Questions To Ask Your Deck Contractor

The quest to find the right contractor to complete your decking project can feel overwhelming and stressful. However, it’s certainly possible to track down the right contractor for the job and get the information you need about each of your prospects before making the decision.

How to Find & Choose a Deck Contractor

The best place to start your search for a deck contractor is online or a referral from a friend. Decks.com uses past customers’ experiences to publicly rate contractors across the U.S. Most established deck contractors now have their own websites offering an overview of their qualifications and pictures of their work. This will give you a chance to evaluate their abilities before you give them a call.

IRC Deck Code Requirements

In order to obtain a building permit for a deck attached to a single family residential home, your plans must be reviewed to be in compliance with the IRC. The International Residential Code (IRC) is a comprehensive collection of the specific rules that apply to residential construction and that is administered by the International Code Council (ICC). If you are a contractor, this book is a must have. You can buy a copy online at www.iccsafe.org.  Nearly all states in the US have at some level adopted the International Residential Code as the model building code for construction of one- and two-family dwellings (duplexes), as well as townhomes. Townhomes are unique multi-family structures with an unlimited number of connected dwelling units. However, the units must be separated from the foundation vertically to the roof; no part of any one can be under or on top of another. Each unit must also be open on at least two sides. Traditional row homes are an example of townhome construction under the IRC. In regions that have not adopted the IRC, they likely use the group R-3 exceptions contained in the International Building Code. These exceptions generally modify the commercial rules to be very similar to the IRC. Building codes are not regulated at the federal government level, and they are the authority of the state. The building inspector’s job is to interpret and enforce the rules as they are stated in the IRC. In other words, inspectors are not allowed to make their own rules. Because of this, building codes should be fairly consistent from city to city and state to state. 

How to Build a Deck in HOA Community

Some housing developments are a part of a Home Owners Associations (HOA) that requires you to receive permission from them before building a deck. Most people know if their house is under the authority of an Association. If there is any question, the Building Inspections Department will let you know before you submit your permit. There are over 23 million homes across America that are managed under HOAs. If you are planning on building a deck onto a townhouse, chances are you will need to contact a HOA.  Each Association works in its own way, imposing different levels of restrictions in an attempt to maintain consistency throughout the development. For instance, some Associations may only allow certain types of materials for decks or require a certain style of guardrails to match neighboring decks. If your deck meets the requirements, they will usually draft a short letter granting permission to build the project. You should include this letter with your application to the building department.

The International Building Code Requirements for Decks

Multifamily structures, those that house many different dwelling units and families, provide a much greater threat to many lives in the event of a building disaster. For these reasons, public facilities or public features in multifamily structures such as apartment buildings, restaurants or shopping centers must be built to a different, and typically higher, level of construction. The International Building Code (IBC) is the most widely-adopted model code for commercial construction in the US. Today, government authorities do not publish their own construction standards. Rather, leaders draft ordinances and laws that reference model codes published by industry organizations like the International Code Council, the publisher of the International Building Code. If not considered “town homes” a multifamily building will likely be regulated under the IBC.

Building A Deck Over A Septic Tank

It is usually not a good idea to build a deck near or on top of a septic tank. Most zoning ordinances will require that you maintain at least a 5′ setback from an underground septic system. Installing frost footings and applying deck loads over a septic tank could result in damaging the tank or waste lines. A punctured septic tank will create a terrible mess and an expensive problem. Septic tanks also require access for maintenance. Abandoned or out of use septic tanks should also be avoided. Some older properties have buried septic systems that are not marked on surveys along with other utilities and easements. This can be an unpleasant surprise when installing footings for a deck. 

Residential PSF Deck Requirements

For a residential deck, the code requires it be designed to support a minimum 40-psf live load. The live load is the external force applied to a deck due to the activities of its use. People, furniture and any other movable, physical objects on the deck are covered under live load. In commercial buildings, the minimum live load required by the International Building Code is determined by the anticipated use of each space, and thus, the anticipated density of people in the space. For assembly uses, such as restaurants, churches and music venues, the minimum live load is 100 psf. Conventional deck construction can support greater live loads by using larger dimension lumber or closer spacing of joists and beams. For residential decks designed for entertaining large groups, it’s not a bad idea to overbuild it from the minimum 40 psf required by building codes. In regions with heavy snowfall, the snow load may exceed the 40-psf live load. In those instances, allowable spans for larger live loads can substitute for an equivalent snow load. For example, a span table for 60-psf live load could be used for a region with a 60-psf snow load. Some conditions may require additional design consideration, such as areas subject to drifting snow or sliding snow from roofs above. Those loads act on the deck differently and more substantially than live loads.

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