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Deck Planning

Decks and Property Regulations

Towns regulate how properties can be developed and built on. This can affect the size of the deck, shape and where on the property it can be built. Before planning a project, it's always a good idea to check with your local building or zoning department for the most up-to-date information regarding setbacks, land coverage restrictions and other requirements that pertain to deck projects.

Deck Planning and Town Regulations

Land Coverage

Depending on the region where you live, decks may have to abide by land coverage regulations. This is the percentage of land the combine square footage of structures may cover as a percentage to the land available. Buildings and surfaces that are considered impervious to water or deflect it to another location are usually included in the total land coverage allowed. This includes houses, pools, driveways and even patios built with concrete pavers. To a great extent, land coverage regulations are in place to alleviate poor or inadequate rain and melting snow run off and the over development of land.


Calculating Land Coverage

Land coverage is based on the total square footage of structures divided by the square footage of land. For instance, a house that is 30 feet in length and 26 feet in width when multiplied together is 780 (30 x 26 =780). That structure would occupy 780 square feet of land. In addition a deck that's 15 feet x 20 feet would occupy 300 square feet of land. When both totals are added together, the total area of land that both structures occupy would be 1080 square feet. Divide 1080 by the total square footage of property, for example 15,000 square feet and you end up with .072. Which in-turn would mean that 7.2 percent of the land is occupied by the house and deck.

Land coverage totals may also include: driveways, block patios, concrete patios, walkways, sheds, pools etc. Your building department and planning board can assist you with the requirements for property and the occupying structures that make up the total land coverage


Easements

An easement is a parcel of land set aside usually for access to utility lines or protection of environmental areas. Easements may already exist prior to the development of the property. Utility companies have the right of passage with an easement to service or inspect lines and building on or near them is usually prohibited. Other easements are designated to avoid land lock parcels of property that would otherwise not be accessible. A good detailed property survey will usually have easements clearly defined.


Property Setbacks

A setback is a distance that must be maintained from the property line that cannot be built upon. Setbacks act as buffer zones to help alleviate development problems such as being too close to your neighbor. A proposed deck that encroaches into a property setback will most likely need a variance to in order to obtain a construction permit. Property setbacks may be indicated on your survey.


Before planning or designing a deck project check with your local building or zoning department. They will have the most up to date information regarding setbacks, land coverage restrictions or other requirements.


Watershed

Designated sections of land set aside for the purposes of maintaining proper water tables, water run off, drainage, flood control and for protected areas. The town, which usually includes the environmental protection agency, may require a deck project to be a few feet to several yards away from a watershed area.


Septic Systems

Septic systems often consist of buried waste lines from the house to a main holding tank. The main holding tank may have one or more waste lines connecting to underground leaching fields. In determining the placement of a deck, the septic system must remain serviceable and able to be replaced in the future. Muncipalities will usually require that the deck cannot be built above a septic tank and footings cannot be closer than 5 feet from the side of the tank. This may vary depending on region, soil conditions and systems. Septic systems and buried home heating oil tanks are also often overlooked due to inadequate records when installing these systems. Most property surveys do not indicate the septic system.


Buried Oil Tanks

It was popular at one time to bury steel oil tanks used for home heating. Many were installed a few feet away from the home usually in the rear and side yards. Uncovering one of these tanks while digging may end up costing the owner of the property few hundred dollars for removal. If the tank is no longer being used, many towns will require it to be removed. To start, you will need to contact the building department and let them know what you have found. They will most likely tell you to call the environmental protection agency. To remove a tank you need to contact a company the deals with oil tank removal. They will have to cut open the tank, remove any oil that still remains and then dispose of the tank and any oil properly.


Existing Decks

One would assume that you could simply replace an existing deck without having to go through the paperwork of obtaining a permit. This is far from fact. Property development restrictions, construction methods and building requirements change over time. This can make an existing deck non-compliant to the current guidelines. In addition, the original deck may have been illegally built. Building departments review deck plans to see if it they conform to the current requirements and inspected the project to make sure the work has been properly done.


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