In our Philadelphia neighborhoods, outdoor space is at a premium. Many yards are too small or just too constrained by buildings or trees to enjoy the feeling of open space that city dwellers need to really enjoy the outdoors. You could always walk or drive to a park, but what you really want is a long-term solution that is part of your own home.
If you want more sun and open air in your life—particularly within the comfort and convenience of your own property—one option to consider is a rooftop deck.
Before deciding to undertake this major exterior improvement project, there are several factors to consider, including the condition and age of your roof, your ability to access, and the cost to add a deck to your Philadelphia home.
If you’re thinking about building a rooftop deck, one of the first questions on your mind may be, “How much will this project cost?” You also need to think through the logistics, such as how you’ll access your rooftop deck and how it will affect the interior of your Philadelphia house.
A rooftop deck is often built on a flat(ish) roof above the highest floor of your home—although a better location for a roof deck is on a half-floor "walk-out" if you have one. Decks built for flat roofs are easier to engineer, but you can potentially install your deck decks over a steep, shingled-pitched roof.
The primary benefit of a rooftop deck in Philadelphia is that it gives you prime outdoor living on your property without taking up valuable space in your yard. If you don’t have much exterior property to speak of, then a rooftop deck becomes one of your few options for creating a supplemental living area where you can sit outdoors, grow plants and flowers, have a cookout or picnic, and entertain a large gathering. Additionally, rooftops are rarely utilized, except to maybe house heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment. Instead of letting that prime real estate go to waste, you can have a weather-resistant, private space for relaxing with family and friends or enjoying some solitary time under the vast sky.
At Bellweather, we always remind our clients that converting this under-utilized space for a rooftop deck enables you to make the most of each square foot on your Philadelphia property. You are only limited by the square footage and configuration of your rooftop, the pilot house access, your budget and the boundaries of your imagination.
As with most home improvement projects, the cost of your rooftop deck addition depends on several factors, such as the current size and condition of your roof; your choice of materials; special features; and the difficulty of adding suitable access. Although each project is different in scope, a rooftop deck addition in and around Philadelphia typically costs somewhere between $60,000 and $80,000. Based on various estimates, a rooftop deck has a return on investment (ROI) of up to 50% to 75%.
DIY Your Roofdeck?
Not advised. It goes without saying that roofdecks are not a DIY project. Zoning requirements, variance options and engineering risks are all unmanageable risks for most homeowners with limited development and project management skills. Mistakes made in the planning phases of upper level decks will reliably lead to costly blunders and numerous regrets.
To help you establish a preliminary budget and prepare you for the planning phase of your project, here is a closer look at the six main factors that impact pricing for a Philadelphia roof deck:
The average size for a rooftop deck is about 150- to 300-square-feet. Your deck’s shape, size and height depend on the specific dimensions of your Philadelphia home. The cost of your project increases relative to the size of deck you choose to build, as it will require more materials and labor.
Additionally, the age and condition of your roof impact the price. If there is mold, rot or other damage that could compromise deck construction, those issues must be addressed before the work begins. If you have an older house, be cautious of putting a new deck over worn-out roofing materials. It’s best to have your roof inspected by a professional before deciding to build this addition.
You have a few options for materials when building a roof deck, and your selection will directly impact cost. However, you don’t need to use the same material for the entire project.
One of the more budget-friendly materials is pressure-treated lumber. It’s also durable and can last up to 30 years. Hardwoods—such as cedar, redwood and ipe—cost more than pine but they also tend to be more attractive. Hardwood decks are long-lasting, lightweight, durable and easy to install. If you’re going for luxury, hardwood is a great choice.
When it comes to decking materials, other popular selections include plastic-wood composites and vinyl. While wood composites aren’t as aesthetically pleasing as real hardwood, they last longer, don’t need to be stained or painted, and come in a variety of colors and textures. Vinyl is also nearly maintenance-free and can endure most weather conditions.
