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Building a Deck in Washington, DC

Posted in: deck questions, decks in Washington, D.C.

James Moylan

Friday, March 11, 2016


Whenever you’re looking to undertake a construction project, it inevitably involves a lot of paperwork, permitting, and logistical back-and-forth. If you’re currently looking into building a deck in the Washington, DC, region, there are certainly these issues to contend with. However, familiarizing yourself with what you might face beforehand can help that process go smoother. With that in mind, consider the following tips, tricks, and pitfalls of building a deck in Washington, DC.

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Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA)

Building permits for something like a deck project will have to go through DCRA. This offers both positive aspects as well as potential hurdles.

While navigating this agency’s bureaucracy is notoriously complicated, the good news is there is quite a bit of leniency as it relates to building atypical projects.

If there’s something unique or different about your deck project, other jurisdictions outside of Washington, DC, can put up roadblocks that derail that project. In DC, so long as the proper channels are followed and the necessary paperwork is complete, you’re more likely to be able to bring your ideas to fruition and obtain those necessary zoning variances.

City Restrictions

Washington, DC, can be a tricky place to build because it’s a city, and there are some unique workarounds you and your design team will have to take into account when undertaking a job within that jurisdiction.

For example, no building project within the city can exceed ten levels high. (This is something to consider if you’re interested in a rooftop deck.)

Prepare for other permit-related city restrictions, such as:

  • Parking permits for all vehicles within the city.
  • Dumpster permit if that Dumpster is not on the property itself. Note: Dumpster permits need to be applied for multiple weeks ahead of time to ensure everything is ready for the build. You’ll also need to devise a way to cover the Dumpster, as a Dumpster in the city will fill up—and fill up quickly—if you don’t stop others from using it.

Variety within DC

DC offers a variety of building options, and each has a varying level of logistical difficulty. Depending on the structure to which you’re adding a deck, you can either do a rooftop deck or a backyard deck.

Backyard decks are always going to be easier because there’s simply more space to work with. Typically, the building will also have a driveway, and that will allow for materials to be dropped in the yard or even to have a dump truck in the yard itself.

If you’re building a rooftop deck or trying to add a deck to a rowhome, that’s going to be more difficult. In a congested city setting, there will be less room to maneuver and work, and that’s going to slow down progress.

Working on a rowhome or completing a rooftop deck can also often require a crane rental, which can run about $200 per hour. There’s also a street closure permit that often must accompany crane use. (This, in particular, must be obtained well in advance of the build.)

If an alleyway is usable for crane storage, the street closure permit might be avoided. However, it’s best to go on the guidance of the crane company. They’ll know about telephone wire, cable wire, and tree clearance as well as crane storage feasibility in your particular building area.


Image courtesty of Danver Stainless Outdoor Kitchens


Permits can be obtained either in person or online. Online permits generally take fourteen to twenty-eight days. (However, always expect the permitting process to take a bit longer in DC than stated.)

If you go in person, you can do a walkthrough and be done that day.

For the best chance at a seamless permitting process, work with builders who have DC-specific experience. They’ll be more familiar with the process and will know what to expect.

This includes what information they need about the lot to obtain those permits, which includes, but is not limited to:

  • Livable space
  • Total floor space
  • Number of levels
  • Lot coverage

Even though a deck can be a relatively straightforward build, the permitting process and logistics of building in Washington, DC, can make the process a bit more difficult. For more information about what you might need for your DC deck project or what pitfalls to avoid, please feel free to contact a representative of Design Builders, Inc.