Can I Just Plop a Roof Deck on Top of My House If I Want To?

published Dec 15, 2020
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Credit: Photo: Getty Images, Shutterstock, Graphic: Apartment Therapy

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Dear Apartment Therapy,

Like many apartment dwellers, I’ve always wanted a roof deck. The sad part is I’ve never had one. I also want to be a homeowner one day, which leads me to my question: How reasonable is it to dream of buying a house and putting a deck on top of it? I imagine you can’t add a deck to any old roof, but if I could, is that allowed? Do neighbors hate this sort of thing? Maybe it’s more expensive than you’d think? Do you need special permits or something?

Is the Sky the Limit?

Dear Sky,

When I read your question, I pictured a cookie-cutter house in the suburbs with a widow’s walk-esque deck plopped on top. I know this isn’t exactly what you mean, but I couldn’t let that image only exist in my head.

In all seriousness, there are loads of ways to add a deck on top of your single-family home, rowhouse, or even your ADU. The most challenging part will probably be saving up for it. But before I get ahead of myself, I wanted to share some of the wisdom that Chris Nolan, chief operating officer at Mataverde Premium Decking and Siding, has offered up when it comes to building a roof deck.

The first step toward building your dream deck is crucial—it’s finding out if your roof can hold the extra weight load of a deck, according to Nolan. “Architects, engineers, and master builders are great resources to determine your roof’s suitability for a rooftop deck,” he says. 

And yes, you’ll definitely want to look into zoning ordinances. “Absolutely check your zoning requirements first.  And always have your builder pull a building permit. If you must ask the builder to do this, find a different builder,” Nolan advises.

Next, determine what your roof deck will be used for. Be it sipping wine or doing yoga, you’ll need to know what you’ll be doing up there to calculate how much space you’ll need.

“Once you determine your needs and wants, then determine the size of a space you will need to make your rooftop deck dreams come true,” Nolan says. “Make a list of your ‘must haves’ and another list of your ‘want to haves’. That way, if the rooftop deck doesn’t meet your budget, you already know what can be eliminated from your budget.”

Speaking of budget, there are a lot of different ways a roof deck can go, from super fancy to no-frills. What you want from your deck (which you laid out on your ‘must haves’ list) will determine its price.

“At the super low end of the rooftop deck spectrum, a 6’ x 9’ piece of astro-turf, a chaise lounge and a table can be your rooftop dream deck for as little as $100. Hey, it works for college kids, why not?” Nolan jokes. “For something more permanent, a wood framed deck may run about $30 to $50 a square foot, or more, depending on how elaborate you want to make your space. Obviously, the larger your deck area, the more it will cost to build.”

Say you want to build a 400-square-foot deck. That’s about $20,000, minus the furniture and accessories you’ll add. Nolan explains it’s worth it to use premium decking materials, too, since decks get blasted with UV rays all day. (’High-density hardwood decking is extremely popular because it stays cooler, lasts long and is naturally beautiful,” he says.)

If a more than $20,000 price tag sounds steep, Nolan says there’s an important question to ask yourself: What will my return on investment be for this expense?

“When you sell your home, how much value will this rooftop add to my sales price?” he asks. “And will your rooftop deck living space be the coup de gras that makes a home buyer say, this is the home for me?”

If you’re worried about sinking thousands of dollars into a roof deck and getting no return, it might be in your best interest to talk to a real estate agent before constructing one. In general, roof decks do add value to a property, but how much value varies depending on where you’re located. 

You also asked if neighbors hate this sort of thing. The answer to that question is a bit less scientific. Will you be hosting raucous parties up there? If the answer is yes, perhaps it’s wise to invite the neighbors you’re worried about upsetting. A win-win for all.