This is the year. You finally own your own home, you have a plan, and you’ve saved enough money to build a deck. You can’t wait to host your first get-together with friends and family. After you finish eating, the adults will sit and sip cool drinks while the kids run around in the yard.
Before you plunge head-first into this project, there are a few boxes you need to check to make sure your deck will be compliant with all laws, rules, and regulations.
Legal Rules, Regulations, and Requirements to Follow
Building a deck is one of those home projects where you need to be aware of building codes, city and county requirements, HOA regulations, easements, setbacks, and more. Part of the construction process includes making sure you know how your particular property is specifically impacted by the rules of your city, county, HOA, and service providers.
How stressful would it be to finish your deck to find out after the fact that it does not meet code requirements? The extra time and expense to redo what was a newly constructed deck would be a devastating step in the wrong direction.
What do you need to do to ensure your deck does not turn out to be an illegal structure? Let’s review the steps to cross your t’s, dot your i’s, and verify the legality of your deck project.
#1 – Permits
Building codes control what you can build on your property. When you expand, enlarge, remodel, or do any sort of large improvement to your property, the city and county usually require you to obtain one or more permits. You might need various types of permits, such as a:
- Construction permit
- Zoning permit
- Building permit
- Sewer use and drainage permit (SUDP)
- Trade permit
- Mechanical permit
- Quick permit
- Demolition permit
The kind of permit is based on what type of work you are doing. As explained on the City of Denver website, a zoning permit is required to build an uncovered deck that will be 12-inches or more off the ground, and you need a zoning permit plus a building permit to construct an uncovered deck that will be 30-inches or higher off the ground. If you plan to incorporate electrical features and add lights into the design of your deck, you will need to obtain trade and mechanical permits. A demolition permit would be required to remove an already existing deck before building a new one.
#2 – Easements
Two of the most common easements include utility easements and private easements. A utility easement means a utility company has the right to access your property whenever they need to conduct work or update utility lines, equipment, or structures. A private easement means your property is being used by another homeowner for a specific purpose, like a private sewer easement or solar access easement.
Even if you do not know of any easements existing on your property, it doesn’t hurt to double-check before you build a deck. The last thing you want to do is interrupt the use of an easement and encounter a circumstance down the road that forces you to disassemble your deck.
#3 – HOA
Just like a city or county can set forth codes and regulations, a Homeowners Association (HOA) can also impose similar rules. If your neighborhood is part of an HOA, chances are you need to submit a proposal of your deck design to your HOA for approval. Plus, when you take the time to receive the go-ahead from your HOA, you protect yourself against any disgruntled neighbors that want to dispute your choice to build a deck.
#4 – Setbacks
The size of your property might limit whether you can have a deck altogether. A setback is defined as the distance a structure should be “set back” from a road, river, or flood plain. Furthermore, setback requirements can regulate how close a structure sits next to the front, rear, and side lines of your property.
In other words, a setback is a “no-build zone” in legal terms. While you might think this only applies to your actual house, a setback can affect anything you want to build on your property, like a shed or deck.
#5 – Railings
Typically, decks that sit 30 inches above ground are required by law to have railings, but not just any sort of railing will suffice. For a residential deck, the actual guardrail itself must be a certain height (36 inches or higher) in order to follow the law. This rule does not change based on the type of decking materials you use. From Trex composite decking to cedar decking, railings are a must to provide a secure deck environment.
Creating a Safe and Legal Deck
While a deck is a perfect place to entertain family and friends, decks are also the source of serious injury and can turn into a homeowner’s liability nightmare. Complying with the law protects you as a homeowner. When you do all you can to make sure your deck is legally constructed where and how it should be, you safeguard yourself against the worst-case scenario.
Before you break ground and start to build your deck, research the rules, regulations, and requirements of your particular city, county, HOA, and property. Spending the time to learn and follow the law is well worth the effort in the long run.