Do I Need A Building Permit To Build A Deck And What Is The Process?

Picture of concrete footings, post, beam and joists for the new deck

Picture of concrete footings, post, beam and joists for the new deck

One of the first questions you should have when planning your new deck is, “do I need a building permit to build my deck?” The best way to find this out is visit your local city hall and get a copy of the building regulations and understand the building permit process.

While you are at the planning department it is also a very good idea to talk to someone about your initial deck plans and see if there is anything on your lot that you should take into consideration when designing your deck. This could be an easement on your property, setback restrictions, etc. This one step could save you a lot of time and money down the road.

Details on the building permit application

You might also be able to download the deck building regulations and building permit application your cities website. For reference, here’s a link to the PDF document for the City of Surrey titled: A Guide to Applying for a Building Permit for a Detached Garage or Accessory Building, click here.

The document above is provided for a reference to see what usual information is provided in building permit documents. You will need to download or get a copy of the document for your city or town.

The building regulations will usually have a lot of good information on what is involved and what you need to supply to get a permit. Here’s some of the information included in most building permit guidelines:

  • List of application requirements
  • Information on the drawing type and preferred scale
  • Specific drawing requirements
  • Examples of different plans, which are a good reference

It is good to know what requirements are necessary in your building permit application. If every thing is done correctly the process will be a lot smoother and quicker.

If you have any questions make sure you talk to someone at your local city hall to get answers and clarifications. The rules and regulations are not always straight forward. We have a funny shaped backyard and we thought one side was part of our backyard, but when you look at our site plans it is the side yard and it has different restrictions.

Because the side yard setback is shorter than the backyard setback we needed to change the size of our deck. This was very sad because we really like the layout of the deck and it increased the price of the plans because we had to have the architect update the plans. Lesson learned!

As part of the redesign we visited city hall again and ask a few more questions about our design and they were very helpful. They reviewed the plans and let us know we could extend the deck a couple of feet if it was cantilevered out, but we could not put a roof on any of it. Two feet doesn’t seem like a lot but it made a big difference for our design.

In case you are wondering, our building permit application cost $246.50. I have no idea what the price is based on, but it was for a second story deck.

What is the building permit process?

Once you have submitted your deck building permit application you are not finished with city hall. Here are the steps that we followed once we submitted all of the paper work:

  • City reviews and hopefully approves your application.
  • Go to the city and pick up all of your approved documents. They included everything in a clear plastic bag and you need to have this posted and available on your building site.
  • We also had to post the building permit number on the front of our house in plan view.
  • Depending on your deck design, the city will visit and approve certain parts of the construction. In our case this included: concrete footings before the concrete is poured, finished concrete footings, finished rafters, finished electrical wiring and lights, final approval. They also had to show up to approve a change on our plans half way through the project.

When the city inspector visits your building site they will review your deck and need to complete and sign a form that shows what they inspected and if it passed or failed. They may also make notes on the form.

They may also need to access the approved documents you received from the city planning department. Without these documents they will not complete their inspection. So make sure you have these at all times and do not loose anything.

You are not supposed to move on with new construction until they sign off on the existing work. For example, you can’t start working on the deck structure until the concrete footings are signed off.

It can be a real pain waiting for the city to show up and approve your work. Especially when you just want to get on with building your deck. This is where it is important to understand what parts of the construction need to be reviewed and who you call when it is ready. This is where our contractor was handy. He let us know who to call right away to make sure they showed up the next day. He knew that they could schedule us in the next day if we called before 3:30pm.

It’s actually very helpful that you have an inspector showing up to approve your work, this is because you are getting a second set of eyes to make sure your deck is up to code and safe. It’s much better to find out if there is an issue with the foundations before you start building the rest of your deck.

So remember the inspection and approval is part of the process and take this into account when you are planning your project. Don’t order the concrete to show up before the footings are approved.

The deck plans and why they are so important

One of the most important documents in your building permit application is your deck plans. From my experience, this is the main document they review. They will stamp it, sign it and make notes on it. At first I was worried about the notes, but in my case it was more of a reminder.

When the inspector comes he will reivew your stamped plans with your actual deck. During the project, the contractor pointed out a better way to install the 2×12 joists. Based on his experience this was a better design and it allowed us to remove a beam that was in an awkward spot.

But to make this change to the deck design we had to update the plans, get them signed by a professional engineer and then approved by the city. This all had to be done on the original plans.

Another good use for the deck plans is the actual building of the deck. With good plans in hand, you or your contractor know exactly what you are building. I made a copy of the signed plans for our contractor. This way the city plans were safe in the plastic bag and teh contractor could scribble on them or get them dirty.

I had a recommended architect design our plans, but there is no reason why you could not do them yourself with pencil and paper or deck design software.

Tips on building permits for your deck

– Determine if you need a permit before you start designing your deck

– Don’t be afraid of visiting city hall and asking questions about your deck design and plans, this can save you time and money down the road.

– Provide good detailed plans – it will speed up the approval process.

This is my fourth article on building a deck. For the previous article, please read: 5 Reasons Why Deck Plans Are Necessary and How to Create Them For Free.


  1. Thanks for explaining the building permit process….it really answered a lot of my questions. Thanks for clarifying that you can not move on with new construction until they sign off on the existing work . This little tip is going to save me a lot of headaches. I like to get things done fast so knowing this step will help me to know what I need to do to keep my pace going. Thanks once again for the help!

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