Deck Design

Designing your new deck

Homeowners and buyers rate a deck as one of the most desirable outdoor features of a home. Decks became a popular feature of modern homes in the U.S. in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Building a deck onto your home can be a great way to expand the possibilities for enjoying your yard. Decks are typically built on the side or back of the house as extensions of the living room, dining room or kitchen. They provide an easy transition from the indoors to the outdoors and open up your yard for dining and entertaining. If your home is situated on a hillside, a deck can be a great way to enhance the usability of your yard.

Location, location, location

It makes sense to have the deck off of the kitchen or dining room if you plan to use it for occasional meals. Free-standing decks can also be placed away from the house. Usually, there will be an obvious place for your deck. But, if you have several options to choose from, it is a good idea to consider weather conditions as well.

Observe the degree of sun and shade that fall on your deck throughout the day. Keep in mind that the north side of your house will usually receive less direct light than the south and be more exposed to wind and chill in the spring and fall. A south facing deck, on the other hand, may be subject to extreme heat in summer. Regardless of where your deck is placed, modifications can include structures such as lattice walls or arbors that can be used to grow vines to provide shade and protection from the elements.

A deck should be placed so that it offers an easy transition between your home and the outdoors. Typically, decks have one point of access to the house, and one or two points of access to the yard. The door leading from your home to your deck can be placed where you have an existing door, or it can be installed in an area that is currently walled. Sliding glass doors or French doors are commonly used to provide a visual allure as well as easy accessibility to the deck. If you will be installing new doors for your deck, this should be done before the deck is built. Railing, steps and ramps should all be included in your plans for accessibility.

Designing your deck

When planning your deck, consider size and style. The main factor to consider is that the deck should complement your house and yard. It is sometimes recommended that a deck be built to be about the same size as the living room, or the largest room of the house. Decks can be simple in structure or can include multiple tiers and additional items such as hot tubs, arbors, wooden planters, built-in seats, water features, or gazebos. If you have basic building skills and a limited budget, and plan to do the job yourself, start with a small deck and add on to it. Plan for additions now in your design. By using a phased approach, you can achieve a great look over a little longer time for a more manageable price.

Building Tip: Lumber is sold in increments of 2 feet. It is often cheaper per foot, to build a deck out of longer pieces of lumber. This is why a typical deck is built to be 12íx24í.

Building codes and permits

Before you begin any remodeling it is necessary to check with your local building department to obtain a building permit. Find out about restrictions, regulations, and local building codes that apply to your project. In addition, check with utility companies to see if underground or overhead cables need to be accommodated. Wells and septic tanks may also restrict placement. There may also be lot regulations concerning how close your deck can be built to neighboring properties.

Material considerations

Decks can be built out of a variety of materials, which fall into several main categories:

Type of Lumber Material Description Maintenance
Naturally rot resistant wood Cedar, Redwood, Cypress Aesthetically pleasing, structurally strong woods. Naturally resistant to dry rot. Easier to work with than treated (or pressurized) wood, but easy to dent and mark up since they are soft. Use middle and high-grades of wood, as the lowest grades will not stand up well to warping and weather. Wood will need to be refinished occasionally to keep it resistant to moisture, insects and sun damage.
Chemically treated, or pressurized, wood Pine or Fir treated with chemical preservatives Treated woods are less expensive than natural woods, and are artificially resistant to decay. Be sure to check on the type of chemical that is used, as poisons such as arsenic can be hazardous to human and environmental health. Look for a label that indicates the wood is kiln-dried. Treated woods may need to be resealed annually.
Synthetic lumber Plastic, Vinyl, Wastewood and Rubber (many use recycled materials) Recycled plastic from milk jugs and grocery bags are used for plastic lumber. It comes in a variety of colors, and does not need painting. Vinyl lumber is similar to plastic and comes in white and other colors. Wood-polymer lumber is made from waste wood and recycled plastic and resembles wood in appearance. It can be stained or painted. Newly available rubber lumber is made of plastic and old tires. It is durable and stands up to water, insect and sun damage. Itís only available in three colors, and the color is not guaranteed to last. Synthetic lumber is relatively maintenance free, other than occasional washing.

Use wood for structural support

Real wood must be used for the structural support of your deck. Pressure-treated wood is the strongest. Synthetic materials donít have the strength or flexibility needed for structural support. When designing your deck, keep in mind that naturally rot-resistant wood can be used in combination with treated or synthetic lumber. Treated lumber is generally cheapest and synthetic lumber the most expensive of the three types of building material.

Save a tree: Maintain your deck

The average acre of a modern forest supplies only enough high grade heart redwood or cedar for two to three decks. In the U.S. there are about 3 million new decks built each year, and about the same number replaced or repaired. Wood decks that should last for decades are being replaced after only a few years due to poor maintenance. This is expensive to the homeowner, but it also has serious consequences for our forests. There simply is not enough wood to go around. Protect your new deck against dry rot and weather damage by consistently keeping it clean, properly sealed, and/or painted.


From the Bookstore: Decks and Patios.

Thinking about a new deck? Contact Next Step Remodeling for a qualified deck contractor.

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