Requirements for construction of a legal, permitted Washington DC deck. Highlights of the DC Deck Code.

Did you know?

The District of Columbia’s Department of Building offers a deck building guide.

Going one step further, you can also refer to The American Wood Council’s guide, “Prescriptive Residential Wood Deck Construction Guide,” based on the International Residential Code.

Be sure to study your DC permitting requirements carefully and conform to zoning and design requirements set by your Ward, neighborhood, and/or historic district as well.

Getting started
Getting Started

Important Questions

Are you building a rear deck, single level, multilevel, or a roof deck? Do you live in an historic district? Does your neighborhood offer design guidelines? Will you be incorporating plumbing and electrical elements?

  • Research and budget planning are the initial steps in building a DC deck. You'll first want to investigate the design restrictions in your neighborhood, historic district requirements, if any, DC construction codes, and read about the permitting process in DC.
  • Next, draw our a rough plan of your proposed deck structure and select the materials you'd like to use. Tools like Pinterest boards can be useful in creating a design board.
  • Once you've decided on the design for your project, reach out to an architect to draw up plans, and consult with a structural engineers to make sure your plans conform to code and the DC Deck Guide.
  • Now draw up a budget. Keep in mind the 'extras', like seating cushions, umbrellas and appliances such as grills, refrigerators & wine coolers sinks, faucets, countertops, lighting and trash receptacles. Research pricing online and by making telephone inquiries to local vendors so you'll know that your design is achievable and your budget is realistic. Always allow tor slightly more materials than specified by the design and add a pad for unforeseen costs such as labor overtime and additional/supplemental permits and inspections.
  • When all the design details are complete, interview contractors to build your deck. If you'll be adding electrical and plumbing components to your deck, you'll need to interview contractors for those elements, as well. The District requires additional permits for plumbing and electrical and they must be obtained by a licensed/bonded/insured DC contractors specific to those trades.
About Permits

You’ll need a building permit to construct your deck and in order to obtain a permit, in most cases you’ll be required to submit architectural plans for approval.  If your property is located in a Historic District, additional requirements and specifications may be required. If you modify your design or materials after receiving permit approval, you must resubmit, so be sure that you have your selections finalized before beginning the permitting process.

Where do I start with permitting?

Right here! 

And be sure to check our DC Historic Preservations Guidelines page for links to design guidelines by neighborhood.

You can also scroll down to the DC Real Estate Resources section of our Tools page for more valuable information.

deck inspection

Following construction, the Dept. of Building must conduct required inspections of deck construction to ensure compliance with the approved plans. Required inspections include footing, framing and final. If the finished deck level is smaller than four feet above grade, a framing inspection is required prior to decking

the nuts and bolts

Pre-Existing Decks

Buying a house that already has a deck?

If you’re purchasing a resale home, including a flip or even a home classified as new construction, you’ll want to make sure the deck was properly built. Why? Because violations follow the property, so you literally buy building & safety violations along with your home. Common shortcuts include not building the deck on footers, incorrect footers, improper bracing and improper use of screws, glue and nails. In addition to the DC Deck Guide, read this guide from the American Wood Association titled “Is Your Deck Safely Connected To Your House?” and always get a general inspection and, if possible, a structural engineer inspection for homes with a deck.

Roof Decks

Building a roof deck or buying a house that has a roof deck? You’ll want to check here.

Planning your deck
Planning Your Deck
Wondering where to find deck design values? Look here:  Deck Design values
Choose three designs you think will work for your project, then get input from your architect, structural engineer and/or inspector. Once you’ve found the right design, compile the corresponding materials including spec sheets, blueprints, a cost spreadsheet, design board, etc. Put it all together and present it to contractors when soliciting bids.
Hiring A Contractor

Don’t cut corners on a deck. Hire a licensed, insured & bonded DC deck builder. Contractors not licensed specifically in DC aren’t licensed in DC. There’s no such thing as being ‘under a DC contractor’s umbrella.”

Check to ensure the insurance is current. Cross-check with the DC Dept. of Building and consumer sites for complaints, reviews and history.

Make sure the contractor is experienced. Ask for photos, addresses and references. Review corresponding PIVS records. Were the decks permitted? Inspected? Does PIVS show incomplete records, or failed inspections?  Don’t hesitate to phone previous clients for their anecdotal experiences, but take them with a grain of salt as they’re likely to be the best the contractor can offer. Make sure the referenced addresses line up with PIVS records, or disregard them.

Have a plan before you hire a contractor. That way, you can compare bids without confusion over what it is that they’re building, and how. Don’t rely on the contractor for design, material choice and the details of how the deck is to be constructed. Instead, do your homework, create a plan that complies with all District and neighborhood requirements, seek the advice or assistance of an architect, then interview contractors, presenting each with a printout of the same plan. This way, you’ll get accurate bids.