Deck Fundamentals

By: Danny Lipford

Wood deck with patio furniture.

Today’s decks are as varied as the homes they serve. If a deck, or a deck remodel, is in your future, here are some initial points to consider on both design and construction:

  • Deck Uses

    Think about whether this deck is just a spot for a hammock or whether you’ll be entertaining there. Will it also be a cooking center? A kid’s play area? Will it include a spa? Does it need to offer access to the rest of your yard? How many people will it need to accommodate regularly? When you entertain? Etc.

  • Deck Placement

    Most decks are attached to the back of the house near the home’s kitchen, but they can also be used in a side yard or built freestanding as a retreat in a more secluded part of your landscape.

  • Deck Size and Configuration

    Decks shouldn’t dominate your yard, but you need enough room for all your activities and traffic to and from the deck. Consider a multilevel deck to naturally separate activity areas and to make your deck look more interesting.

    Curves and angles also help vary the look and draw people out. Consider very broad steps from the house to the deck or the deck to the yard-they not only look expansive but serve as natural seating.

  • Built-in Amenities

    While you’re at it, consider built-in seating, planters, and especially lighting. You will probably also want some electrical outlets on the deck (GFI-protected with approved outdoor covers), as well as a hose bib and even piped-in natural gas or propane for a cooking center.

    If you don’t have natural shade from overhangs or trees, also consider awnings or a permanent shade structure for part of the deck.

  • Building Materials

    Most decks are supported by a pressure-treated wood structure of piers, beams, and joists; but you have much more choice in the materials when it comes to decking and railings.

    Pressure treated pine is the least expensive option, but naturally decay-resistant species of softwood (redwood, cedar, and cypress) and exotic hardwoods (ipe, teak, and mahogany) are more elegant and may last longer.

    The fastest growing category is various composite and “plastic” (fiberglass and resin) options that are splinter-free, won’t rot, and require almost no maintenance.

  • Construction Methods

    Because decks are a place to gather and they are exposed year round to weather, they need to be built well and inspected annually. Concrete piers with metal connections to posts are a must, and so is getting the approval of your building department for all spans (beams, joists, and decking).

    One of the most vulnerable parts of most decks is where they are joined with the outside wall of your home. Typically this is done with a 2″ ledger board. The ledger cannot just be nailed to the house framing, but needs to be bolted or lag screwed every foot or so with large diameter hardware. This ledger should also be spaced away from the wall by 3/4″ or so air can circulate behind it, discouraging rot.

    Posts for railings should also be bolted to the framing to ensure their security over time. Both ledger and railings should be inspected each year.

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  • Candy Borst Says:
    August 26th, 2007 at 10:20 am

    What do you find to be the negative aspects of the composit decking materials – such as fading?


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