11 Step Checklist To Designing A Rooftop Deck

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Rooftop decks can expand your living area, create outdoor space above street level, or give you a garden where there is no backyard. For any of these reasons, a rooftop deck, designed well, is a fantastic idea. This design checklist can get you started.

file-2595207299A rooftop deck with turf, pergola, play equipment, and built ins is a family space by day, social space by night. 

Designing A Rooftop Deck

A rooftop deck can be a dream, adding features and space that takes advantage of the space and view outside your home, even in tall buildings or small lots.

Designing your rooftop deck is, well, let’s face it, fun but daunting! Finding inspiration online and in project photo galleries can fill our “wish list”. Wanting the most spectacular deck that make friends and neighbors want to spend time there (and maybe make them a little envious?) is our heart’s desire.

But reality can hit hard if your dream design did not consider structural details and useful space first. To avoid that heartbreak, here is a checklist of 11 things that help you avoid rooftop deck design pitfalls from the start and help it “rise above” your vision instead.

wood deck planters people winter fall rooftop deckDesigning a rooftop deck is just part of the vision. Space to entertain, relax, and be outdoors is another.

There are more design inspiration in this download, "Rooftop Deck Design Project Portfolio". Get it here.


1. Can Your Rooftop Support A Deck?

Not all building rooftops are the same. The first major factors to consider when designing a rooftop deck is the strength and weight max of your building structure. safety first!

This is especially important when you are planning to add heavy load items like a hot tub, fireplace, built ins, or outdoor kitchens. 

RELATED: Rooftop Deck Design Load Problems and Solutions


rooftop organic gardener edited (1)~2 (002)

A NYC rooftop deck designed with heavy load items like a stone-face fireplace, built in planters, seating and lighting. Decking material is Garapa hardwood. Photo courtesy of Organic Gardener, NYC


"Can your roof structure support the additional weight? Speak to experts to determine whether your existing roof can support the extra weight of a deck. Never build a rooftop deck without checking this first."

- "Building a Rooftop Deck: 6 Steps to Success ",MataverdeDecking,com



2. Is A Rooftop Deck Allowed?

Cities, towns, neighborhoods and even HOAs may have restrictions or rules about a rooftop deck. It may be as simple as requiring a privacy wall, or it may not allow them at all. Be sure to check with all the authorities that may affect your rooftop deck planning.




RELATED: "Can I Just Plop A Rooftop Deck On Top Of My House?" - at Apartment Therapy

Grab a free copy of the Rooftop Deck Design Idea Portfolio for lots more great ideas, download now. 

3. Is A Rooftop Deck Expensive? 

A rooftop deck is a big investment in both time and money, but the dividends are totally worth it. To be sure you invest wisely, start your deck design planning with a professional. Architects, rooftop deck contractors, rooftop garden landscape architects, and home designers with rooftop deck experience can all help you save time (and costly design changes) if you partner with them from the start. These professionals are your best resource to save yourself wasted time and money.


RELATED: Is a Rooftop Deck Worth The Investment? 

A bonus checklist in a checklist!

Top Things To Discuss with Your Architect, Engineer, Contractor,

or Building Inspector Before Starting a Rooftop Deck Project"

Download your copy here.
1. The age and condition of the existing roof – make sure it gets a thorough inspection before you start. Issues found after the deck is built will be much more difficult, and expensive, to address. The weather in your area. Will it be a 3-season space or 4 season space? Is there a view you want to take advantage of? How do you plan to use the deck? Zoning restrictions. (A common rule is the rooftop deck cannot be seen from the street.) Is there a Homeowners Association or Historic District that needs to be consulted? They may have additional rules. Access and egress for construction materials and crane, and later for daily use and potential emergencies. Will there be a doorway from inside the home, a hatch, or an exterior stairwell? Will you be needing electricity, natural gas, cable, plumbing? Other logistical considerations are chimneys, AC units and other building features that may have to be moved or designed around.  Keep in mind that a rooftop deck gets full and heavier exposure to sun, wind, and weather. Use the best possible decking material your budget allows for longevity and low maintenance

Download this infographic, click here

4. Best Wood Rooftop Deck Design Material

Rooftop decks naturally get more than their fair share of UV and weather exposure. Hardwood is better than softwood here, for sure, since hardwood decking material has very high fiber density making it incredibly resistant to multiple threats.

