Composite & Wood Decks

NJ Building & Zoning Permits

Building & Zoning Permits Series

Do I Need a Permit to Install a Fence in NJ?

Understanding the difference between a building permit and a zoning permit, what it means to your project and how to obtain one….


By Forever Green Landscape Construction & Design – Bergen County NJ

Fences & Permits in NJ

We are often asked by customers; “Do I need a building permit to put up a fence in NJ?”. The answer is no for a building permit.The installation of a fence does not require a building permit under the New Jersey Uniform Construction Code. However a fence installation will almost always fall under your town’s zoning laws thus requiring a “zoning permit”

6' Solid Privacy Grey Lyndhurst,NJ 07071
6' Solid Privacy Fence Secaucus,NJ 07094

What is the difference between a building permit and a zoning permit?

A building permit incorporates the relationship between the contractor and the state of New Jersey as administered by each individual municipal construction code office. A building permit represents parameters under which a structure must be constructed. If a contractor fails to construct a structure by specifications listed in the New Jersey Uniform Construction Code, they will fail inspection. Only those structures that are constructed to proper specification will pass inspection. 

In most cases homeowners can pull their own building permit even if they are utilizing a registered or licensed contractor. They simply become responsible for the inspection and finished product in lieu of the contractor. 

A zoning permit however, has to do with the relationship between the town and the homeowner. In the case of a zoning permit the town decides what the homeowner can and cannot build, construct or install in relations to established zoning laws.

6' Wood fence Board on Board Maywood, Nj 07607
6' Solid Privacy White Vinyl Fence w Landscaping_Contractor Install_ East Rutherford, NJ 07073

 It is always best and recommended that homeowners pull their own zoning permits. Towns who decide unfavorably and or unreasonably against common home improvement projects such as fencing are forced to explain their findings to the tax payer. Our contracts are written upon the premise that the homeowner has satisfactorily obtained zoning approval for their respective project.

 Some zoning permit denials are reasonable and sensible and fall into the towns legitimate interest to prohibit. No one wants to see a neighbor with a 6’ solid privacy fence on their front lawn leaving their house to look like a fortress disrupting the look and feel of the block and neighborhood. That’s fair.

6' Solid Privacy Khaki North Arlington, NJ 07031

There is a legitimate purpose to zoning laws. However, we have seen many zoning permit denials that aren’t sensible and don’t seem to support any rational goal or interest of the town. This is particularly true where a side of homeowners yard abuts a busy street. Absent a solid privacy fence the yard is a fishbowl to onlooking traffic and severely lacks privacy where one would expect it. Despite this fact, some town zoning laws indicate that a solid privacy fence can only begin at the rear of the house thus any deviation would require a variance. IN a case like that the homeowners side yard, which realistically serves as their backyard is devoid of privacy via a bad read or application of zoning law.There are many interpretations of that and each scenario is contingent upon each individual municipal construction office and whether or not they have a favorable or unfavorable read to the zoning law. 

- Installed by Forever Green Landsape Construction & Design

How do I fill out a zoning permit?

An application for zoning permit is usually a very easy lift. It typically requires knowing the block and lot number of the house which can be found on a tax statement along with a copy of the property survey. Most towns will typically ask the applicant to mark where on the survey their project is being proposed. 

In the case of a fence install you can mark out the fence using a solid line while utilizing squares for the corners. It is beneficial to indicate key measurements on the survey such as the distance from a structure, like a garage, or the distance from the neighbor’s property line. You will also want to differentiate on the survey the different heights of fence ( if there are any) and where the heights begin and end. This is important as it directly correlates to the zoning law.

While not required it is also helpful to bring in pictures of the areas along with pictures of the materials being proposed to be installed.  It is a great idea to “superimpose” a sketch-up of the work over the picture to illustrate your proposed project leaving no doubts to the zoning official, the parameters of the project you are seeking approval for.

Failure to apply for a zoning permit may give grounds to the zoning official to request the structures removal. This could lead to unnecessary court appearances and potential litigation.

6' Solid Privacy White Vinyl Fence w Landscaping_Contractor Install_ Kearny,NJ 07032
4' Scalloped Picket Clifton, NJ 07013

What if my zoning permit gets denied?

As with any legal matter there is always an appellate review process. Homeowners should always ask beforehand what the appellate process is and where it can be found. If you are denied for valid reasons you can seek a variance, which is a concerted effort to gain a consensus between people who would be affected by the abatement of the zoning law and yourself, along with the town who would overhear the matter. There is no guarantee the variance will be granted but in many cases it is worth the effort.

