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Rooftop Deck Construction In Boston

Building a patio on top of your roof requires a great degree of safety, which makes rooftop deck construction in Boston much more difficult than hiring a contractor for a lower-level deck. For this reason, make sure the contractor you hire is skilled in not only flat roof membrane installation, but also up-to-date on best practices for different railings systems, stairways, access points, Boston city code, and other Massachusetts regulations. Checking off these pre-construction steps is important so you can eventually enjoy planning your rooftop parties, or your garden with a view of the Boston skyline.

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Understanding The Two Types of Roof Deck Construction Projects

New Construction

If you have a flat roof but no roof deck currently built, you'll need to hire a contractor to construct a brand new deck. And because you'll be starting from scratch, your project planning phase will take a bit longer and overall job cost will be greater than if you wanted to upgrade an existing rooftop patio. Below, we've outlined the process for getting approval from the city of Boston as well as an explanation of the construction process, plus tips for choosing the best materials for your roof deck!

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Replacing An Old Roof Deck

When you already have a deck on your roof and want to upgrade or remodel it, Boston regulations make the entire process much easier than it would be when installing a brand new deck. As long as the previous roof deck had plans associated with it, oftentimes you can skip the new drawings, abutters meeting, and appeals (if necessary) part of the process. This makes the timeline from idea to project completion much shorter than building from scratch. You'll enjoy these benefits as long as the deck layout and design does not change.

How To Get Your New Deck Approved By The City of Boston

If you're replacing an existing deck, you can skip many approval steps associated with building a roof deck from scratch. The approval steps below mostly apply to new construction projects where a roof deck does not currently exist. And don't worry... when you choose Boston Roof Hub, you enjoy the added benefit of getting most of the steps below completed for you, at no additional cost, as part of our convenient Roof Deck Planning Program.

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  • 1. Find Your Property Plot Plan

    Having your property's plot plan on hand before proceeding to the next step will make the architectural stage of planning run much smoother. Using public records, we'll pull the plot plan for you and forward it to the architect.

  • 2. Get Architect Drawings

    Plot plan in hand, the first real step in planning your roof deck with beautiful Boston views is to hire an architect. Expect the cost for this step to run between $2,000 and $5,000 depending on your project's scope. You can either hire the architect yourself, or let us do it for you as part of our Roof Deck Planning Program.

    Once hired, the architect will create a formal drawing that will be submitted to the city of Boston for approval. Then after the drawings are approved, the drawing will serve as the guide for the project.

  • 3. Submit Inspectional Services Permit

    After the architect finishes your blueprint drawings, we'll submit them to the City of Boston's Inspection Services Department. Turnaround time for approval is generally between 2 and 6 weeks.

  • 4. Hold Abutters Meeting

    Once the city of Boston approves your architect's roof deck drawings, you need your neighbors to sign off on the deck build. The formal name for this is an "abutters meeting". An abutter is any owner of adjoining land (to the front, back, left, or right) where the roof deck will be installed. These neighbors must sign off on the deck before you can get final approval from the city to start construction. This is the only planning step we cannot complete for you, though will guide you through the process.

  • 5. Get Approval To Start Construction

    Once your abutter's meeting is successful and you've officially been approved by the Inspectional Services Department, you're now cleared to begin construction on your new roof deck. We like to call this the fun part.

Your Flat Rubber Roof & Deck Substructure

Since your new rooftop deck is a long-term investment, it's important that it sits on a strong foundation. There are two structural elements that make up this foundation. The first is your flat roof and the second is the deck's substructure, which is built on top of the roof and holds the deck itself in place.

Determine If Your Flat Roof Needs Replacement

No reputable roof deck builder would agree to install your deck if the flat roof under it had any signs of issues. Even minor issues should be a red flag because they'll eventually become major ones! Since this is a patio you'll be spending lots of time on for years to come, you certainly wouldn't want to need to have it removed so you could replace the roof in 5 years.

If the roof is over 10 years old, we generally recommend replacing it before you install your deck because the odds of issues popping up in the next few years are high. If your flat roof is under 10 years old, then we'll give you a thorough inspection (at no cost to you) then recommend the best course of action.

