Guide: Deck design

What to consider in order to build the perfect deck

By Cottage LifeCottage Life


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The deck is often the entertainment centre at the cottage. It’s a great place to eat and drink (so what if something gets spilled?) and it generally accommodates a crowd.

A normal deck is a reasonably straightforward project, within the skill-set of the average cottager. Before you begin, here are some key points you need to consider.

The building permit

Generally, any structure over 108 square feet (an area smaller than the average deck) requires a building permit but, in some municipalities, a permit is required for any structure attached to the cottage. It will be granted only if your construction project meets both provincial and municipal regulations.

In this province, the Ontario Building Code is the construction bible (other provinces/states have similar documents). For deck builders, critical features covered by the OBC include:

  • Joist and beam specs
  • Construction of piers
  • Stair and railing specs

Municipal bylaws will also likely impact on your plans. Municipal requirements pertain to such things as:

  • Setback from your neighbour’s lot line
  • Setback from the shore

Your local building inspector can help you sort out the necessary strictures and will also outline the level of detail required in the plans you have to submit for a building permit.


Once you have familiarized yourself with code requirements, you can think about the fun stuff—design. Deck designs can be original or gleaned from books, magazines, and other deck builders. Regardless, you’ll need to make a few decisions:

  • Will the deck be attached or free-standing? (different construction rules apply in each case)
  • How big should it be?
  • What’s more important: sun or shade or a combination of both?
  • Should it consist of more than one level?
  • If the elevation above grade is significant, how can you make the view of the underside more appealing?
  • How will you deal with obstructions such as favourite trees or a rock face?
  • If you can’t have both, is the view of the lake more important than privacy from neighbouring cottages?
  • Should you install permanent seating?
  • Will you build traditional railings or install clear panels?

Take your time at this stage. You may be living with your decision for 20 years or more.

This article was originally published on May 30, 2002

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