Scalloped Picket_Clifton, NJ 07011

Typical Legal Recourse

Defective on Face – a facial argument means that the law as written is improper or even unconstitutional as it seeks to regulate or restrict an action that is legally unsupported or legally defective. 

As Applied – an “as applied” argument indicates that the law on its face is valid but it is being misapplied for a number of different reasons. Perhaps the property doesn’t qualify to the property stated in the law or the restrictions do not apply to the type of fence but rather only to masonry walls. In a case like that the law would be improper, unconstitutional or defective “as applied”.

Composite & Wood Decks

Deck Versus Patios

Composite Deck and Interlocking Paver Patio Series

Decks -vs-Patios

Understanding the Pros and Cons 


By Forever Green Landscape Construction & Design – Bergen County NJ

Backgrounds of Decks Versus Patios in the New Jersey Landscape Design Industry

We are often asked by customers what is the best hardscape option for outside living, a deck or a patio? This is a very fair question and one which deserves an answer of substantive value and insight. Unlike a lot of home improvement bloggers, our pro and con analysis is derived from thirty years of hands on experience in construction of both decks and patios as a NJ home improvement contractor.

Composite Deck_ Paramus,NJ 07652
Keystone Roman Cobble Paver Patio_Belgian Block_Nutley, NJ 07028 Contractor Install

Depending on your generation, you may have grown up with wood decks as the go to outdoor living feature. Successive generations would have had more familiarity with patios. For that New Jersey generation, ( 1980’s and below), wood decks were a significant improvement over the limited choices in patios which were mainly flagstone, concrete and early version paving stones.

Additionally whether one chose a deck or a patio was equally contingent upon the perspective from two completely different trades – a mason or a carpenter. It is probably fair to say a degree of a deck’s popularity was equally attributed to the fact that a deck was more easily installed by a common handy man or a family friend where a patio required either a concrete pour via a concrete truck delivery or a natural stone, laid into mortar making such a project a lot more unfeasible for the casual handyman. In those days landscape companies had little to do with either trade and the installation of decks or patios other than making referrals to their customers.

Composite Porch Deck_ North Arlington, NJ 07031

As a result of the continuous weathering of pressure treated wood, despite the use of waterproof sealers and stains, the Trex company developed a new plastic decking system that was suppose to finally eliminate the problem of degradation and continuous maintenance of pressure treated wood decking. 

The Trex company was plagued by the first generation of its plastic decking alternative which creaked under foot traffic and badly warped in the New Jersey sun. 

Composite Deck - Installed by Forever Green Landsape Construction & Design

The Advent of Composite Decking

Needless to say the 1st generation Trex decking did not fair well or last long. We can certainly remember customers specifically stating how they didn’t want “Trex” and recounting the issues of warping and creaking they observed with a 1st generation Trex deck of a friend or family member who had it installed. Composite decking would soon come to replace plastic decking and the market would see a number of other manufactures emerge alongside Trex selling a much improved upon concept of future decking material, Timbertech and Fiberon to name a few.

On the flip side, the New Jersey concrete-brick paver industry emerged in the late 1980’s which was a drastic improvement from the old green and yellow Channel & Rickel style throwback paving stones which were laid on sand over dirt! Hard to imagine but true. ( We have happily demolished many of them!) The New Jersey concrete brick paver industry made a huge breakthrough in providing specifications along with their product on how their paving stones should be laid and installed thus rectifying the fundamental problems of previous paving stones ( as unsightly as they were).  As typically recommended, the suggested specifications for concrete brick pavers installation are: (1-2” leveling  base on top of 7 inch gravel drainage base). Absent a proper drainage base, one does not have a patio. They simply have a replication of a historically problematic patio from years prior where water has no place to go except to move and dislodge the paver. 

The first generation octagon concrete-brick paver was impressive for its time but like its Trex counterpart it had its share of growing pains which included complete color loss. However successive generations of concrete-brick pavers would make drastic improvements and eliminate the color loss problem. 

Another unintended consequence of the dry laid brick paver industry was the net result it had on each respective trade. Being that pavers were dry laid and the installation process was absent any working knowledge of mortar or concrete, it opened the door to landscapers as the new generation of installers.  Landscape companies quickly took over the brick paver industry via their continuous access to their maintenance  accounts. Landscapers pushed out masons as an exclusive trade for patio and walkway installation and the industry of landscape construction was born. 

