7 Questions to Ask when Building a Deck

By Mark Weisleder in Toronto Star on July 7th, 2014
Now that summer has finally arrived, many home owners may think about building a backyard 
deck by themselves.
 
Be careful; if it is not done correctly, you may run into problems later when 
you try and sell your home.
 
Here are 7 things to remember:
 
1. Do you need a building permit?
Every City has its own rules, but typically, if your deck is higher than 2 feet above the ground 
and is larger than 108 square feet, you will need a building permit before starting. In some 
cities, if the deck is attached to your home, then you always need a building permit before you 
build. In my opinion, by getting a proper permit in advance, it is easier to answer any questions 
about your deck when you sell your home later. This is because the City will do a proper 
inspection when your deck is completed to make sure that everything was built correctly.
 
2. What material should I use when I build a deck?
David Power, President of www.thedeckbuilders.com in Toronto, tells me that while the 
foundation of most decks is usually pressure treated wood, the veneer and railings are usually 
cedar. David warns that if you decide to stain your cedar deck, you should pre-stain all six sides 
of the wood before you install it. In addition, make sure that there is at least a one-quarter inch 
gap between each piece of wood. 
 
3. Will it matter how large I build a deck or whether it is close to the boundary line?
The answer is yes. As explained to me by Toronto planner Michael Goldberg of 
www.goldberggroup.ca. , the square footage area of a deck may count when determining 
whether your home complies with the zoning by-laws regarding how close any structure can be 
to the lot lines and how much square feet is permitted to be built inside your entire lot. For 
example, if the deck is at least 48 inches off the ground or the foundation is extended for 
construction of the deck, then it will count towards how many total square feet you can build 
on your land. In addition, if the deck is built too close to the lot line, it could also violate the 
local zooming by-laws. If you make a mistake, you could be forced to remove all or part of your 
deck.
 
4. Should you do it yourself or use an expert?
In my opinion, you should always use an expert. If the deck is not properly secured to your 
home, it could lead to water in the basement later. In addition, improper design and 
construction could lead to the deck rotting out and collapsing under the weight of people on it. 
If it happens, you will be liable for any injuries caused to guests who may be injured while 
visiting your home. Experts will make sure that your deck has the proper footings in place for 
the foundation so that it meets all building code requirements and that it is properly secured to 
your home to prevent problems later. 
 
5. Is deck design important before you start?
It is very important. Figure out in advance where your barbecue is going to go, and any 
furniture you may want to include. If you are going to install a hot tub as part of your deck, 
make sure you leave enough space for this as well. Some owners prefer the hot tub close to 
their home so they can use it in the winter. Others prefer it in another area of the yard, so that 
they can have more room to entertain on the deck.
 
6. Will I need guard rails?
If the deck is higher than 24 inches off the ground, you will likely need a guard rail that is at 
least 36 inches high. Once the deck is higher than 6 feet off the ground, it will require a 42 inch 
high guard rail. In all cases, the openings in the guard rails cannot be larger than 4 inches so 
that no one falls through.
 
7. Should a deck be inspected as part of any home inspection when buying a resale home?
The answer is yes. Professional home inspectors should be able to tell you whether the deck is 
deficient in any way and whether it may have to be replaced as a result of poor workmanship. 
When you are looking for a deck contractor, get references and look at examples of the work 
they have done elsewhere. Properly constructed decks should last for at least 20 years. 
 
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