Building a deck is a big project, and whether you decide to take it on yourself or enlist the help of a professional, knowing what a decking project entails is essential to a successful install. 

In part two of our decking series, we’re going to share just that. Over the next nine episodes, we’re joined by one of the greater Seattle area’s premier deck builders: former co-founder of West Coast Decks, Joel Skillingstead. Joel has been building decks in the Pacific Northwest since 1990. With more than 30 years of experience building, overseeing, and waterproofing deck projects large and small, Joel is one of the best resources out there. 

In today’s discussion, Joel shares information about deck permitting—how to find out if you need one, and what the risks are if you build without a permit. 

What kind of deck project requires a permit?

Every municipality determines how projects get permitted, and there are several variables that go into that determination. Generally, the primary determining factor is the deck’s elevation off the ground. 

For example, some cities require permits for any freestanding deck that's more than 30” off the ground (at the highest point). In Seattle, where homes are closer together and privacy is a concern, any deck more than 18” off the ground requires a permit. 

Whether a deck is freestanding or attached to your home matters, too. In several cities, any deck attached to a structure requires a permit, regardless of height.

Your property line can also play a factor in whether you need to permit. Many cities have setback rules, which tell you how far within the property line the deck needs to be.

What does the permitting process look like?

It’s crucial to go through the process of getting a permit if your project requires one. Overlooking the permitting process can cause a lot of problems—especially when it comes to selling your home. Building codes change yearly, so permitting your deck appropriately means it’ll save you from headaches down the road.

If you’re taking on a decking project yourself and need to acquire a permit, the best place to start is by going online to your city (or county) website. Every municipality has a permitting resource center with how-tos and helpful information on how to get started. 

In general, you’ll need to submit a series of documents to apply for a permit. These usually include a completed application form, site and building plans, footing plans, framing plans, and a range of other documentation depending on the specifics of your project.

How much does a deck permit cost?

Permitting fees can vary greatly depending on the size and location of the project. Generally, the bigger the deck, the more expensive the permit will cost. That also applies to the complexity of the project. For instance, deck plans with large spans or beams require an engineer’s stamp before they’re permitted, which incurs an extra cost.

Some cities and counties use building departments as profit centers, meaning permitting and inspections are the primary way they generate revenue. In those cases, permitting fees may be higher than neighboring municipalities.

What happens if you don’t get a deck permit?

If your project requires a permit—get one. Failure to do so can cause you real pain down the road. It’s not uncommon for neighbors to complain to the city or county office about construction, and if your municipal building department finds out about unpermitted work, they’ll likely file a stop work order immediately. 

In Seattle, if you build without a permit or fail to get a final inspection approval, you may be fined. Additionally, if the city finds out you’re building without a permit and your structure isn’t up to code, you’ll have to tear down and start the process over again.

Building without a permit can also cause headaches when it comes time to sell your home. Selling a home with unpermitted remodel work affects its marketability, as well as the potential buyer’s ability to get financing. 

Decking projects have lots of technicalities, and whether you’re leading the charge or bringing in a professional’s help, it’s important to understand the ins and outs of the process. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more helpful insights from Joel. For more decking tips and advice, check out the DIY deck case study and our deck safety evaluation checklist.