Can I Build a Bigger Deck on my Lake Tahoe Home?
When looking at homes in North Lake Tahoe, one of the most frequently asked questions that I get from my Tahoe Buyers is
- “Can I build a bigger deck on my Lake Tahoe home?” or
- “Can I expand the current deck and make it bigger on my Lake Tahoe home?” or
- “Can I add on another deck onto my Lake Tahoe home?”
- “Can I expand the stone and mortar patio?” (not loose pavers, or stones, but a solid patio)
- “Can I add on a garage?”
There are many variations to this question, but it always comes down to the idea of adding, building, or modifying the current structure, and its footprint configuration.
Buying real estate is about compromise, rarely is something perfect and there are trade-offs. It’s about finding a property that has most of what you want at the price point you can afford.
It becomes a question of what you can live with now, and if it doesn’t have everything, are you willing to try to figure out a way to turn that property into the one that does have the features you want and need.
In the end, you’re looking at making some changes that would require more than a can of paint.
- The answer to any of these Tahoe buyer questions on building, expanding, or adding on is – Maybe, if you have enough coverage.
For Tahoe Buyers we’ve just moved to the discussion about coverage and it is a complicated and technical one, but one that needs to be addressed if you’re thinking about deck expansions, or other projects that will alter the current footprint on the property.
The topic of coverage tends to frustrate buyers because it is not a simple you can do this, and can’t do that. Coverage information is rarely available unless the current owner has done some leg work and started the coverage determination process.
While many Tahoe Buyers understand that property in the Lake Tahoe Basin on both the California and Nevada side of Lake Tahoe is highly regulated and under the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) rules and restrictions, they are not quite sure how that impacts existing structures.
Each parcel is entitled to a pre-determined amount of land coverage. The TRPA has an environmental plan in place to protect Lake Tahoe and permanent land disturbance, also known as impervious surface and includes all man-made surfaces such as:
- Structures attached to the home
- covered walk-way
- tennis court
- Any hard surface.
- Parking Pad(s)
Maintaining open space and limiting the amount of impervious surfaces in a watershed is a proven method for improving water quality, which is a goal for the TRPA and protecting Lake Tahoe.
How much land coverage you are allowed on your specific property is determined by the soil type, either through a TRPA Site Assessment, or an Individual Parcel Evaluation System score (IPES).
You’ll see IPES scores information mentioned with vacant lots that are for sale in the listing information for Lake Tahoe Basin properties in our area.
There are two separate systems used to determine land capability and the amount of allowable coverage. For residential property, which system used is determined by the date of construction: Before 1987 and After 1987 – present.
- Bailey Land Scoring System
All residential Properties that were already built upon before July 1, 1987
There are 7 land Capability Classifications and Base Coverage percentages.
In the early 1970’s the US Forest Service and TRPA developed the Bailey land capability system. It was based primarily on the official USDA soils maps for the Tahoe Region.
Each soil type was assigned to a land capability class ranging from 1 to 7, with capability 1 being the most environmentally fragile and sensitive to development.
Land found to be influenced by a stream or high groundwater was assigned to capability 1b, also known as Stream Environment Zone (SEZ).
|Lands Located in Land Capability District||Base Coverage|
|1a, 1b, 1c||1%|
The Bailey system prohibits new development on all capability 1 through 3 parcels, and restricts the amount of coverage (i.e., pavement and building footprint – coverage) that can be placed on capability 4 through 7 parcels.
For parcels with Bailey scores 1 through 3, TRPA created a program for the transfer of development rights to other, less sensitive parcels.
In the Bailey Land Scoring System Capability Classification of 4-7 were considered “buildable”.
- Individual Parcel Evaluation System (IPES)
All residential Properties that were already built after July 1, 1987 – Present
IPES was adopted in 1987 to determine development eligibility and allowable coverage for residential parcels. IPES was considered to be a better method to determine eligibility.
IPES scores applied only on vacant residential parcels. In 1987 and 1988, vacant residential parcels in the Tahoe Basin were evaluated and scored based on the following eight elements:
- Relative erosion hazard
- Runoff potential
- Stream environment zones
- Condition of local watershed
- Ability to revegetate
- Need for water quality improvements in the vicinity of the parcel
- Distance from Lake Tahoe
Note: When building on a vacant lot, an IPES score can be the difference between being able to build and an unbuildable lot. Each lot was given a score from 0 to a maximum of 1017. In Placer county the cut-off score was 726, but in all other counties around the lake it is a score of 1 or more.
