By Mark Weisleder
With summer in full swing many homeowners turn their eye to a backyard deck. What better place to relax or have a barbecue and entertain their friends? But if you’re planning to build one yourself, be careful.
If it isn’t done right, you may run into problems later when you try and sell your home.
Here are seven things to consider:
1. Do I need a building permit? Every community has its own rules, but typically, if your deck is more than two feet above the ground and roughly 10 by 10, you will need a building permit. In some places, if the deck is attached to your home, you always need a building permit. In my opinion, by getting a proper permit, 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 should I use to build it? David Power, president of The Deck Builders 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. Does the deck’s size matter? Yes. Toronto planner Michael Goldberg says the square footage of a deck may count when determining whether your home complies with the zoning bylaws.
For example, if the deck is at least four feet off the ground or the foundation is extended for construction of the deck, then it will count toward the square footage available for building.
If the deck is too close to the lot line, it could also be a problem. If you make a mistake, you could be forced to remove all or part of your deck.
4. DIY vs. a pro: In my opinion, you should always use an expert. However, if you like doing these things yourself, beware that 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 visiting your home.
5. Is deck design important? It is very important. Figure out in advance where your barbecue and furniture are going. If a hot tub is going in, make sure you leave enough space for this as well. Some owners prefer the hot tub close to their house 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 more than two feet off the ground, you will likely need a guard rail that is at least three feet high. Once the deck is higher than six feet off the ground, it will require a 3 ½ foot high railing.
In all cases, the openings in the guard rails cannot be larger than four inches so that no one falls through.
7. Should a deck be part of a home inspection? 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.
Mark Weisleder is a Toronto real estate lawyer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org