A Homeowner’s Guide to Deck Permits
A building inspector explains the bureaucracy that gets you from plans to permits.
Synopsis: In this article, Colorado building inspector Glenn Mathewson explains the ins and outs of obtaining a building permit for a deck. Despite the article’s focus on permits for decks, it contains information that may be useful when seeking any kind of residential building permit. Illustrations: Jacqueline Rogers
Building a deck is a project that’s within the grasp of most experienced DIYers. Decks can be enticing, because not only do you end up with a pleasant outdoor space for your family, but decks also offer one of the highest returns on investment of any remodeling project. In many ways, a deck is pretty simple. Home centers sell all the materials necessary and are quick to offer encouragement and advice. There are well-defined members and hardware to connect them, and detailed instructions are widely available.
Simple as they seem, though, decks can conceal a surprising number of safety hazards. An improperly attached ledger — the structural member that joins the deck to the house — can fail, causing the deck to collapse when it’s loaded with people. An improperly flashed ledger can cause the framing behind it to rot. (Flashing is the system of sheet metal and adhesive membrane that directs water away from the house.) Even with the code-required fastening, the ledger can fail and the deck collapse if the structure it’s attached to isn’t sound. Improper railings present obvious hazards. As a consequence of these and other risks, most jurisdictions in the United States require permits and inspections for decks. In addition to a building permit, permits for zoning, historic-district compliance, wetlands, and so forth may be required.
A permit generates project records and allows code requirements to be verified by the authority-having jurisdiction (AHJ). The AHJ is often the city where the property is located,…