When it comes time to building your deck or pergola, you will first need to make sure that you have approval from your local council. Though you may be advised by friends or family that a permit is not required, it won’t be them paying the fine or having to remove the structure if it turns out that you do.
All councils will have their own sets of regulations regarding decks, pergolas and other house extensions. These regulations cover things like structural integrity, what materials you can use and minimum construction standards that must be met.
What kinds of permits are required?
There are two types of permits that may be required. A planning permit covers points such as aesthetics and boundary regulations, while a building permit covers things like compliance with safety regulations and construction details. Local councils offer planning permits, but you may be directed to contact a registered building surveyor for a building permit.
There are many components of your construction which will likely require you to obtain a permit. Some of them are:
- Any closed roofed structure such as a steel or acrylic roof pergola (shade cloth and sails will likely not require a permit, but check anyway).
- Footings, and specifically their depth, construction and ability to cope with the load of the deck or pergola roof.
- Any structures attached to the house.
- Structures located high up where there may be a need for a fence or rail to prevent falling injuries.
Is it a pergola, a verandah or a carport?
These structures are pretty similar in terms of how they're designed, but even if they're used for different things it's often important to make a 'technical' distinction to understand why a permit might be needed. The Glossary of Building Terms (published by Standards Australia in Handbook HB 50-2004) defines each as follows:
- Verandah - open or partly open portion of a house or building, or a roofed space attached to a building outside the principal rooms, and covered either by the main roof or a separate, lower roof.
- Carport - roofed, open or semi-enclosed structure for sheltering of motor vehicles, most frequently associated with a dwelling.
- Pergola - open-roofed framework over a path, terrace or patio, supported on posts or columns, and usually covered with plants trained over the members.
Depending on where you live, the difference between these three things as far as regulations are concerned can come down to what sort of roof it has - if any. If it's got a solid roof made of tiles, metal or polycarbonate, for example, it's likely to be treated as a verandah or carport. If the roof's made of mesh, battens or lattice - or if it doesn't have a roof at all - it's likely to be treated as a pergola.
How the structure of your building's defined (i.e. based on the roof) can make a significant difference in terms of:
- whether a permit's required,
- how close to your property boundary it can go
- structural requirements, and
- whether or not non-combustible materials are necessary
Obviously it's far better to establish these things before you make any commitments - so a call to your local council's building services department is a very good idea.
Enquiring about exemptions and guidelines
When talking to your local council, ask them about the exemptions that exist for decks and pergolas - that is, conditions under which a permit is not required. If it's only a matter of some basic adjustments to your original intentions, you may be able to tailor your construction to these guidelines. If you are able to construct without a permit or only need to make some minor cosmetic adjustments to fall outside the permit criteria, then you can save yourself some money and time.
What do permits cost?
The cost of obtaining a permit will vary from each council or surveyor to the next, but will likely pale in comparison to any fines issued for non-compliance. The additional risk of not obtaining a permit is that your structure may be unsound and could cause injuries to family or friends so whatever the permits cost, it's likely to be a small price to pay for the reassurance it brings.
- Get the contact details for your local council from our Australia-wide council directory.