HOME IMPROVEMENTS Cover your legal bases before you start to cover your patio

Besides permission, you will also need to decide materials and location.
SANTA ANA, Calif. -- With warm weather coming, it's time to think about adding a patio cover that can protect you from the harsh rays of the sun.
Of course, shading you from a hot sun is only one reason for a patio cover. You may want one to give you more privacy, to shield you and your outdoor furniture from rain, to expand your living area outdoors and to decrease sun fading of your furniture.
The right patio cover can do this and more for you. But it takes planning and deciding whether you want to have one built by a professional or do it yourself.
A first step is to be sure it's OK to have such a cover.
If you are in a homeowner association, call someone in charge. If not, chances are you may need to check with your local government's building department.
A representative can tell you whether you can build on the site and what guidelines you'll have to follow. In many cases, construction of a patio cover calls for a construction permit, for plans to be submitted to the building department, and for inspections to be made by local government personnel.
Don't let all this scare you. If millions of people have done it, so can you.
The reasons that prompted you to build a patio cover will influence the type of patio cover you'll build, the materials you choose and, ultimately, the style.
For instance, take the most frequent reason for building a patio cover: to act as a shield from the sun. Ideally, what you want to do is let in some sunlight but not enough to make it a problem. If the sun hitting the side of your home where you'll place the cover is to the north or south, you might want to have the lumber members of the roof run perpendicular to the side of the house. This will allow in more sunlight than if you had the lengths running parallel to the house.
For locations on the west or east side, you may want to run the lengths parallel to the side of the house. On the west side, that would catch the strongest rays, from midday to late afternoon. On the east side, it would screen the early-morning sunlight.
Many patios use traditional wood in the framework, with sizes of lumber ranging from 2-by-2s to 2-by-10s. You can also shield your patio from overhead sun by using lattice.
But this style of cover won't shield your patio from the rain. To do that you will need a solid roof. This roof can match the roof of your home, using the same materials, or be a distinct accent.
A solid patio roof also would give you privacy, especially if you live below a neighboring home.
With new developments in patio covers, consumers can have the best of both of these designs in shutter-style roofs. These operate much like an indoor window shutter. Some operate manually, and others are motorized and can operate by remote control. There are even high-tech models that work automatically to compensate for bright sun or rain.
It's time to talk materials.
While most patio covers have been and are still made of wood, an ever-increasing number are being constructed of aluminum and PVC (polyvinylchloride -- think plastic) or a combination of plastic and wood fibers.
The advantage of using wood is that a patio cover can be made into almost any design your imagination can conjure. The disadvantage is that wood takes occasional maintenance.
If you want little maintenance, look at aluminum and the PVC covers. There is also a new type of aluminum cover -- one brand is Alumawood -- where the aluminum has the look of wood. The disadvantage of these materials is that there are a limited number of off-the-shelf shapes and sizes, though the choices are growing.
The patio cover materials, the side of the house where you want your patio cover, the type of patio foundation you may already have, the local building code requirements; these things all play parts in how the patio cover will be constructed and how it will be attached to the foundation. After all, when you get the cover up, you don't want it blowing away in the first hard wind or falling down when someone bumps into a support.
Some building codes might require a vertical support embedded in concrete. Another code might say that a support must be held to a concrete foundation with a metal strap bolted to the concrete.
A patio cover over a deck might require that a vertical support be in the ground as well as being attached to the deck, not a bad idea in high winds.
What's it all going to cost? The range is staggering because of the vast variety of patio covers, so it's almost impossible to get an average of a "typical" patio cover because of all those differences.
Here are a few things to keep in mind, though.
A wood patio cover may cost less initially -- perhaps as much as 20 percent to 30 percent less -- than the same size cover in aluminum, said John Paul Scott, who staffs the "Pro Desk" for the Home Depot in Mission Viejo, Calif.
"Right now lumber is a little soft [in price] than the materials used for an aluminum cover," he said. That's because almost any metal costs more these days as a result of construction demand in countries like China.
But, that isn't always the case, said Judy Lippard of R.E. Lippard Construction Co., based in Huntington Beach, Calif. "We've been in the business for 32 years, and I can tell you that the price of wood mostly depends on the quality of it," she said. "We choose just the best-quality wood for our patio covers so the price difference between it and Alumawood isn't very much."
Aluminum and other alternative materials to wood will cost you less in the long run because there will be little or no maintenance required. There's also the happy prospect of not having to prepare and repaint all that wood if you're the kind of person who would do it yourself.
Want to buy a patio cover kit online and build it yourself or have it done? You can expect to pay at least $600 for an 8-foot-by-8-foot cover to about $1,300 for one that's 12-by-12.
Make sure, though, that you fully understand what's included and what is not. Also figure in shipping, what your foundation may cost if you don't have one already and what your local government permits.
Then talk with patio cover contractors or lumber yard and home center salespeople and compare.

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