Who doesn’t love a deck? It’s like a room, but with the benefits of the great outdoors, right? People often love fresh air and cookouts, but not that many people like that much nature in their outdoors experience. Dirt, uneven terrain, and who knows what unfriendly insects might be lurking in the grass. In the south, fire ants are an exceptional menace, and their bite isn’t pleasant.
With decks, you can bring a little bit of civilization with you, with finished floors, potentially some climate control of a sort when it’s too hot or too chilly, and some real ambiance for you and your guests. However, decks aren’t practical for everyone, because you need a certain amount of unoccupied real estate on which to build them, unless you’re converting an existing patio.
Well, a lot of people don’t have that kind of space, especially if they live in a more developed area where lots are small, and homes are kind of close together. You’d think that’d put the end to any ambitions to build a deck, and in many cases, that’s still true.
However, if you have a flat roof, or you’re willing to install a flat roof the next time you redo a roof (easier said than done if you currently have a sloped roof), you have another option. Rooftop decks aren’t a new idea – a lot of high rises in cities have rooftop decks installed, at least nicer buildings do. You see it all the time in movies, millennial youths partying on nice rooftops with gorgeous cityscapes in the background.
But it doesn’t have to be a high rise – any flat roof can theoretically be converted to a rooftop deck, provided it’s a commercial or residential flat roof, and not some flimsy utility building.
Today, we’re going to talk a little bit about these rooftop decks. We’re going to see what the common challenges are, what the benefits are, the different kinds of them, and what needs to be done in a given situation, to make one work.
Don’t get excited yet, just because you have a flat or very low-slope roof doesn’t necessarily mean you can affordably and safely do this. Your climate also impacts the viability of this significantly.
First, you have some challenges to face with a rooftop deck, and some of these may be real showstoppers for you. For one, you obviously can’t build a rooftop deck on a sloped roof. This may sound like a “duh” thing, but you’d be surprised how many people have tried to build decks buy extending a flat surface out from the peak of a roof, and supporting it with enclosed struts.
That can actually be done successfully, but if you’re coming from this point initially, you’re probably better off pursuing other options than a rooftop deck. You really need a flat roof, which isn’t that uncommon. Flat roofs are common in dry, desert areas where it rarely rains, they’re popular in postmodern architecture (those many Frank Lloyd Wright inspired designs you see all the time now), high rises, refitted commercial spaces, you name it. Your own home can be converted to have a flat roof, though if you’re converting from a sloped roof, there’s a lot of deconstruction and reworking to be done, and it’s going to be an undertaking of significant magnitude.
That said, let’s assume you have a flat roof already. You’re going to have to bear some things in mind – if your roof goes awry after the deck is built, it’s going to be a bigger undertaking to repair it with all the decking in the way. You also have to be sure you never block the drainage systems on your flat roof. A flat roof, after all, isn’t entirely flat, just very, very low in slope. This is to allow water to drain away to apertures along the edges, where it can be disposed of either via gutters, draining pipes or open spillage systems.
This kind of screw up shouldn’t, by all rights, actually happen. You do have to get approval to build a deck from your township or city, you have to have the plans signed off on by inspectors, and often, your HOA (if you have one) will also need to sign off on it. Your contractor – and you should probably have one no matter how handy you are – also won’t allow mishaps like this to get through.
So, if you’ve got approved plans that’ve gone through all these channels, your concept is probably completely safe.
A final challenge is designing your deck around your climate. If you have a lot of rain and/or snow, you’ll want to design retractable awnings or other covers to protect your furniture and woodwork. If you have intense sun, you’ll want to provide shade and a source of hydration, as well as sealants that prevent the sun from fading the woodwork and fabrics.
Types of Rooftop Decks
Below are the three most common rooftop deck types, though you can blend these quite readily if you have the space. It’s a good idea to blend them, if you can.
- Dining Space – This is probably one of the more common ones. This is a space where you can have a cookout, and serve multiple people comfortably. This involves furniture and ideal shade from sun and weather.
- Garden – Rooftop gardens are kind of a whole other thing, which we have discussed in the past. They’re beautiful, and allow you to grow herbs and vegetables without using up precious real estate. They also make your roof greener in the modern sense, not just aesthetically.
- Lounge – This is probably the most common approach. This is just a nice area with some seating and tables to just relax and enjoy company and fresh air. This is basically converting a small normal deck idea, into a rooftop deck.
Before we close, let’s talk about a few ideas that can help to enhance your deck.
- Canopies, Awnings and Umbrellas – You need shade. Shade isn’t just blocking sunlight, but also rain and snow. If you’re just exposed to the elements, there will be a solid 2/3 of the year where it’s unpleasant to use.
- Seating Variety – Don’t just slap some deck chairs up there and call it a day. Be creative with benches, lounge chairs, rattan seating, even a hammock or a bed to lounge on and enjoy reading outside.
- Fire – It can get chilly at night, even in notoriously warm parts of the country. Consider a fire place or a fire pit for ambiance and warmth.
- Accouterments – Finally, don’t be afraid to add a little open kitchenette and/or a wet bar for comfortable outdoor living.
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