Build Your Deck's Substructure

Now that your flat roof has either been replaced or confirmed to be free of issues, it's time to build the structural base for your new outdoor living space!

The deck's "substructure" consists of everything that holds the roof deck together including the posts, rafters, hangers, and framing. These elements are critical to the project because they provide the backbone of what the deck itself will sit on.

Exact materials vary from project to project, however, two most common materials we use to create a roof deck substructure are pressure-treated wood and steel beams. If the building's roof is not completely flat, steel beams may be required in order to create a flat, level surface that will be safe enough to use as a base for the deck flooring. Another reason steel beams may be used to frame the roof deck is occupancy limits. The code for this is 300 pounds per square foot.

Unless local code or the roof's shape necessitates the use of steel, most homeowners are fine with a wood substructure in order to save on cost. 

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Choose The Best Roof Deck Flooring For Your Project

When most folks think of building a roof deck in Boston, the flooring is the first visual that pops into mind. Unlike the substructure, the deck material will be seen by everyone who enjoys the patio space with you. It will be walked on for years to come, so choosing the best material for the job is important. There are two types of decking material to choose from: pressure-treated wood and composite deck material. We recommend composite material for most Boston deck projects, but please read below to choose what's best for you!

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Composite Roof Deck Materials

If you can budget for it, you'll likely be very happy that you chose composite decking for your rooftop patio. The most notable downside is that it's a higher upfront cost than wood, but many homeowners feel that this levels out after a few years because of it's benefits.

The #1 reason everyone loves composite decking is that it's almost completely maintenance-free. If you don't want to spend a weekend staining your deck every year or two, then choose composite. Lifespan is another significant upside, especially for your Boston-area deck that will experience more moisture and temperature swings than other regions across the United States. With composite, you won't have to worry about wood rot.

Popular brands for composite roof deck material include Azek, Trex, and Fiberon. We almost exclusively use Fiberon because we've found that it's the industry's best value and offers impressive longevity. Your deck's ability to stand up to Massachusetts weather for years to come should be considered during all phases of your project. And when it comes to deck material, we think you'll agree that Fiberon's slogan "Deck it right the first time" says it all!

Pressure-Treated Wood Decking Material

Pressure-treated wood decking has two advantages over composite. First, wood is approximately 3 times less expensive than any composite material. Second, wood material regulates temperature much better than composite, which is known for being extremely hot to the touch after a few hours in the summer sun.

Though wood has a few nice benefits, it has two fatal flaws that go hand in hand; maintenance and longevity. In order to extend the lifespan of your wood deck and protect it from the New England elements, you'll need to spend lots of time maintaining the material...

After the deck is complete, you'll need to wait 2-4 months before you can stain it for the first time. Depending on the time of year your wood deck is installed, this wait time can present challenges. A Fall installation means you may not be able to stain it for the first time, snow depending, until Spring. This scenario leaves your new deck exposed to ice and melting snow for an entire winter before you can protect it!

After the initial staining, you'll need to re-stain the deck at least once every two years in order to keep it in good shape. And many homeowners find that staining their deck more frequently, once per year, is more a more realistic upkeep estimate.

Metal, PVC, Or Wood Railings For Your New Deck?

As you can imagine, sturdy railings are a necessity for every roof deck in Boston, and required by city code. Without railings along the perimeter, your roof deck would be a scary place to hang out! Posts for the railings are generally installed every 4-6 feet but if the deck design or roof shape requires it, then they can be installed closer together. You have three options for the material your railings will be made from: metal, high-end PVC, and pressure-treated wood.

Metal Railings

Metal railings are extremely popular for rooftop patios in Boston, and for good reason. They offer a fantastic balance of stability, longevity, and versatility. Most homeowners paint the railings black, but since it's your deck you can choose to paint them any color you'd like.

High-End PVC Railings

Like metal railings, high-end PVC railings are a popular choice for Boston roof deck construction. High end PVC material gives your railings the look and feel of natural wood without any headaches that come with the maintenance and upkeep requirements. When it comes to custom style, railings made from PVC come in a variety of textures and colors to match whatever look you're going for in your roof deck design.

