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Rooftop Decks: What You Need to Know Before Starting Construction

Have you ever sat outside on the roof of a building, comfortably watching the sun go down over the cityscape? Perhaps you’ve caught a late lunch on the roof of your favorite country eatery and enjoyed a wonderful perspective on the rolling hills. These are both reasonably common examples that demonstrate some of the most sought-after uses of rooftop decks in the industry.

Rooftop decks are extremely popular in areas where people don’t have a lot of room to spread out. When you’re living a city that is more like a concrete jungle than a suburban paradise, you need to find ways to make the most out of your space. Crowning your building with a rooftop deck allows you to experience a little outdoor living and some scenery without paying an arm and a leg for additional property.

Whether you want to put in a rooftop deck to relax with the family after a long day, or as a way to entice customers to spend more time at your business, it’s important to understand the differences between residential and commercial installation.

 rooftop deck lounge

Commercial versus residential installation

Each project has different stipulations governing the use of the rooftop deck and the type of people who will be using it. Naturally, commercial roofing systems come with an entirely different set of requirements than those of residential projects.

This makes sense, as commercial business owners are responsible for the lives and safety of everyone that enters their building. This means that their rooftop deck designs are held to a higher standard and need to be carefully inspected before being used.

Standard requirements are as follows:

There must be a way for people to get out.

Per the International Building Code (IBC), a “means of egress” is a way for occupants of the deck to escape should there be a fire or significant incident. This is really a good thing whether you’re putting up a residential or commercial deck, and it’s essential to have an escape route in place for the worst-case scenarios. For commercial decks, it’s actually required that there be an unobstructed escape route for anyone who’s visiting that area.

Slopes need to be better defined.

On a residential deck, slopes don’t necessarily need to be divided by stairs or a clearly marked indication of the change. Commercial decks will usually require a clear marker for elevation changes of less than 12 inches.

This can be a change in finish used on the deck or some sort of sign indicating that the elevation has changed. This keeps everything accessible for wheelchairs and prevents unwanted and costly accidents.

rooftop deck commercial

Lighting is incredibly important.

Many of us are familiar with exit signs and what they stand for. When it comes to commercial rooftop decks, exit signs and proper lighting take on a whole new level of importance. It’s essential that exits and methods of egress be adequately lit and that people know exactly where they are. This is a huge help when it comes to offsetting safety concerns.

The use of the deck and construction type matter.

A rooftop deck that’s meant to hold five people will need to be built very differently than one meant to hold 50 people. The use of the deck is also a huge factor in how it’s constructed. If a commercial deck is intended for dancing and rooftop activities, then it needs to be reinforced more than the one built for people just seeing the sights or dining.

Residential rooftop decks don’t necessarily need to take this into consideration. They’re usually built for a family, and while they do require certain slopes and exit strategies, they’re not quite as strict as those of commercial properties. Keep in mind that every rooftop deck requires a railing of the appropriate height that’s properly secured.

 rooftop deck cityscape

Best practices for a rooftop deck

It makes sense that rooftop decks favor flat rooftops. It’s much easier to design a deck on a flat surface than it is to try to build one out from the side of the house or on an extreme slope. Some homes and businesses are made to accommodate rooftop decks, with a flat section of the roof solely for that purpose. Once the area for the rooftop deck has been established, it’s time to look into the best materials and building techniques.

The best roofing membranes for rooftop decks

Roofing membranes for waterproofing add a layer of protection between the roof and the rest of the property. Some are made from polymers and attached using heat, while others go on as a liquid barrier and then dry. Vinyl waterproof decking is lightweight and reasonably priced, although TPO and silicone are also viable options. For a beautiful deck that looks like real wood, consider TuffDek PVC. Not only does it provide an incredible outdoor space, it’s also extremely durable.

Another fantastic option is Mod Bit, which uses two layers to prevent punctures; and offers a 30 year warranty. Longevity is a huge factor when determining value! TPO and PVC are usually a close second with a single layer; and come with their own 20 year warranty.

The type of necessary decking membrane will depend on the use of the deck. Building a layer with gravel or using tar may not be a usable option for commercial decks, but cheaper for residential ones. The scope of the project combined with the budget will be the deciding factors when choosing a rooftop deck membrane.

Stay within HOA laws and building restrictions.

Not every building is rated for a rooftop deck. The weight of the deck combined with fire safety laws will determine whether the project is safe to complete. But, there are also times when HOA laws prohibit the installation of rooftop decks due to neighborhood requirements. Always check with your contractor and HOA contract for more information on whether a rooftop deck is appropriate and safe for your home or business.

Plan ahead for future landscaping projects.

It’s hard to expand your landscaping when your plants have no access to sunlight or your trees grow directly in front of your new rooftop deck. Consider the direction of your current landscaping, and future plans when designing your deck.

Decking materials and warranties matter.

Like any other roofing project, materials are an important part of both safety and value. Choosing materials that are approved for outdoor use and are fire resistant is often required by building codes for rooftop decks. This is why it’s helpful to work with a professional contractor before proceeding with a project.

Product warranties are also essential to the quality and longevity of any project. Keep track of these by filing paperwork away for the worst-case scenario.

 rooftop deck red chair

Understanding safety concerns

While rooftop decks can be a fantastic addition to any home or business, it’s important to understand the risks that can come with them. This can involve fire risks, risks to the building’s integrity, and even a risk of falling if the railing isn’t properly secured and up to code. Working with professionals is really the best way to offset these dangers.

For more information on professional rooftop deck installation, reach out to the professionals at Roofr. We have the experience to help you have the home you’ve always wanted—imagine sitting at a dining table or in a hot tub on your rooftop deck, enjoying your domain from up high. Share your best rooftop deck ideas with us below!w!ow!!ow!ow!