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Tips for Planning a New Deck

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Adding a deck can be an exciting project with excellent results. Most homeowners hire a contractor to build their decks. (You can find some great TrustDALE certified decking contractors here.) But even if you’re not picking up a hammer yourself, there’s plenty for you to do. The majority of homeowners want to be pretty involved with the planning stages of the deck, at least when it comes to the overall design. Designing a deck for your home can be fun and rewarding. It also gives you the opportunity to come up with a deck that is truly unique and truly tailored to your custom needs. So if you plan to add a deck this spring or summer, here are some great tips for planning a new deck.

Placement of Your Deck

The first thing you will need to determine when adding a deck is just where exactly you want it. If this is an entirely new deck, you may need to build a new door to access it from your home. The placement of the door will determine where you can put your deck. You could try to plan your door to meet the needs of your deck, but often indoor factors have a substantial effect on where you want to place your door. Once you have determined how you will access your deck, you can start thinking about its placement.

Elevation

Generally speaking, there are two types of decks: a high deck, and a low deck. A high deck is usually almost a full flight of stairs higher than the ground below. It may be accessed from a second floor, or from a first floor if there is a walkout basement below. One defining feature of a high deck is the need for railings all the way around. The railings will be one of the most visible parts of the deck, so you’ll need to put extra attention into their design.

A low deck is a deck that is less the 30” above grade (above the ground). It does not necessarily require a railing, though a low railing can help define a space and protect against falls and missteps. It is crucial to maintain proper airflow underneath a low deck to prevent mold and moisture buildup. You also want to take care not to let small rodents or other animals take up residence under a low deck. It’s always best to leave as much space as possible, but consider closing off the area below the deck with lattice or screening around the edges.

Design

When it comes to the design of your deck, try to stay as open-minded as possible. With your initial sketches, don’t focus too much on the details. Think about what you want out of your deck and how you plan to use it. You can always scale back later.

One way to break up a large deck is with multiple levels. Just make sure that you don’t have too many different levels in a small space. Unexpected elevation changes can lead to trips or falls, which is never good. But if you have a large area, splitting it into two levels in a creative way to define separate areas.

Think about your lifestyle and how a deck will fit into your lifestyle and enhance it. If you love to host and throw a great summer party, consider a large deck with open spaces as well as some more intimate areas to relax. If you’re more of a private contemplative type, think about creating quiet spaces that offer the best views and are suited to some quality alone time. You can get your family involved, too. Find out what everyone wants out of a deck and incorporate those suggestions into your final plan. In the initial planning stages, nothing is off limits. You can always scale back later.

Designing for the Weather

In many cases, a deck will have some sort of overhead structure. If you plan to use your deck during the hot summer, you may want something to block the sun. The most common cover over a deck is a pergola. Space the slats at a distance that offers good coverage from the sun as it moves across the sky but also lets in a cool breeze. If you live in an area that is unusually hot, like Phoenix or Houston, consider a more solid covering. Awnings can make the difference between enjoying your deck in mid-summer and abandoning it. An excellent middle ground between a pergola and an awning is a pergola covered in some kind of vegetation. You can use flowering vines for an added splash of color. The flowers and leaves provide additional over without blocking out light and air like an awning.

Selecting the Right Material

Weather should also be a consideration in choosing your decking material. If you live somewhere particularly damp, you will need a material that will stand up to moisture and rot. On the other hand, if you live in a dry and hot climate, you need a material that will not fade dry out, or crack. In cold climates, you should be concerned with freezing and thawing, which can cause your deck to expand and contract significantly enough to loosen boards and fasteners.

The two main choices of decking material are wood and composite. However, there are many types of wood and many types of composite with different characteristics. Typically, composites are more expensive, but they are much lower maintenance. Some composites today are almost indistinguishable from wood, so if appearance is a concern, you may pay a little more for a wood-look composite.

If you want a real, natural look and don’t mind some maintenance, wood is your best option. Treated lumber is also cheaper than most composites, although cedar can be a bit more expensive. The main drawback of wood is that it needs to be pressure washed and sealed regularly, often once a year.

Cooking on Your Deck

For many, one of the main functions of a deck is barbecuing. For some people that just means setting up a small grill in one corner of the deck. But if you love to grill and entertain, your cooking options go well beyond the basic grill. Outdoor kitchens are rapidly rising in popularity, and with good reason. An outdoor kitchen is anchored by a high-end grill but may include many other amenities, such as stovetops, a refrigerator, a counter for prepping food, separate eating spaces, or even a bar. There is really no limit to what you can do with an outdoor kitchen. Your budget and your imagination will set the parameters.

Lighting Your Deck

If you’re going to build a deck, you should be able to use it at all times of the day. That’s why it is so important to pay attention to the lighting for your deck. Lighting can be both functional and decorative, and it’s best to plan for both types. If you will be cooking or doing other activities that require seeing, a little task lighting is in order. Task lighting is usually bright and targeted so you can do what you have to do without shedding to much light on the rest of the deck. Decorative lighting can take many forms. If you want to learn more about deck lighting, try our TrustDALE certified outdoor lighting specialists.

A deck should be uniquely you. Of course, if you’re not a builder or an architect, you’ll need some help in creating your deck. Try these great TrustDALE certified deck contractors to get your project started today.