San Francisco Roof Decks

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San Francisco Roof Decks

In San Francisco – where land is in short supply, and mostly covered by buildings – gardens and outdoor space can be hard to come by. Roof decks, however, can offer a great way for you to enjoy the outdoors. Properly designed, a deck also can provide a nice indoor/outdoor flow for your living space that is hard to come by in a city filled with lot-line buildings.

Most people are overwhelmed by the thought of roof decks because most of us have not even been on our roofs. It’s much easier to visualize a deck overlooking the garden and a ground level deck. But, when you start thinking of putting one on the roof where do you begin?

Well, while there are a few hoops to jump through, the process may actually be easier than you think – especially if you hire a renovation consultant to shepherd you through. A renovation consultant helps you put together a plan, a realistic budget and matches you with the right professionals so that your project is set-up for success and flows more smoothly.

When contemplating a roof deck there are a number of considerations. Chief among these is deciding how you are going to access your roof. The most common way is to extend an existing exterior stairway (this is probably the most cost effective way, too). But there are alternatives. If you are planning a roof deck as part of a larger home remodel, for example, you may want to create access to the roof from the interior. One of the advantages of this approach is that – with proper design – it can allow for a dramatic influx of light to the interior of the home. It also helps to incorporate the outdoor space and blur the line between inside and out.

Also, there are many choices of materials. I prefer to use Ipe pallets or tiles that float on adjustable pads. Using these materials allows u to retain the existing slope of the roof, which saves money, and – due to the modular construction – makes it easy to do necessary repairs without damaging the decking surface. I also like to use a combination of glass railing and solid parapet walls. A glass railing provides an unobstructed view but can be varied in height to suit the local wind conditions. Solid parapet walls can also vary in height, and can be used to provide privacy or screen unattractive elements. By combining this with plantings such as bamboo for blocking the wind or unsightly surroundings, and lower plantings to add color and texture, as well as some comfortable furniture, and your outdoor space is complete.

Some options you may want to consider are gas grills and fireplaces, heat lamps and water. All of these options should be contemplated during the design phase so that the gas, electrical and water connections are brought to the roof.

Of course nothing can be done in the City without a permit. This type of project will most likely have to go to the Planning Department ,then to the Building Department, and finally the Fire Department, for approval.

However, the planning approval process is not too bad. You begin by submitting a Building Permit Application, including a set of plans with structural details or construction drawings. Then the neighboring property owners and occupants will be notified of your pending application and be given 10 business days to contest it. (This is shorter than the typical planning department procedure, which allows 30 days contest). Once you clear this hurdle, the planning department will pass your application and plans on to the building department. They review your plans to make sure they meet building codes. Once they approve the fire department will examine the plans for fire code issues. Any of the departments can require changes to your design or to the structural elements of your plan. This is where a renovation consultant can be a great help, by negotiating and then coordinating any changes needed to get the permit issued.

While the City approval process is going on, you should also be working with a contractor to negotiate a price for the project. There are several factors to keep in mind during this process. First, you should make sure your contractor is qualified to do the job, has enough working capital, and carries appropriate general liability and workers comp insurance. They should also be licensed by the California State License Board ( You should also check their references and, if possible, view one of their ongoing project jobsites to see how they run their jobs. (Is the job site safe, clean, and organized? Does their workforce look and act professional? Etc) Lastly, you should be sure they use a contract with a line item bid listing every detail of the project. For example, how will they protect your home so that it is not damaged during construction? What materials are included and what items are excluded? Are there any allowances for materials or labor? If so, are these allowances realistic? Is there a schedule attached to the contract for payments? Is the payment schedule tied to job milestones or a timeline? Is the general contractor protecting you from liens from the subcontractors and material vendors? These are all important considerations that will ultimately determine who much the project is going to cost you. It is not as simple as looking at the bottom line. This, again, is where a renovation consultant can help, by guiding you through the process and helping to protect your interests.

Ultimately, a roof deck will add value to your property and if properly designed help you connect the interior of your home with the outdoors and increase your enjoyment.



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