Exotic hardwoods are highly resistant to moisture damage. rot, mold and mildew and even insect damage. That high density fiber strength gives these threats no foothold to invade or damage. And the same durability protects your deck from scratches and gouges from foot traffic, furniture feet, pets, and storm debris.

The strongest and loveliest choices for a long lasting rooftop deck are Ipe wood, Cumaru wood, Machiche Wood, Jatoba wood, and Garapa wood.  


Low Maintenance Rooftop Decking

Because they are a dense, heavy wood all of these options do not absorb stains well. Instead, the natural color and grain shines through with very low maintenance needs.

Hardwoods decking requires only cleaning as needed and an oil-based UV protectant made for hardwoods is recommended. We like and use Penofin Hardwood Formula Penetrating Oil. A protective oil finish keeps the wood looking like new and prevent weathering. 


Weathered Rooftop Decking Is Beautiful Too

Note that ALL of these hardwood decking species can be left untreated for a incredibly minimal maintenance option (just clean as needed). Without the UV protectant, they will all weather to a beautiful silvery gray, satiny patina without losing their stability and strength. Hardwoods are so naturally strong they can save you years of extra labor and repairs even when weathered. So, its ok to go gray. 

RELATED: Free Guide to How Exterior Woods Weather 

vaughn machiche rooftop deck weatherd 2

Download a the Rooftop Deck Design Idea Portfolio for more photos and inspiration.


5. Which Rooftop Wood Decking Is Best?

Here's a breakdown of the most durable and appropriate decking for a rooftop installation:

Ipe wood  – the highest upfront cost for wood decking material but also the highest return on investment by far over the lifecycle of the deck. Ipe is proven to last over 20 years, even untreated, under harsh conditions. Combined with its durability, beautiful exotic graining and medium to dark brown color range make this a top pick of both homeowners and architects for deck design.

Ipe rooftop deck with Eurotec Aluminum framing and adjustable pedestals

RELATED: Machiche Wood Decking Information

Visit the Garapa Wood Decking Photo Gallery for more pictures.

Cumaru wood – Another favorite of architects and designers is this durable and stunning hardwood. Cumaru is all heartwood and can range in color from yellow-y and reddish browns to a purplish cordovan color. Cumaru wood can appear similar to red oak with its coarser grain, but the exotic color range of Cumaru gives it the nickname, "Brazilian Teak".

Cumaru hardwood rooftop deck


RELATED: Machiche Wood Decking Information

Visit the Garapa Wood Decking Photo Gallery for more pictures.

Machiche wood – Lesser known, and a best kept secret. Similarly strong and beautiful, Machiche is more affordable than Ipe. Machiche has exotic graining with medium chocolate to dark chocolate browns. 

Machiche hardwood deck

RELATED: Machiche Wood Decking Information

Visit the Machiche Wood Decking Photo Gallery for more pictures.

Download your PDF, "Rooftop Deck Design Ideas Portfolio", now for more information and ideas. 


Jatoba wood decking material – The luxurious look of Brazilian Cherry comes to your rooftop deck! Jatoba, the stronger, exterior version of interior Brazilian Cherry hardwood flooring.

Mataverde Jatoba hardwood decking with Penofin Hardwood formula sealer

RELATED: Jatoba Wood Decking Information

Visit the Jatoba Wood Decking Photo Gallery for more pictures.

Garapa wood decking material – If a lighter wood is called for in your dream design scheme, look no further. Garapa has a golden blonde color with interesting exotic figuring. A real show stopper underfoot. 

Garapa rooftop decking, benched and planters photo by Sergey Raikin-2

RELATED: Garapa Wood Decking Information

Visit the Garapa Wood Decking Photo Gallery for more pictures.

RELATED: Compare Hardwoods, Cedar, Pine and other wood decking materials here. 

