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In order to build a deck in your backyard, you need to know the answer to this question: “Can I Build a Deck Without a Permit?” There are many different types of decks and each has it’s own permit requirements. This article discusses which decks require building permits and why. We will also go over some tips for how you should be preparing for permitting such as what type of drawings you’ll need.

Building a deck without obtaining the appropriate permits can be an expensive mistake. Some people find out too late by not only having to pay fines but also tearing down their brand new construction due to faulty workmanship or safety hazards that were missed and could have been corrected with proper guidelines.

While this may be the case there are times we can build a deck in our backyard without a permit. We have put together this guide to help point you in the right direction to keep you on the side of the law.

How to Draw & Submit Deck Plans for Permits

The drawing will need to indicate the locations, spacing, and sizes of your frost footings, beams, and joists.

The drawing will need to indicate the height and width of your deck. The plan should include a note if you are attaching any railing, guardrails, or safety surfaces like stairs.

That requires additional footings below them such as pressure-treated stair treads on wood decks. Which must be bolted in place with bolts at least every 18 inches (45 cm) or metal decking. Which must be attached to the joists with screws.

The drawing will need as well a note if you are attaching any railing, guardrails, and safety surfaces. Like stairs that require additional footings below them. Such as your pressure-treated stair treads on wood decks (bolted in place every 18 inches for example). 

The plan must be signed and dated by the designer. If no signage is desired then please state “No Identification” on your drawing where requested.

All this information is needed to make sure your deck will meet building codes.

A complete set of drawings and specifications for a typical single-story deck are usually submitted. This is the most common type where it would be used as storage or outdoor living space, such that will hold chairs but not trees. 

When submitting multi-story decks more than one drawing maybe need to have been processed with different sections if there are multiple uses for the deck.

For decks that are part of a living space like an outdoor kitchen or sitting area, you may need to submit more than one set as well 

Decks built with stairs must have drawings submitted showing how they will be utilized and what safety considerations were considered in their design.

It is important not to confuse deck building with a patio. A major difference is that decks must be structurally sound and able to support weight whereas patios do not have those requirements.

How to Apply for a Deck Permit

The actual process of applying for a deck permit is not difficult, but it does take time.

You will need to find your building inspections departments the first place to look it in the City Hall building. 

You should be prepared with your general contractor’s name, a site plan, and a drawing of the deck you want to build. Also, you will also need copies (electronic is fine) for all parties involved including yourself as well  

You can submit multiple sets if needed in order to get everything approved the first time around but one set must always include architectural plans.

You will find contacting your inspection department first prior to submitting designs will save you time and effort in the long run.

It is worth noting that some types of decks do require building codes so it’s important to find out which type before applying for a permit just in case there are any issues with your design or location.

If you are having a contractor carry out the work the building Inspections in most cases will want the contractor’s license.

How to Draw Site Plans

If you have never done planning or complete your own site drawings then we recommend that you consult an Architect or Draftsman to do this for you.

These are the key points that need considering when drawing site plans: 

Where will buildings be situated on a block of land? Will there also have parking available, including any access roads and car spaces required in order to get from one place building to another building?

You will need to show what will the buildings look like and how big? What are their functions, who may use them (whether members of a community or employees at an industrial site) where do they need to go in order for people with disabilities to access these facilities? What is needed: entrances/exits fire escape routes if applicable.

Your zoning department will be able to provide detailed advice on what you are required for your site. 

However, if it’s just a simple deck then the following is usually needed: 

A dimensioned drawing of all exterior walls and roof (where applicable) with doors/windows clearly indicated; this should include rough openings or cuts in the external wall where necessary as well as any window/door openings in the roof.

Layout plan of the deck with dimensions, horizontal and vertical measurements to scale.

If you are planning a concrete slab then it may be necessary for your building inspector or architect can provide information on what is required before starting work.

This should also include all plumbing fixtures that will need access from where the deck will be located.

Materials list with quantities, sizes, and grades. This should include any materials that are needed for the building’s structure such as joists or beams in addition to what is being used just on top of ground level.

If you plan a concrete slab then it may also necessary to provide information about reinforcing steel (rebar) or the deck’s bearing capacity.

Building codes are concerned with fire spread, fire barriers, smoke control, and safety issues. So, you will need to show the risk of fire spread and the importance of fire barriers for your deck.

If you have a wood or composite material then this may require FR (fire retardant) rating and documentation that it is UL-approved.

If using pressure-treated lumber, be sure to show safety issues such as splinters. Do not use any exposed nails/screws on surfaces that could be a trip hazard.

What Happens if You Build a Deck Without a Permit?

It happens all the time people build a deck without any regard to building code. And it is a common misconception that you can just build a deck without a permit.

And as the result, many homeowners are facing significant fines for building code violations and made to rip up the work that has been done.

If you need to build a deck, be sure that it is up to code and get the proper permit before proceeding. Then make your project safe for yourself in others who will use them!

You can be ordered to rip down the deck and this will be a lot of money wasted.

Additionally, you could be liable for injuries. If someone is injured on your deck and they are unable to prove that it has been properly zoned or permitted then the law states. 

This person may sue in a civil court against who owns the property where the injury happened! 

This means if there was an accident because of unsafe access points from stairs leading up to the deck. Or if the railing was not properly installed and there were no guard rails on a stairway. To your back yard then you could be liable for injuries.

If you come to sell your house with a deck that has not had the correct permits then you run the risk of not being able to sell your home or having a lower price set for it.

The deck will have an impact on resale value! 

If there is something unsafe about this property that reduces its worth. Then people are less likely to buy and take over these responsibilities themselves. In order to make improvements like hire contractors who can fix the safety issue.

I Have Built A Deck Can I Get a Retroactive Deck Permit?

If you find yourselves in the sticky situation that you have already built a deck without a deck permit you will need to contact your local building department for help.

Now that you have built the deck, there are a few things they may require before issuing an approval permit retroactively: 

You will need to submit plans to the building department as if you were starting from scratch.

Save all the material and other components that were used to build your deck. It may be required by code or simply requested for safety reasons. You will not know until submitting a retroactive permit application with this information included in its entirety (materials list). 

The building department can also provide guidance on what is needed when applying. Since there may be a few requirements that vary from town to city.

Start by contacting your local building department and requesting an application for retroactive permit approval.

Then submit the materials list with all necessary information. Included in its entirety as well as being able to make any needed changes before applying (materials listed). 

You will need some help filling out this application if you have never done anything like this before. Usually, a local contractor or architect can help with the process.

Lastly, submit your application and materials list to get retroactive approval for building code compliance on any decking project.

The biggest issue you may run into is that what you built 5 years ago. That completed with building regulations may not be compliant with current building codes.

You will also need to check for any permits or inspections. That may have been required when you built your deck and then take the necessary actions if needed.

Such as updating it so all requirements are met examples include adding a railing.  

When Are Permits NOT Required for Decks?

There are sometimes that you will not require a permit to build a deck in your backyard. This is typically when the deck will be located in a detached building on the property.

Such as an accessory structure or garage that does not have any connection to residences and/or buildings. Where people live an example would include decks built by the pool house. 

Another common instance for permits being waived would involve if you are just replacing some parts of your deck. For example, include replacing only the stairs or handrails.  

In these cases, you would not need a permit. So long as it does NOT change any structural parts of what is already there.  

If this changes anything that may affect safety regulations for people. On and around decks in general, then permits are required to replace them.

Other decks that may not require a permit include. Ones that are on the ground level and do not have any stairs.

In all instances, it is still worth contacting your local planning department. To make sure that you don’t fall foul of any planning regulations.