Building a rooftop terrace is one of your options if you want to capture extra alfresco space. It’s a popular design decision when renovating houses in the city, and it allows you to take advantage of beautiful views. Your rooftop terrace could be used for entertaining large crowds, or as your personal hideout where you can de-stress.
Interested in building a rooftop terrace? Here’s everything you need to know before you commit to the plan:
Advantages of building a rooftop terrace
Building a rooftop terrace is ideal in urban neighbourhoods where homes are so closely built that there is no extra space on the ground level for an outdoor space.
When you build a rooftop terrace, you get additional seasonal living space that can be used all year round. The sun shines here, even during winter. (Some ground-level yards only receive direct sunlight for a limited period, others don’t get any sun at all).
Also, building up there gives you a better view of the city or your surroundings.
A rooftop terrace, when skillfully designed and planned, can be used all year round. Consider having an outdoor living area here. Furnish it with a sofa set, dining table, chairs, and a barbecue. If you don’t have a garden downstairs, consider growing plants here to freshen up the area.
Here’s a great example:
What’s the catch?
There are only a few disadvantages, provided that your rooftop terrace is well-designed, well-constructed, and well-shaded. It is highly recommended to work with experienced professionals to ensure that there are no major issues that are costly to fix.
Experienced designers will make sure that the rooftop terrace matches the aesthetic of the home. They will make sure that this space remains private, and you will use this space more efficiently. Apart from providing the drawings, they can also help you obtain planning and building permits.
Expert engineers will make sure that there are no structural and waterproofing issues in the plan.
Reliable builders will construct the rooftop terrace using high-quality materials and make sure that it will last for years to come.
Building a rooftop terrace is not cheap, but working with professionals ensures you get the most of your money.
Which homes suit rooftop terraces?
Most houses can accommodate rooftop terraces. To be sure that you can build one, consult a designer. Book an on-site design consultation and have a meaty conversation with your designer.
If your home has a high parapet (e.g. mid-period Victorian terrace houses or Art Deco-era homes), you might be able to build a rooftop terrace. High, ornate parapets and ridge lines will hide the area from the street view, so there’s minimal impact on the exterior design of the house.
Expert tip: There are a lot of homes like this in Victoria, in established suburbs near Melbourne. Our Melbourne-based designers can help you renovate them. We have experts in renovating under heritage overlays.
If your home has a high-gable roof like the homes built during the Edwardian era, it would also be perfect for a rooftop terrace.
A little warning: renovating an old home is not an easy process. You need the help of a designer who has experience working with period homes. You need to make sure it meets the building-code requirements.
Homes with a flat roof are great too, but your designer must consider the impacts of installing handrails and screens to the house’s overall look.
Homes with steep pitched-gable roofs are great too.
With the exception of most – but not all – apartments, rooftop terraces can usually be worked into houses. Consult your designer to find out if your home is suited for this kind of project.
Which homes are less suited to rooftop terraces?
It might not be ideal for small, inner-city properties with a hip roof facing the streets for it might require major renovations that will change the look of the original house.
Getting council approval
Local councils have their own rules and regulations governing rooftop terraces, so you need to work with a local designer who is familiar with the requirements, most especially when you live in a heritage area.
Cost of building a rooftop terrace
Building a rooftop terrace is an expensive project because it requires funds for waterproofing, finished flooring, handrails, etc. You need to prepare for it and keep additional costs in mind (i.e. for building stairs or access to your rooftop terrace, installing shade structures and other features you may want, buying planter boxes and outdoor dining furniture).
Feel free to ask your neighbour or a friend who’s done the same project before, but know that the price of each project differs widely because of the difference in the scope of works. It’s best to consult a designer and get quotes from them.
Scope of works
Every project is different. Your project might require more than just removing the old roof, laying waterproofing, and building the rooftop terrace.
It might involve major building works such as installing new structural beams and floor joists to carry the weight of the rooftop terrace. In this case, the rooms under the roof must be removed and replaced. You are more likely to be embarking on a major — rather than a minor — building works.
Structural issues are very common in this type of project, especially when working on older houses. There is a huge chance that your designer will deal with existing chimney, parapet, walls, or structures originally braced on the roof of your house.
You will need a designer who can think of ingenious ways to work around these, because you are not always allowed to remove them. You will also need a structural engineer to review the changes.
Weight is an issue when you landscape your rooftop terrace. One cubic metre of soil can weigh between 1.2 and 1.7 metric tonnes, or between 1,200 and 1,700 kilograms. This is a load that needs to be structurally factored in.
You will need the inputs of your designer and a structural engineer about managing the weight of your new rooftop. If you want to reduce the load, consider using pots and planter boxes to grow greens. Instead of growing lawn on soil, consider using a lightweight artificial turf.
Waterproofing is non-negotiable and required when building a rooftop terrace.
Note that every project is unique and requires different challenges. The waterproofing needs of a simple rooftop terrace with a lounge is different when there’s a pool or a garden.
Also, ensure there’s adequate fall to gutters and the size of the gutters are correct. Opt for oversized gutters because we never know how much rain we’ll deal with. Always have an overflow pop, in case the gutters and rainwater heads get blocked. Check this regularly and make sure they’re clear of blockages.
Give a close thought to your material selections for the underfoot, because your rooftop terrace will be brutally exposed to the elements from sun up to sun down.
Timber decking is one of the top choices of homeowners across the country. It gives the rooftop terrace a warm and contemporary feel, adding personality to your house and making it stand out in your neighborhood. What’s more, it increases the value of your home.
Timber decking is great because it doesn’t get hot underfoot, but it needs to be cared for more frequently.
Another popular option is tile flooring, usually made from sandstone, granite, slate and concrete. Tiled surfaces are low-maintenance, but these get hot very quickly and radiate heat which you feel on the rooftop and on the rooms underneath. You will need to minimise glare too, to avoid accidents and to make the space more comfortable.
Whichever flooring material you choose, make sure that it is designed for outdoor use and has a warranty.
It is highly recommended to have a source of shade on your rooftop terrace. You will need it, especially in the summer because the roof can get very hot.
What you want is a shelter that one can’t see from the street level, won’t affect your heritage facade, or won’t be seen by your neighbours.
When you have a well-shaded outdoor space on the rooftop, you are more likely to spend more time there.
You probably want a rooftop terrace because you want a huge entertaining space at home, and because you don’t want your guests jammed in your small living room.
But, can you imagine yourself climbing up three to four flights of stairs while carrying food and drinks every time you have friends over? Can you imagine yourself carrying a bunch of dirty dishes downstairs every weekend?
Great designers make rooftop terraces more user-friendly. If you want a rooftop terrace that’s perfect for entertaining, consider incorporating a kitchenette (with a barbecue, sink, and storage) to reduce the hassle. It requires a bigger budget, but it will be worth it because you will spend more time here and enjoy the space more often.