Pressure-Treated Wood Railings

If you read the section about wood flooring for your deck above, then you can assume that there are similar pros and cons for choosing wood for your railings.

If you need to save some cash, don't mind staining your railings once a year, and are okay with sacrificing the longevity benefits of metal or PVC, then wood is likely the best choice for you!

With the winters getting wetter and longer, you'll have to be hyper-vigilant in protecting against wood rot if you choose this material. And depending on the size of your deck, staying vigilant may mean a day or two spent staining the railings each Spring. So if you feel that you may grow tired of this after a year or two and regret not choosing a maintenance-free option in the first place, then we recommend going with either metal or PVC on the initial build.

Access Points For Your Rooftop Deck (Means Of Egress)

Access points, or means of egress, are the ways people can enter and exit the roof deck. Boston has strict building code for means of egress because they are critical for making the deck as safe as possible in the event of an emergency. How many access points you'll need on your deck depends on who will be using the deck. There are two types of use: community decks and single owner decks.

Community Roof Decks

Your rooftop deck is considered "community use" if more than one family has direct access to the space. Community patios are commonly seen on top of small apartment buildings and condo structures. Because the property management company or condo association can add the costs of a roof deck into rent of HOA dues, these decks become easier to pay for.

The city of Boston requires two means of egress for all community roof decks. There must be two ways up and two ways down from the deck. If a building only has one point of egress, then another must be installed before you will pass inspection. Common means of egress include spiral staircases, regular staircases, roof hatches, and head house access points.

Single Owner Roof Decks

Single owner, or single use, roof decks enjoy less restrictions than community decks. If the deck only has one owner, then only one means of egress is required. The most common access points for single use decks in Boston are hatches through the penthouse ceiling and spiral staircases from a penthouse balcony that lead up to the roof.

Existing Access Points Affect Labor Costs

If your building's roof isn't easily accessible, then a crane, boom lift, or other means of transportation may need to be added to the project. Without it, people and materials cannot be safely and efficiently transported to the rooftop! Adding these elements to a project will dramatically increase the man hours needed for project coordination and is sure to raise the overall cost of the job.

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Installation Timeline, And Other Common Questions

Building a rooftop patio space is perhaps the most fun home remodeling project you can make for your home. Below are common questions asked to us by homeowners before beginning a roof deck project with Roof Hub. If you have any other questions, we're only a phone call away! Call us today: (857) 237-7648 or us the form on our contact page.

How long does installing a roof deck take?

Construction time for most roof decks runs between 2-6 days. 

New construction projects take much longer than overhauls of existing roof decks. Other factors that will affect the install time include deck size, project complexity, weather, and available access points.

How soon can construction begin?

Once approved by the city, our current lead time for roof decks is between 3-6 weeks.

Do I need a structural engineer?

Though most buildings in Boston can support the construction of a roof deck, some cannot.  Many times, the architect you hire during the planning phase can determine which category your building falls under but other times they will defer to a structural engineer.

Fortunately, you'll know if you need to hire a structural engineer at the very beginning of the planning phase. And if you do need one, your architect will give you a list of recommended engineers to choose from.

Are roof decks safe?

As long as the roof deck builder follows Massachusetts code, then roof decks are structurally safe.

Once the deck is built. day-to-day safety is up to you. As long as you avoid tomfoolery near the railings, then you shouldn't have an safety issues on your deck.

Do I need extra drainage to prevent water buildup?

The deck itself will not need additional drainage to prevent water buildup, however, the flat roof underneath the deck should have proper drainage in order to protect your home.

Because building roof decks is a big project, many homeowners elect to replace their rubber roof before constructing a new deck on top of it. This way, they know that there's a strong foundation and that the deck won't need to be removed to replace the roof.

What is the average size of a roof patio in Boston?

There's a wide range of rooftop patio sizes in Boston, but the average square footage for most residential projects is between 150 and 300 square feet.

What are the occupancy and weight limits for different size decks?

Occupancy limits for the roof the deck sits on top of is 300 lbs per square foot, but this weight limit can also be applied to the deck itself.

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