There are few things better than spending a summer day out on the deck, relaxing and enjoying the sunshine – but for many Calgarians, that can only come after upgrading or building a deck on your property in the first place.
While many people will consult professional deck builders (like us!) and leave it to them to sort out all of the details and paperwork, there are others who are naturally handy and would like to tackle these projects on their own. However, no matter how good you are with power tools and how accurate your measuring tape is, there’s an important step that you have to account for: ensuring your deck is up to code and has the right permits.
What does building a deck to code mean?
All buildings, developments, infrastructure, etc. within a municipality must meet a set of minimum guidelines set out in local, provincial and national laws. These cover everything from the amount of distance between a deck and a property line to the routing of electric lines, the depth of the foundations, the spacing of the support beams and joists, and much more. If you’re not caught up on the legal language and the terminology, it can get confusing fast.
However, these guidelines are important to make sure that any structures (such as your new deck) can support enough weight, are not fire hazards, have the right safety precautions, and so on. These are mandatory specifications that you must follow in order to build, and without them, the structure will not pass an inspection and will likely need major upgrades or removal.
Do I need a deck building permit?
Even though all decks must meet a minimum code, not all deck building projects require a permit. Generally speaking, it depends on the size, style, and placement of your deck, as well as other environmental factors and how you plan to protect or use it.
The City of Calgary has an excellent resource page for you to decide if you need a permit. If any of the following conditions apply, you will need one:
- Generally, if it is bigger than 100 sq. ft.
- The deck is higher than 0.6 m (2’) above the ground at any point
- You are replacing, rebuilding, or extending an existing deck/balcony (or part of its structure) higher than 0.6 m above the ground
- You are adding stairs to an existing deck/balcony
- The deck/balcony has or will have a roof attached to your house structure (if it has a detached roof, there’s a separate page with more information)
In most cases, building a deck or patio will only need a building permit (i.e. building safety approval). There are certain cases, though, where a development permit would also be needed, such as if there was a conflict with a land use bylaw. This planning approval must be done before the building permit application is submitted. Find more information here.
How much does a deck permit cost?
While not expensive compared to the cost of an entire deck, the fees and other costs for permits should be considered when you’re saving up to build. If you only need a building permit, the city application fee is roughly $210 after taxes. If you need a development permit, too, the city charges $579 to apply for and approve that. This City of Calgary deck building page has links to further information and details.
Consequences of building a deck without a permit
While there’s no one to physically stop you from building a deck without a permit, the consequences for it can be harsh and we absolutely advise against doing it. If you ever want to sell, rent, or renovate the house, a deck with no permit will cause big headaches down the road (and you’ll lose money in the process).
The biggest impact to you will likely not be financial, but a matter of your guests’ safety. If the deck isn’t distributing weight properly, it may collapse, slide, or twist, bringing down the entire structure. Since there may be people, propane tanks, and open flames on the deck at the time, that is a major danger to everyone involved.
If the work can pass an inspection, you may simply have to apply for a retroactive permit, with added fees – usually more than twice the original permit cost. In most instances, you’ll have to do this in addition to shelling out for repairs, upgrades, and inspections to bring the structure up to code. And in extreme cases, the deck might be torn down altogether, with the demolition and disposal fees coming out of your own pocket.
How to make sure a DIY deck is up to code
Luckily, ensuring you were building a deck to code isn’t too hard – you can go to a lumberyard and build out your blueprints, and they should be able to recommend the right lengths, materials, and construction process. And getting your permits is even easier – simply go to the city’s website and apply online for the correct documents.
Overall, for someone without a lot of experience in building, making sure you cover all your bases can be challenging, as there are a lot of small details that can really add up. If you’re unsure about doing it on your own, getting a professional team to plan, build, and sign off on all the deck work is a perfect solution that will have you relaxing without worry in the summer sun. So if that’s what you’re after, give Maritime West Construction a call!