quickly spot your omission.

A architectural plan with an approval stamp indicating an approved deck permit

What do I need to get a deck permit? 

If you’ve decided to take the prudent path of getting your deck project permitted, you’d be surprised that with some planning and assistance you can get a deck permit quite easily. In fact, some jurisdictions issue over-the-counter permits for decks that comply with local adaptations of the building code. 

To facilitate the process, you must prepare all the documents that are required in the permit application package. Because requirements may vary between jurisdictions, it’s a good idea simply to call your local building department and find out what you need to include. Typically, submittals comprise at least the following: 

  • application form, including project location and description, owner’s legal name and contact information, and the valuation of the proposed work, among others
  • site plan, showing a dimensioned view of the entire property, along with property lines, easements, setbacks, roads, drainage, existing structures, retaining walls, septic tanks, streams, and the proposed deck
  • foundation and framing plan, showing the size of rafters, spacing, beams, method of connection to the house and foundation, type of foundation, as well as the materials

All drawings part of the submittal package should depict the owner’s name, name of the person preparing the drawings, scale, and the North arrow.

Jurisdictions with more stringent deck permitting procedures may need you to submit additional drawings and information, such as elevations, guardrail specifications, and locations of smoke detectors. 

If you want to ensure a smooth permitting process for your deck project, you need: 

  • a complete submittal package
  • a design that complies with the building code and zoning by-laws

To prevent design errors and the resulting permitting delays, it’s best to hire a professional to assist you with your deck design and permitting. Our engineers at Design Everest offer a full range of engineering services for decks and patios. Contact us at (877) 892-0292 or info@designeverest.com to discuss your project and receive a quote today.

*Note: The content published above was made in collaboration with members of Design Everest.

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