Ask the Architect

‘It’s just a deck’


Q. I don’t get why such a big deal is being made about the deck that came with our house. My neighbor put up a 7-foot-tall fence and I looked it up on the internet and found that you can only have a 6-foot-fence, max. So I called an inspector, which took over 50 minutes to get through, followed by a hang-up and then a try again the next day. The inspector came to the house, saw the fence and gave a “violation.” Next thing I know, I also get a violation, days later, stuck on my front door. At first I thought this was some kind of joke, but it turns out to be payback for the fence fiasco.
That’s where the whole things comes apart, because I called and was told I could make a sketch of how my deck was built, send it in and get a permit, end of story — except it wasn’t. I got a letter back that I had to file the sketch by email, get an application number, pay a fee and then wait. It took some doing, but I set up a portal with the help of my son, and made a PDF of my sketch. Two months went by, and I got a statement on the website listing chapters and sections in the code that my deck was in violation of, but the best part was that my sketch wasn’t accepted, and now I was going to have to hire an architect to have a stamped drawing signed and sealed to scale with details and structure notes.
It’s just a deck. So I called around, and only one of six architects even called back. The cost was $1,200 just for the sketch, which, if you ask me, was just a fancier version of my sketch with a lot more views and notes. The architect said the deck wasn’t built “to code,” and changes were needed for it to pass. The railings had spaces too wide and a child could fall through. The deck wasn’t in footings below ground, and there were no metal connectors at all the different places where wood meets wood. It is just a deck. Was there an easier way around all this? The inspector has been out twice, and rejected the work without telling me the whole story. He said I’d have to speak to the architect. Is this typical?

A. It’s just a deck, but like any other structure, it has to be done right, done once and approved. Welcome to my world. We’re hired for big work, and little things get in the way. A deck can collapse, be launched by high winds and burn, so safety is why you’re going through this. Done right, a deck can be a simple thing, but people get creative and complicate things. This scenario is typically more complicated, because someone avoided regulations and an architect the first time. Good luck!

© 2021 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.