Building a Deck: 12 Things to Consider
This list includes 12 considerations before planning and starting to build a deck.
Make Plans Before Jumping in to Deck Project
More planning and consideration may go into building an outdoor deck than, say, an indoor bathroom. Besides determining it’s a deck you want instead of a patio, you will need to establish a budget, select material, find a space to build it, and determine whether it is a DIY project or you’ll need to hire a professional.
Purpose, Function and Uses
Q: Why Do You Want a Deck?
Is a deck the answer to extending your indoor living space, pushing it outside? Do you live in a climate that is warm several months out of the year?
Reasons to build a deck might include:
- As a pool or spa surround
- Container gardening or growing a patio garden close to the house
Location, Location, Location
Often, a limited property size dictates where a deck will be built: on the only spot in the yard available, wherever that may be. If you have more room to work with and are lucky enough to have a few choices on where to build a deck, then consider yourself fortunate. Luck aside, the location for your deck may be decided by:
- Size of lot
- Sun and shade
- Rain and snow
- Proximity to house
*If you have a view that’s a pleasant one—preferably scenic—this might be where you would want to build a deck. A deck is a nice addition to a house; a deck with a view is even better.
Money—oh, that. Sometimes it stands in the way of just about everything. But like every practical adult, you know that it costs money to do or make pretty much anything. Decks are no exception. A few budget-related things you’ll need to factor in before plunging into a deck-building project:
- Size of deck
- Intricacy of design
- Extras: built-in seating, flowerboxes, railings, etc.
- Who’s going to build it: you or a contractor
- Choice of lumber and cost.
Get creative: One solution might be to add a small deck next to a patio made of concrete, brick or loose materials, which would cut down on costs but still give the look of and function as a deck.
Do You Have the DIY Skills?
If it’s a basic, freestanding platform deck, you might be able to pull if off in a few weekends, depending on how much gusto you put into the project. Decks require a certain amount of carpentry, engineering, and do-it-yourself experience. Can you work a circular saw? Do you know what a circular saw is? Did you ever take a “shop” class?
Is your dream deck going to be positioned on questionable ground—like sand, over water, in mud or clay, or unstable soil? Will it be a high- or multi-level deck that might require special engineering? Are you experienced working with concrete? If you have doubts as to whether your DIY skills are up to it, investigate further.
Although it’s historically the original and most popular choice, wood is not the only decking material available. So, what is available?
- Weather-Resistant Woods, like redwood, cedar, cypress and the increasingly popular ipe.
- Pressure-Treated Woods, Treated lumber, which contains wood and preservatives.
- Hardwoods, like teak, ipe and Brazilian hardwoods.
- Composite Decking, which is made of recycled plastic and wood fiber.
- Alternatives, like plastic and aluminum, which both use recycled products.
Deck Design, Size and Shape
Size will be driven by your deck’s location and your budget. Small space, small deck. Small budget, possibly a small deck. Big space—you get it.
The shape of your deck may be dictated by the design of your house. Imposing a round, curving deck with carved railings onto a linear Midcentury Modern house might be forcing it into something it’s not, or simply looks horribly out of place. Follow the lines, proportions and architecture of your house, so it’s a natural extension; a seamless transition from indoors to out.
Besides being a functional outdoor room, a well-designed deck must enhance the beauty of your home. It should:
- Complement rather compete with a home’s architecture.
- Coordinate with the surrounding landscape design.
Extras: Railings, Roofs, Privacy Fencing and; Other Deck Structures
Simple platform decks are the easiest to build and have a clean, classic appeal. But you may not get off so easy. If the deck is higher than a few feet off the ground, railings for safety will be needed.
So what if the deck is in a convenient location, but is hot most of the day? A roof of some kind will need to be built so that you can spend time on your deck in comfort. Another “what if”: the deck is visible to your neighbors, and their yard is visible while on your own deck. Some sort of privacy screening will help block the view from either vantage point.
Building Codes and Legal Requirements
In order for the project to be legal, the blueprints have to be approved by your city or county. Laws vary from city-to-city, state-to-state and so on—check on your city or county website for information about building permits, codes and other legal requirements related to adding or remodeling a residential structure.
And do this homework before you buy materials or get too deeply into a potential deck project.
If you’re going to use your deck—especially in the evening—you’ll need strategically placed lighting. Besides giving the deck a certain ambiance, it’s an issue of safety. Knowing where you need it, the type of fixtures, and how much lighting you will need for your deck affects the design and budget. Solar lights may not be bright enough, and LED lighting still needs to be wired. If you don’t have the DIY skills, an electrician will need to wire and install your outdoor lighting.
Types of lights and locations where they might be installed on your deck include:
- Recessed stair or step lights
- Path lights
- Overhead lights
- Wall or post-mounted lights
- Landscaping spotlights
- Outdoor kitchen lighting
Storage, Seating and Planter Boxes
Built-in storage is a natural—if you’re going so far as to build a deck, you might as well at least consider storage. These come in the form of water-tight closets, lift-top benches and storage closets or shelving underneath decks built on a slope or second level. So, just what will you need to store?
- Garden tools and supplies
- Children’s outdoor toys
- Outdoor patio cushions
- Outdoor furniture and accessories
A built-in bench is practical and can serve as a railing. Using the same wood as the decking gives it a rich, customized look. Likewise, planter boxes constructed of the same lumber will soften or personalize a deck. It can also join it with the garden, or if there’s no landscaping, can serve as a spot for your container garden.
Designing and Building Your Deck