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Building dream decks


The following plans are required by the City of Calgary at the application stage in order to issue a building permit for a wood deck. The permit application must be accompanied by:

  • Two copies of a site plan for the property. Note: It may be necessary to submit two copies of a RPR, prepared by an Alberta land surveyor; and
  • Two sets of building plans (plan view and structural cross-section drawing).

For more details on the requirements for obtaining a building permit for deck construction, visit, or the website of the local municipality where the deck is being installed.

For those who are unfamiliar with building codes and regulations, applying for a permit is certainly one way to guarantee a successful project. Once the project’s drawings are submitted, they go to an inspector whose job it is to know the building codes. If the plan does not meet the code requirements, the application will be denied; however, suggestions will be made on the drawings in order to change them to meet code requirements when the plan is resubmitted for approval.

Implementation tips

Once the plans have been approved, permits have been granted, and the client has signed off on the design, the project can commence. To avoid any surprises during inspection, and to maximize the potential for a successful project, remember this simple saying, ‘Plan the build, and build what is planned.’ Careful detail has gone into the planning process; therefore, it is important not to deviate.

With large projects it is always a good idea to start with a known point of elevation (this is a point that will not move throughout the duration of the project). This enables the different elevations in the project to be laid out accurately. Known points of elevation can be located anywhere on the property (e.g. a concrete drain swale in the corner of a backyard, or the edge of a swimming pool).

Start the project by measuring, re-measuring, digging, and setting the pilings. Prior to the concrete setting (but after it has been poured into the form), place the post saddles in the concrete. Next, fasten the header board (if one is required) to the structure where the deck will be attached. Once the header board is fastened securely (check local building codes for bolt specifications) the beam and post height can be determined.

Once the posts and beams are in place, hangers, joists, and torsional blocks can be installed. Prior to fastening the joists to the beam, make sure the sub-frame is square. On small decks, an easy way to do this is to place a sheet of plywood flat on the framed surface and line up the corner of the plywood with the corner of the deck. Then, adjust the frame so the edges of the plywood are flush with the outside joist and rim board.

On large decks, where there are multiple areas to be squared, divide up the areas and use the A² + B² = C² formula, then measure corner-to-corner to ensure the deck is square. When possible, do not fasten the joists to the beam until framing is complete, as this will make adjustments easy should anything need to be moved.

Once framing is complete and the joists are fastened to the beams, think about railing selection. If the railing requires the posts to be fastened to the frame (and not the surface of the deck), now is the time to lay it out. Once the railing has been measured and laid out, fasten the posts to the frame and block the posts accordingly. If the railing posts are surface mounted (to the top of the deck), laying out the railing and adding additional blocking for fastening the posts is still recommended.

When fastening the decking to the frame, be sure to use the recommended fastening system for the product being installed. This is pertinent for a couple of reasons:

  1. If using composites, this will ensure the decking material remains under the manufacturer’s warranty should anything happen overtime.
  2. Proper fasteners will keep the deck looking the way it is supposed to for a long time as they hold up to daily use, and will not deteriorate or discolour the surface.

Despite all the careful planning that goes into building a deck, there are bound to be hiccups throughout the build. By planning for some margin of error, the amount of time and effort spent solving these problems can be minimized. The most difficult errors to work with are those affected by permanent features, such as pilings. Making the pilings slightly bigger than required provides more surface area to land the support posts on. For example, if the plan calls for 203-mm (8-in.) pilings, increase the size to 254 mm (10 in.) or 305 mm (12 in.).

If the deck is to be surfaced with composite material, framing the deck on 305-mm (12-in.) pilings is suggested. Composite material absorbs heat; more so if a dark-colour composite is selected. By tightening up the joisting, it will minimize any bounce in the deck boards and create a stronger surface.


Finally, once the decking material has been installed, the final steps include an assessment by a building inspector, and finishing.

If the deck plans that were submitted with the building permit application were followed, the inspector will check for deficiencies and sign off on the completed project assuming there are no issues. After the inspection has been completed, paint and/or stain should be applied to treat the wood and protect it from the elements. There are many paint/stain options available. Take the time to find the product best suited to the client’s needs. In most cases, an oil-based stain product is recommended as these are typically a penetrant. This means the product soaks into the wood; therefore, not only protecting the outside of the wood, but also the inside. Keep in mind, when using a latex paint to treat the surface of the wood it seals out moisture; however, it also seals in moisture contained in the wood.


Editor’s note: The author is based in Calgary, Alta., and all codes and practices discussed within this article are either provincial or municipal guidelines. All contractors must comply with their own specific provincial and municipal building codes, which can be found on most city/town hall websites.



Seibert_HeadshotJoel Seibert, is the operations manager at Mountain View Building Materials in Calgary, Alta. They specialize in the design/build of decks, fences, and high-end residential exteriors. Seibert previously owned-and-operated a landscape construction and is the third generation of the family to enter the lumber industry. He can be reached via e-mail at

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