Rooftop Spaces Planning, Maintenance and Safety Issues

Winter in Chicago can be brutal—piles of slushy gray snow to wade through and frigid winds that keep you inside. So you curl up with a good book, sip a cup of tea, and watch the flurries through the window. As the flakes fall, you might find yourself daydreaming about spring and a spot where many Chicagoans go to be social—the rooftop.

Up on the Rooftop...

Rooftop decks have long been an icon of Chicago's neighborhoods. The wooden stairs behind many apartments that lead to panoramic views of downtown are one of the most distinctive features of Chicago. Perhaps the most famous rooftop decks in the world lay just across the street atop the ivy-laden walls of Wrigley Field.

In the last couple decades, rooftop decks have become very popular. Newer rooftop incarnations are becoming standard in newly-constructed housing developments, but many of Chicago's rooftop decks are simply wooden constructions built years ago that are no longer up to code, and it's causing safety trouble for residents and the city.     

“The city currently is closing those down. So if an association has a wood deck, it's only going to be a matter of time until they're either shut down or they may have been shut down already, and they have to be reconstructed out of non-combustible material,” says Jim Stoller, president of The Building Group, a management firm in Chicago. “The city is requiring building permits for this reconstruction, and depending on the type of construction of the building they may also want structural drawings from a licensed engineer to show that the roof structure can support the roof deck,” Stoller says.

Part of the crackdown stems from the fact that rooftop decks have evolved into a full-blown amenity in many buildings, instead of a place for a few friends to hang out. It's not uncommon for Chicagoans to host parties outside on the roof during the summer, and with more people populating the roof at one time, safety can be a real concern.

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