There is much more to see in the free Rooftop Deck Design Project Portfolio. Grab your download here.

6. How Will You Use Your Rooftop Deck Design?

Decks can add precious living space in multi-unit attached housing or urban high rises with no backyards. Adding a rooftop deck can give you family space, fitness, space, entertaining areas, dining areas, a garden. Or, with the right use of space, all of the above.

Consider what you want to the rooftop deck for – are you craving a place to relax and dine as a family? Are you looking for a quiet place to be alone and enjoy the sunset? Maybe separate entertaining areas for standing along the deck rail with bar top and another for conversation?


This rooftop was designed with a pool and shower, using Ipe with its natural low slip surface and high rot resistance.


And guess what? No matter your climate and location, you could design for year-round use. Yes, rooftop decks can be enjoyed in all seasons when you use the right decking materials and the right design planning. 

christmas rooftop sparklers


RELATED: Enjoy Your Rooftop Deck Year 'Round

7. How Much Space For A Rooftop Deck? 

You have determined that your building roof can handle a rooftop deck and what you want the deck for. Now it's time to determine how much space you have to design.

Is your potential space a small, wasted corner tucked outside your kitchen that can be outdoor dining? Or a garage roof that takes advantage of a stunning view? 

Rooftop deck at Northern california winery


Or do you have an expansive rooftop to fill with a pergola, firepit, cocktail bar and plush seating?


sky deck massachusetts ipe deck rooftop fire pit pergola


Knowing how much square footage, and in what shape, you have to design within is important. A professional deck designer can find the most efficient ways to use that space to achieve your vision. A good design will eke out the most useful space without feeling cluttered or cramped. Professional designers and architects can also help you take best advantage if you have a spectacular view.

Download a free copy of the Rooftop Deck Design Project Portfolio to take with you while

planning your dream deck. 

8. Pergolas and Privacy in Rooftop Deck Design

Do you need shade over a dining or conversation area? Are privacy features important, to block out neighbors or an ugly view, (or an ugly view of your neighbors)? Do you want to separate deck areas from one another without interrupting the view?

island pergola


Pergolas, built in planters or other features, walls and arbors can be added to add shade, privacy and can separate out areas on your deck. A pergola can designate an area and create shade, without blocking the view of the sky. Built in planters or arbors can both add greenery and privacy.


deck garden rooftop


RELATED: Inspiring Rooftop Deck Picture Gallery


9. Outdoor Kitchen Rooftop Deck Design

The luxury of walking just outside your top floor condo or loft to your own grill and smoker is pretty awesome.

The weight and movement of grills, smokers, and built-in appliances can affect both the max weight of your deck and also the wear and tear of they are rolled or moved around in use. Hardwood decks can handle both the weight of outdoor kitchens as well as resist scratching, gouging and the heavy footwear kitchens require.

Cumaru siding, soffits and rooftop deck


10. Plan Rooftop Deck Lighting Design

Adding string lights is always a fun and sparkly idea, but what about more permanent lighting? Having your deck lighting designed ahead of time makes it easier to incorporate it into the completed deck. Mood lighting, walkway lighting, up-lights in greenery or on artistic features will make a rooftop deck go from a nice spot to “WOW! How did you do this?” when dusk falls.

Organic Gardener Ipe rooftop deck


11. Rooftop Hot Tubs and Gardens, Pro Tips


hot tub deck winter

Are you picturing stepping out onto your rooftop and into a hot tub or pool? Sit by a cozy stone fireplace? To your built-in pizza oven or raised bed kitchen garden? These amazing features are what rooftop deck dreams are made of.

Featured Ipe deck with pool at sunset - photo courtesy of Roberto Nickson


Once you know for sure that your rooftop deck can handle the weight of these features, and you have the right place for them in design, go for it! These features may be heavy load, but can be safely and beautifully designed into your deck design with the right considerations.




Did this checklist give you new ideas or new directions for your dream rooftop deck? Let us know in the comments. Do you have more questions on rooftop decks? Contact us, we're here to help. 


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