Help for building that perfect deck

Make sure you check with the bureaucrats at municipal hall before you start your project

  • Apr. 19, 2012 6:00 a.m.

The sun is teasing us with brief appearances during these early spring days. But such short bursts of warmth are still enough to bring to mind long leisurely hours spent barbecuing, entertaining or just soaking up those rays on your very own backyard deck.

That is if you have one.

If you don’t have that perfect deck, chances are you are thinking of building one.

While it’s important to nail down the size, design and precise plan of your deck, there’s one other call to make before you break ground on your new project, and that’s a call to the municipality.

Yes, that’s right.

Many people don’t realize that you need a permit to add even a small deck to your existing home.

But Cathy Bittroff, the point person at Maple Ridge municipal hall for anyone looking to build a deck, has done her best to make sure people are informed about the rules.

Her advice is to check the municipal website before you begin.

“This kind of thing is so foreign to most of us,” she says. “That’s why we’ve made a handout and given example drawings. We want to simplify things if we can.”

The handout is located at the municipal website (www.mapleridge.ca) and forms needed to apply for a permit can be found in the resident section under accessory building applications.

Residents must present two sets of plans for a deck and Bittroff has included examples on the municipal website.

You can create your own plans unless your deck has a roof, glass guardrails or cantilevered sections more than a couple of feet long, or if your property has a geodetic elevation larger than 84 metres.

In these cases, you’ll need to get a design from a structural engineer before you get the go-ahead to begin.

As with any renovation or building  project, you also need to ensure that you are not affecting watercourses or septic fields, and if you do have a septic, you will need a sealed letter from a wastewater practitioner or engineer.

And it will cost you.

The permit price is based on the square footage of your new deck . A 100-sq.-ft. deck will cost you less than $100 for approval.

“The main reason for the permit is for safety,” Bittroff says. “People sometimes think permits are just a government money grab, but safety is our main concern.”

Local home improvement specialist Morgan Jensen agrees that safety should be one of the top considerations when homeowners begin a do-it-yourself deck construction or renovation.

He notes that people should talk to their house insurer about adding the new deck to their coverage.

“People often forget about this, but it really should be done,” he says. “Especially when the deck is up high.”

Jensen says the No. 1 tip he would give to do-it-yourself deck builders is to be aware of how a new deck is attached to the existing house.

Despite our dreams of hot days on our decks, the reality is we live in a very wet climate that can create water damage if you don’t get this detail right.

“People need to do their homework,” he says.

In fact, in his list of Top 10 deck tips, Jensen suggests that your deck doesn’t necessarily have to be attached to the house.

Instead, the structure can be entirely supported by posts and footings.

Some of his other tips include using posts and joists as large as possible to ensure the best stability.

Take your time planning your deck. Lay out boards or ropes to plan your deck and don’t leave the planning of stairs and landings to the end.

And while safety and building codes vary, remember that once a deck is more than a foot off the ground, railings should always be used.

Spring is, not surprisingly, the busiest time of year to get a permit or find a builder to help you out, but you can still get the go ahead to build your dream deck in anywhere from one to three weeks even during peak times, Bittroff adds.

So, take care of the details. Get the permits. Talk to an expert. Roll up your sleeves and you’ll have the satisfaction of earning that cool drink just in time for those luxurious long dog days of summer.