There is more than one way to build a rooftop deck, but no matter which one you choose, you need to make sure your roof is adequately reinforced or bolstered to support the extra weight of the decking material and any equipment and furniture you add to your new living space. The engineering solution you use to support the roof also factors into your cost.
When constructing your new rooftop deck, the construction crew will need to get to and from your roof. They also must transport materials and equipment. If your roof is difficult for the laborers to access, it may take them longer to complete the work or require creative solutions to address the issue. Either way, your cost for your project is likely to increase.
You also have to consider how you and your family will safely and comfortably access your new rooftop deck once the work is complete. Are you building the structure on an existing walk-out roof or does your team need to construct a new stairway and pilot house on the roof? Those items, which are discussed in detail below, are necessary but also costly.
There are numerous ways to outfit your rooftop deck with custom elements and special features, such as a pergola, built-in seating or planters. Simple built-in seating and privacy screen solutions can make an elevated deck more useful and comfortable, especially if your deck isn't elevated above your neighbor's view. Built-in elements can make for more efficient use of limited space but come with the trade-off of reduced flexibility for multi-use options.
As you explore different designs for your rooftop deck, here are the costs of popular custom elements:
Other expenses to calculate into your rooftop deck cost include labor, architectural design, permitting and debris disposal fees. The cost of your homeowner’s insurance also might fluctuate because of the addition.
At Bellweather, we encourage clients with limited budgets to customize using store-purchased outdoor seating rather than expensive built-in options. Larger decks, custom details and older homes can have major impacts on cost. It's often best to hire an engineer to talk about options if you are concerned about controlling your budget.
The good news is that rooftop decks tend to be less expensive than other home additions. That means you will have more money left over for other projects or to outfit your new space with items like a new BBQ or patio furniture set. For more information on home remodeling costs in Philadelphia, download our eBook.
Unless you are Spider-man, you will need a safe way of getting to your roof deck. As mentioned above, building a staircase and pilot house often go hand-in-hand when adding decks to rooftops in Philly.
A pilot house is simply an enclosure for an interior stairway. It looks like a cute little mini-house and usually has the same siding and trim as the rest of the house. The average cost for a pilot house is about $20,000.
We designed the three-story home addition shown above with the rooftop deck shown using a custom-colored, walkable fiberglass roof for a tight budget. From a zoning perspective, the best feature is that the added height will usually not trigger the maximum height allowance limits for residential zoning codes (typically this a maximum height of 38 feet above grade in Philadelphia).
The pilot house for this roof deck includes one mid-stair landing in the design because it worked well with our construction layout. The advantage is that the family won't have to climb a long set of straight steps up to the deck level. It's more enjoyable to use, it's safer and the stair layout is more attractive.
The pilot house interior can be adapted for better natural light by designing with windows and a glass door to brighten up the stairwell. These clients decided against carpeted stairs and upgraded to oak treads and risers.
Spiral stairs can be a real space saving design option but they can be tricky for some people, including children, to navigate because of their 'pie' shaped treads. We try to use straight runs of stairs whenever possible. You should expect to pay about $10,000 to construct a galvanized staircase that will provide access to your rooftop deck.
Sometimes the living space that we would like to add by renovating our homes exceeds the limits of our home's physical structure and stature. This is one reason why outdoor home improvements are popular right now. In many ways, an open and flexible rooftop deck offers a blank slate that you can wipe clean and re-imagine over and over again.
This means that if you want ample open space for guests to mingle before they head downstairs for dinner, you can have it. If you would rather set up a private area with a table and sun umbrella where you can relax with a book or eat a meal with family, you can have that option as well. A rooftop deck offers flexibility in a different way from a typical home addition.
If your home is a good candidate for a rooftop deck, there are so many reasons you could enjoy it. It may be a particularly wise choice if you fit in one of these categories:
At Bellweather Design-Build, we invest our time and experience with you to ensure you get the sophistication and options you need. Contact us to find out more about adding a rooftop deck to your Philadelphia home.
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