If your parcel was developed prior to 1987, the parcel does not have, or need an IPES score. If your parcel is developed, it will not have received an IPES score.
Real estate agents cannot determine your land coverage. The only way to determine what coverage a property may have is to go through the land verification process and find out if existing land verification documentation does exist.
So the question of “Can I Build a Bigger Deck on my Lake Tahoe Home?” comes back to the issue of do you have enough existing land coverage to build that bigger deck.
What are the steps will a Lake Tahoe Basin home owner have to take to figure out if they can build the deck they want?
The project may require a TRPA permit before it can be constructed.
Before a project application is submitted, the TRPA will need to verify two things:
- The land capability of the property and the amount of existing land coverage.
This information can be obtained from two sources:
- Existing records available from the TRPA
If a previous project has been done, or if the previous owner did a site assessment the TRPA may have an existing record that will tell you how much existing coverage is already on your property and how much you were allow.
- By submitting a site assessment application to TRPA
If there are no existing records that have already documented what existing coverage is already present on the property they you will have to complete a site assessment and application process.
A site assessment involves a topographic land survey, which will identify the contours of the ground and existing features on the surface of the earth like trees, streams, drainage, buildings, streets, walkways, utility poles, retaining walls, patios, etc.
As part of the site assessment, the survey will include calculations on how much of the land is covered. The photo is of a topographic survey summary that shows land coverage calculations, which will give you an idea of what to expect and how items are shown.
When you talk to a local survey company and tell them you are looking to verify your land coverage they will be able to tell you the cost for the topographic survey, along with the cost for any research to help you determine what your property was entitled to and the next step of your TRPA site assessment application.
Once the site assessment has been completed, you’ll need to submit it to the TRPA with their application and fee.
Once you have verified your land capability, which determines the amount of allowable land coverage on the parcel, and your existing land coverage on the parcel has been identified these two calculated amounts may then be compared to determine if coverage is available to build a deck.
- Exceeds Coverage: If the existing coverage exceeds the allowable amount, the TRPA cannot approve the deck since it increases land coverage on the parcel.
- Under Covered: If the existing coverage is less than that allowable then the remaining potential land coverage may be allocated to the deck and a TRPA permit may be issued.
- Relocate/Reconfigure Coverage: A permit may also be issued if it is possible to relocate existing coverage on the parcel to be used for the deck.
It will take time to complete the different tasks several months, maybe longer depending on the property. Typically a Lake Tahoe Basin Seller will not give you enough investigation time to complete the land verification steps.
You may be able to get a rough idea on coverage and possibility, but not enough time to get a final approval, so there will be some uncertainty until you have everything signed off and approved.
There are always exceptions, and often a lakefront home seller with a small, older cabin may agree to a longer investigation period because of the higher price point.
It doesn’t take long before you realize that while determining coverage is a technical process that takes time and money, you begin to understand why there is a premium placed on properties that have a larger home on them, a garage, a large deck, or can provide you the buyer with the documents that verify coverage and eliminate the unknown for you.
Newer construction properties also have coverage information and documents that have identified the land coverage for the property that you can find on-file with either the country, or TRPA.
- The TRPA website has a lot of good information on it when it comes to process of building.
- Hiring a local land use consultant can also help make the process of verifying land coverage much easier, and faster.
- Hiring a good, experienced local contractor to guide you through the land verification process and then the design, engineering, permitting and building process is also a good way to get the help and support you will need.
These local specialist have the past experience to know what you need to do, and when you need to do it.
Once you know if you have enough coverage for your project, or if there is a way to re-configure existing coverage to make your project happen, then the next step will be to submit your TRPA approval of land coverage to the county for their approval.
If after reading this you’re having second thoughts on doing a deck expansion, or adding on a garage, you’re not alone and settling for a property that doesn’t have all of he key features may not be the best buying decision for you.
Owning property in the Lake Tahoe Basin does come with more rules, regulations, and procedures to build and/or change things on your property, but these rules are intended to preserve Lake Tahoe for generations to come and we know that’s something you want too.
There is a lot to learn about our area before you buy. Providing you with information on the properties you are considering buying is what we are here to do, so let me know how I can help you!
Thinking about making Lake Tahoe, California your second home? Check out the homes that are for sale here:
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- Tahoe City Homes for Sale
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All information is deemed reliable, but is subject to change, and/or correction without notice.
Can I Build a Bigger Deck on my Lake Tahoe Home?