Build a deck without a permit? Yes, it's a hassle to get one, but fail to do so and you may be asking for it. Should the structure fall or otherwise fail, lack of a permit leaves you legally defenseless. In addition, many municipalities have a way of identifying non-permitted structures —periodic comparison of aerial photographs is one method — and will insist that non-permitted decks be removed.

With the following in hand, you should be able to get your deck approved in record time:

Drawings. Building inspectors say the most common problem encountered in permit approval is the lack of detailed drawings. Drawings should show size, shape, location on the property, and materials used for construction. Some building departments even require the drawings to be to scale. So it's always a good idea to call your local building department before you go to see exactly what the requirements are. Once you have that information, you can come prepared with the required drawings and paperwork.

Engineer's stamp. If your deck is more than six feet off the ground, on a hillside, or on unstable ground, you may be required to have structural engineering calculations completed to ensure that the lumber you're using for beams and floor joists is the proper size and grade. Such calculations may be beyond the average deck builder. In any case, it's always best to have a certified and licensed structural engineer review your calculations if you do them yourself. You'll also need to have the engineer's stamp on the drawings and calculations to secure building approval.

Specifications. Once you have your drawings and engineering complete, you'll need to show a list of the materials being used for construction. This list should match the specifications called out in your engineering calculations for both concrete and framing lumber. All building inspectors will check this once the deck is under construction. Don't make the mistake, while building, of using the wrong grade of lumber or mixture of concrete.

Always get the building department involved in your deck construction project. They're there to help ensure you build a safe deck structure that your customer will enjoy for years to come. —Carl Sperry is a California contractor.