By Rob Parker, Special to Postmedia Network
With the summer outdoor entertaining season upon us, you might be considering building a deck, porch, patio or landscaping to add to your outdoor living space. You should first assess and identify how you and your family and friends will use the newly created space and whether or not it will be a good fit with your existing exterior structures and landscaping.
When designing and determining the location of your outdoor space, here are some helpful tips:
- When it comes to decks you should note that most municipalities require a building permit before the start of any construction:
- Decks should never be built over air-conditioning units, vents for fireplaces, furnace, hot water heaters, or dryers as all have codes for required clearances/distances from the deck structure.
- Deck stairs should have uniform step heights and tread depths to ensure people do not trip. Riser of each stair should be enclosed.
- If your deck has 3 or more steps, a full railing and hand railings are required. Stairs should have handrails that are a comfortable size and shape for grasping. A circular shape 30 – 40 mm (1¼ – 1½ in.) in diameter is appropriate for most people. The height of handrails should be 860 – 920 mm (34 – 36 in.) and a second handrail at a height of 665 – 700 mm (26¼ – 27½ in.) is recommended if children will be using the stairs. Height of the railing around the deck varies depending on height of the deck from the ground. Your permit will state the proper railing height.
- Wooden decks should be cleaned and sealed with either a stain or other water-proofing product at least once per year.
- When constructing a deck or patio, ensure there is adequate manoeuvering space at landings for devices such as walkers, wheelchairs or scooters
- When landscaping ensure the grade slopes away and that all downspouts are extended at least one meter from the foundation and that the soil is at least 10 centimetres below the top of the foundation. Same distances apply for basement windows unless protected by a window well with a drain.
- For bushes you should have an air space between the exterior wall and the bush of at least 10 centimetres. Bushes should also be trimmed so they are at least one metre from air conditioning units to avoid airflow obstruction.
- Trees should be planted far enough away from the exterior walls of the house so that in 20 years, branches are not hanging over the roof of the house or its root system is not interfering with the weeping bed of the drainage system. If in doubt, consult with experts at a nursery.
Decks are traditionally raised off the ground, and patios are generally at ground level. In the past, decks were built of wood. Now there are several products that look and feel like wood, such as wood-plastic composites, and plastic and rubber boards. Common patio building materials include poured concrete, interlocking stones, paving slabs, asphalt and rubberized surfaces. Ideally, patios, terraces and seating areas should be accessible by a pathway and incorporate an appropriate turning space.
When purchasing a home, you should also be aware that decks are included in a general home inspection therefore your inspector will be able to provide information concerning the deck’s condition at the time of the inspection; however, in most cases the inspector is limited to only reporting on the upper side of the deck as underneath has been closed in with a skirt or too low to the ground to view.
Design and choice of materials and finishes for your exterior living space is often based on esthetics, personal preference, environmental impact and cost with a vast array of choice of which is better suited to your needs than another.
Rob Parker is a registered home inspector (RHI) with the Ontario Association of Home Inspectors, and an ASHI certified inspector (ACI) with the American Society of Home Inspectors. Rob can be reached at Thamespec Home Inspection Service (519) 857-7101, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or visitwww.thamespec-inspections.com