Carpenters, as a deck-building trade were equally relegated into irrelevance as landscape construction companies continued to expand and dominate the exterior home.  Yard makeover project and outdoor living experience replaced the single entity structure ( deck or a patio) concept. A deck builder lost relevance to a landscape construction company who can install a patio, erect a fence, install a landscape design, install landscape lighting, pour concrete walkways, construct and repair brick stairs…and build a deck! All of which are worked out with a customer and completed under one design plan.

Today, New Jersey homeowners have a wide array of paver styles and designs to choose from and a wealth of high quality manufactures ( Cambridge Paving Stones, Uni-lock, Techo-Bloc, Keystone ( formerly CST) Nicolock). 

Driveway_Paver Patio_Belgian Block_Contractor Install Cranford, NJ 07006, 07016,07031
Elevated Patio_Composite Vinyl Railings_Circle Kit_Cambridge Pavers_Nutley, NJ 07028
CST Paver Patio_Bullnose Coping_Landscape Design_Clifton,NJ 0701 Contractor Install
So which is better? A deck or a patio?

Below is an objective analysis on each category of consideration and Forever Green Landscape Construction and Design’s expert findings based on thirty plus years of experience working in the New Jersey landscape and construction industry as a NJ Home Improvement Contractor: 

Cost:  A small wood deck in most cases typically stands as the cheapest option for an outside living space structure. However, the soaring costs of lumber now become a factor which must be accounted for. Composite decking, being an engineered material, is substantially more expensive than wood. The cost of a full composite deck along with the vinyl railing systems are comparable to the installation of a patio and in some cases an elevated patio.   

Maintenance: A wood deck must be maintained. Flat lying lumber directly exposed to the elements must be continuously treated with stains and water sealers to protect from degradation. Flat-lying lumber suffers the worse degradation despite the stains, sealers and treatments and ultimately will succumb to the elements if not by aesthetics alone.

Composite requires no maintenance other than cleaning areas soiled by trees and the elements. Composite will not succumb to the elements.

Patios constructed from masonry materials to include pavers, stone and concrete require no maintenance in the form of treating against degradation but can require occasional maintenance against weeds which can find their way into the joints of pavers. An application of an annual weedkiller typically solves this problem for patios. Concrete and mortar laid patios are subject to stress fractures and have the potential to crack ( hence the basis behind dry laid pavers which are not subject to stress fractures and cannot crack). 

Degradation: Wood decks despite the best efforts and use of pressure treated lumber will eventually degrade to the point of replacement. Wood decks are also subject to wood-boring insects such as termites and carpenter ants. These factors become exponentially more probable the closer the deck is to the ground. Additionally there is substantial risk for the same wood-boring insects to infest the sill plates and framing where the deck attaches to the house.

While the composite decking itself does not degrade, composite decks are still constructed upon wood subframes subject to the same degradation. Patios constructed of masonry materials do not suffer degradation from the elements and are completely impervious to insects of any kind.  

Animals and Rodents: This is an unfortunate reality for any backyard in New Jersey where many customers find small animals and rodents taking up opportunistic shelter wherever possible. Most often this is the underside of a deck where there is little or any human traffic. The higher the deck is off the ground (4’+) the less likely it is to be used as shelter. The nature of patio construction prohibits voids which can be used as shelter. A properly constructed patio which includes an 8” gravel base does not allow for any burrowing underneath even for the most persistent of animals and rodents. 

Expansion: Decks are typically built to the size of the dimensional lumber subframe.  To expand a deck requires a new set of permits and plans which equally include new footings. In that respect, it is unfeasible to expand a deck and in some cases easier to build a new one. Patios can easily be expanded. Additional structures can be added in and around patios where the same can’t be done with decks.  

Forever Green's Official Findings on Decks -V -Patios

The design options for a deck are extremely limited and the potential for wood boring insects on decks in close proximity to the ground is a significant snd unavoidable risk. It is our practice and policy to strongly dissuade our customers from the use of wood as a finished product building material in exterior applications with the exception of stained and sealed heavy timbers used as supports section in a structure such as a pergola or arbor.

Decks are no exception. We find the popularity and affinity for decks are based on earlier generations of landscape design that afforded limited design choices. Given the choices of materials, impervious nature of masonry based materials to the New Jersey elements and New Jersey winters, impervious nature to insects and rodents in addition to proper water run-off and drainage management, a masonry based concrete brick paver or natural stone patio is an exponentially better option than a deck.