How to build a Roof Deck in Baltimore / by Elijah Northen

Building a roof deck in the rapidly redeveloping neighborhoods of Baltimore has become a pillar of home ownership. Weekly (it seems daily), we're approached by folks looking for some guidance on this process. So, here's a little cheat sheet below to help guide our neighbors through their projects. Though it can vary on a case by case basis, these steps should help you navigate through most situations you'll encounter. The primary caveat being historic districts, which often have restrictions greater than those enforced city-wide. 


Design it

Hire an Architect or Engineer. Nope, we're not trying to drum up work for our friends. You'll need drawings bearing the seal of an Architect or Structural engineer, licensed in Maryland, to proceed though the permitting process. Required drawings are published here, along with a few others we've learned though trial and error...and error...and error. Along with a site plan, floor plan, and section, be sure to clearly include property lines on all drawings, as well as a stair detail and a structural detail illustrating the railing and post connection to the house. Between 2-4 weeks is a reasonable time frame in which to expect completed drawings for a deck, assuming your designer has time in his or her schedule.

Hire a builder (contractor). Again, he or she must be licensed in Maryland. Make sure this is someone with whom you're comfortable, and be sure to obtain a quote based on the architect's design before proceeding. As with architects, there are some great ones and some lousy ones, so vet your options wisely, and remember, you get what you pay for.


Do Your Homework

Before rushing in for permits, verify you've filled out the permit application to the best of your ability. They're sticklers for nuance. The more you can do upfront, the less time you'll spend when you get there. The application can be found on the city's website along with a list of requirements to which you and your architect/builder team must adhere. Of note are the certified letters you must send any adjoining neighbors. You must have this letter in hand, along with the green certification slip given to you by the post office. No slip, no permit. No exceptions. If your home was recently purchased, it's a good idea to grab your closing papers before you head out the door. I've been told on more than one occasion that I didn't own my own home. No joke.


Head Downtown

More specifically, 417 E. Fayette St. Rm. 100. Walk in the building, turn left, get in line. Wait. Go mid morning or early afternoon if possible. Wait times drastically increase first thing in the morning, mid day, and late afternoon. You should have with you 4 sealed & signed copies of your drawings (as listed in the link above), permit application, $25 permit processing fee, and your letters to your neighbors (along with proof of certified mail). Upon the successful review and approval of your drawings (don't be surprised if it takes a little back and forth) you'll be given a ticket and told to wait for processing - an experience reminiscent of central booking with a splash of MVA.

If your deck design raises any eyebrows (zoning, historic preservation views, etc, your day will likely end here) If you have a good architect on your team he/she probably brought this to your attention ahead of time. Your drawings will then go through a more formal review process which can take several weeks. If you've cleared all the requisite hurdles, however, you'll pay your fee and be on your way, permit in hand. Your permit fee hovers between 1%-2% of the total construction cost from your application. And remember, YOU'RE the one who wrote that number on your application. Just saying.


Build it

During construction, be sure to have your building permits displayed at all times. Remember, additional permits may be required for electrical work or other trades, but those will be handled by the individual subcontractors during the course of construction. Also keep in mind that your drawings (Construction Documents) are contract documents and bear the weight of a contract. If the work does not appear to be in compliance with the design as it was bid by the contractor, consult your architect. You have the contractual right to request the work be amended to conform with the agreement.