That’s a great question! And I’m going to spend the rest of the week trying to answer it.
For today, however, we’ll keep it short. I’m simply going to reprint below an abbreviated version of the steps necessary to obtain the required permits and get the necessary inspections to build any deck with footings off the back of a house in Fairfax County, VA, even if it’s a ground-level deck. Now, I’m not saying all deck construction should be completely unregulated; I’m just saying this is ridiculous.
And it’s emblematic of the entire building permit process in Fairfax county, which seems to be based on theory that no one should be allowed to do anything without permission. Just check out what you need a permit for! You are supposed to get a permit to install a ceiling fan. Or an ice maker. Or a laundry tub. And this video is enough to drive any libertarian around the bend. But the ground-floor decks, I would argue, take the cake: no electric, no water, nothing. Just some wood, some nails, and some footings. And a gazillion pieces of paper someone has to sign off on.
There are a few reasons I can think of that this process would have become so complicated. Maybe the deck construction industry has captured the regulatory process and demanded these sorts of codes so that individuals just give up trying to build their own decks and instead hire the industry to do it. That story — rent-seeking through regulation — is certainly possible, and maybe even likely. The other possibility is that every time there has been an injury or dispute or problem that arises from a deck construction, no matter how small or rare, the popular reaction has been to put in public requirements that mitigate the possibility of it happening in the future. Consequences, for freedom or otherwise, be damned. And that eventually has resulted is this mess.
And so here is exhibit A and reason one as to why I’m a libertarian: we cannot insure against all possible risks in life. And when we try to do so, we stifle our own ability to live our lives and to pursue our own happiness.
Cause, you know, it’s not all about indefinite detention, police misconduct, and the imprisonment of non-violent drug users. It’s also about the freedom to build your own place to drink lemonade.
Building a deck in Fairfax County, VA
Building Permits Required
The construction of a [non-electrical, non-plumbling] deck and alteration of an existing deck in Fairfax County requires the following permits:
- Building Permit
Obtaining the Permit
You must submit the following during the permit application process.
- One completed building permit application.
- Two copies of the house location plat.
- Two sets of drawings. The Fairfax County Typical Deck Details may be used in lieu of drawings. This publication offers residents and customers with a consistent, structurally sound and code compliant avenue for the construction of a residential deck. They can be used to supplement or substitute a plan submission to the county.
- Evaluation report for approved deck and railing products composed of structural plastics, composite materials and foreign lumber.
- Deck Attachement Certification for all decks that attach to your house.
Bring the construction documents described herein to the Permit Application Center on the 2nd floor of the Herrity Building where your permit process will begin. Here you will complete a building permit application. Permit technicians will direct you to the appropriate agencies necessary for permit approval. The applicable departments for a deck are:
- Zoning ensures setback requirements, as set forth by the County Zoning Ordinance, are maintained. The Zoning Permit Review Branch is located at the Herrity Building, 2nd floor, 703-222-1082, TTY 711.
- Site Permits will review the plat for site-related issues, soils and conformance to the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance. Site Permits is located at the Herrity Building, 2nd floor, 703-324-1510, TTY 711.
- Health Department, located at 10777 Main Street, Fairfax, 703-246-2444, TTY 711, will review for clearances to existing septic systems and/or wells if they exist on the property.
- Building Plan Review, located on the 2nd floor of the Herrity Building, 703-222-0114, TTY 711, will review for compliance to the applicable building codes. This review is not required if the Fairfax County Typical Deck Details are used in lieu of submitted drawings.
The building permit is issued when all required approvals have been obtained and applicable fees have been paid. Once your permits are issued, you must post a copy on the job site until the project has received final approval. Most decks are eligible for the Walk-Thru Program which allows you in most cases to apply for and obtain your permit in the same day.
You must call “Miss Utility,” a free service, at 811, TTY 711, before excavating to ensure that the construction does not interfere with underground utility lines. If you fail to contact Miss Utility and damage occurs, you will be liable for all costs of repair.
A copy of the approved permit, plat and building plans must be on the job site and must be available to the inspector during each inspection. Three inspections are required for a deck:
1. Footing Inspection: footing holes are inspected prior to concrete placement. At the time of the footing inspection, you must have the ledger board attached to the existing house.
2. Framing Inspection: joists, beams, connections and mechanical attachments are inspected prior to placement of decking. In this inspection, lag screws, thru bolts and expansion anchors at the ledger board are inspected and turned to insure proper installation and tightening. Access to the inside of the house may be required.
3. Final Inspection: all remaining items are inspected.
The framing and final inspections may be combined if all portions of the deck framing and mechanical attachments are at least 48 inches above grade.
It is the responsibility of the permit holder or the permit holder’s representative to notify the county when the stages of construction are reached that require an inspection. Ladders, scaffolds and testing equipment required to complete an inspection must be provided. Inspection requests may be made using one of the three methods listed below; please have your permit number available when scheduling an inspection. Requests made prior to 11:59 p.m. on automated systems will be scheduled for the next workday.
- Inspection Request Center: 703-222-0455, TTY 711, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday – Thursday, and 9:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Fridays.
- Fairfax Inspections Database Online (FIDO): www.fairfaxcounty.gov/fido or call 703-222-2474, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.