Before you've gone too far in planning your deck, consult your local building department for any legal restrictions. In most areas, you'll need to file for a building permit and comply with building code requirements. Also be aware of local zoning ordinances, which normally govern whether or not a deck can be built on your land and where it can be located.
Generally, if your deck is over 2 feet in elevation and/or is over 108 sq. ft. in size, it will require a building permit.
Before you pound a single nail, get the needed permits. It's important that the building department check plans before construction begins, to ensure that you don't get off to a substandard start. Negligence may come back to haunt you: Officials can fine you and require you to bring an illegally built structure up to standard or even to dismantle it entirely.
The need for a permit generally hinges on a deck's size and intended use, and on whether or not it's attached to the house. In most areas, any deck more than 2 feet off the ground requires a permit and must be built according to building codes. If the project includes any electrical wiring or plumbing, you may need a separate permit for each of these.
Fees are usually charged for permits. These fees are generally determined by the projected value of the improvement-so when you apply for a permit, be as accurate as possible about the estimated cost. If you overestimate, you might push the fee higher. Many building offices figure a project's value based on standardized construction costs per square foot.
Code requirements vary from region to region. They set minimum safety standards for materials and construction techniques: depth of footings, size of beams, and proper fastening methods, for example. Code requirements help ensure that any structures you build will be well made and safe for your family and any future owners of your property.
These municipal regulations restrict the height of residential buildings, limit lot coverage (the proportion of the lot a building and other structures may cover), specify setbacks (how close to the property lines you can build), and-in some areas-stipulate architectural design standards.
Decks rarely exceed height limitations, but they're often affected by setback requirements. They also increase your overs lot coverage-an important consideration, since a new deck might limit future additions to your home.
If the zoning department rejects your plans, you can apply for a variance at your city or county planning department It’s your task to prove to a hearing officer or zoning board of appeal that following the zoning requirements precisely would create "undue hardship," and that the structure you want to build will not negatively affect your neighbors or the community. If you plead your case convincingly, you may be allowed to build.
Architectural review boards
Neighborhoods with tight controls may require that your improvement meet certain architectural standards-and that means submitting your plans to an architectural review board. Going through this process can dramatically increase the time required to get your project moving.
Your property deed can also restrict your project’s design, construction, or location. Review the deed carefully, checking for easements, architectural-standard restrictions, and other limitations.