From the Forum – ground-level deck, building code, inspection

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ground-level deck, building code, inspection

“I’m trying to convince myself that I could install a small ground-level deck in my backyard. I.e., a wooden deck that essentially rests on the level ground (on buried concrete anchors) and has it’s deck surface only 8-12 inches above ground level. A call to the DCRA Homeowner Center suggests I buy a survey drawing on which to indicate where the deck would go, and then also provide a drawing detailing how the deck would be built, and they can issue permits. I began tip-toeing into DC building codes just to make sure I addressed things, like how deep to bury concrete pilings below frost line, what size 2x boards to use, etc, but quickly got beaten down. I welcome any wisdom in terms of how to best find all the info I need so I can make sure to check all the boxes and build this thing that seemed fairly straightforward until I called DCRA. E.g., can I avoid putting rails and stairs since it’s so low to the ground? Many thanks.”

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10 Comment

  • DCRA has all this great information on their website about what does and does not require a permit, but absolutely no information about permit requirements or building guidelines. I’d recommend starting with Lowes (or similar) deck builder program to get an idea of the materials you’ll need: Fairfax County has this great online guide that should meet all of DC’s standards (DC uses the current ICC regs.) That fairfax doc gives you tables to calculate the right lumber, railings, and fasteners for the size, shape, height and features of your deck. Good luck.

    • I’ve been trying to figure out what requires a permit, but I still cannot figure out what constitutes a “structure.” Is there anywhere on the DCRA site that defines that?

      • DCRA publishes the building code on their site, but as other have said: good luck! It’s a series of huge PDFs, and you have to know what you are looking for. All of the information is there, but it will take some work to find all of the relevant codes that apply to your particular structure. The Homeowners Center really is a good start, I would suggest getting copies of your plat and attempting to draw something up. If you have something concrete for them to work with they are pretty good at guiding you through the rest of the process.

    • Fairfax county has great info, as does Prince William – drawings and everything. DC generally just says they go by national building code, which is not helpful.

  • HaileUnlikely

    The requirement for a survey drawing sounds dumb but is true; this it to make sure that what you build is entirely on your property. I suspect that it is extraordinarily unlikely that DCRA would fine you or make you take it down if you just proceed, but I’d get the permit anyway.

    • The “survey drawing” that is referred to here is actually the plat. You don’t need a survey when you build your deck (at least I didn’t). The plat is actually primarily for zoning purposes — they want to make sure you comply with the appropriate setbacks and most importantly, the lot occupancy restrictions for your particular lot. My lot in Petworth (and I think most of Petworth) is R-4. That means you can occupy 60% of the lot with structures. Decks are included (as are porches). The zoning reviewer will require that you show the proposed lot occupancy and allowable lot occupancy on your marked up plat when you apply for your permit.

      I agree 100% with the above post linking to the fairfax county deck building guide — i referenced that repeatedly when I was planning my deck. I can tell you that the footers in DC need to be either 30″ or 36″ deep, I forget which.

  • i personally would just build the thing without any “help” from the DC gov’t, but i like to live life on the edge.

    beam span tables are listed lots of places, including here:

    i did build a covered deck a few years back and had a guy and his crew pull a permit and door the footings and heavy construction, and i did the decking and roofing myself.

    • this is all fine and dandy until a neighbor complains and you get fined. might as well take the time to get the permit. Mr. Bogle (Bogel?) in the homeowners center is actually very helpful (I’ve worked through two permits with him so far) and will help you get through the various stages of the review — but you’ll need to come up with your own drawings first.

  • I don’t know about permits, but I know that when I built a similar deck in my yard it quickly became a rat condo. Same thing happened to neighbors who built one. The rats LOVE to burrow under it as it gives them lots of shelter and protection. If I wanted a ground-level deck now I would probably just get some Ikea snap-together patio pavers.

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