Tips for Planning and Building a Deck

One of the most obvious and visually impressive additions we can make to our homes is an outdoor deck. Decks can also serve a variety of practical functions for us. They can ease the transition between our houses and gardens, soften grade changes if our houses lie on slopes, and divide our yards into smaller plots that can then be given their own unique styles and treatments.

When sketching out our initial concepts for a deck, we’ll want to consider its main function. Will we be entertaining large numbers of people on a regular basis? If so, a series of small decks connected by wide steps (which can double as seats in party situations) might suit our purposes. If we simply want a place where we can step out with our spouse in the evening, a single deck connected to the house might be more appropriate. We also want to consider our privacy – i.e., whether our proposed location(s) would put us in open view of our neighbors.

Wood is generally the most reliable material to use because of its overall sturdiness. Some of the best varieties include Southern pine, Hem-fir, and naturally rot resistant redwood and cedar. For the ecologically conscious, plastic composite decking, which is made from recycled plastics mixed with materials like sawdust to give it a wood-like appearance, can serve as a viable alternative. Either way, we will still want to use wood for the posts and joists.

Treated wood can last for decades longer than untreated varieties. However, because of the chemicals that are used in it as preservatives, we should take caution when handling it and use gloves, a dust mask, and goggles. We should also throw away treated wood debris and never burn it.

For fasteners, screws provide a more tenacious hold than nails, and stainless steel won’t leave rust marks on the wood like galvanized steel is apt to. Both are worth the added expense. Regardless of the width of the decking, two fasteners should be used at each joist.

It is required that we build a railing for our deck if it sits more than 30 inches above the ground. Railings need to be between 36 and 42 inches high. If we have small children, we might consider using steel for this detail, as it will be much stronger. Steel (as opposed to wood) can also be bent and shaped, allowing us to be more creative with our railing designs.

If we doubt our skills, or foresee the task taking up more than a couple of weekends, we might consider hiring a professional. But the actual construction of a simple deck (with boards running parallel to each other and the house) lies within the abilities of the average layman. To make our deck feel more like an integral part of our home, we can repeat architectural elements of the house in its design, or use built-in planter boxes or a gazebo to soften the transition between the two. Our goal will be to create a deck that is a natural extension of our house, one that serves as a bridge between the indoor and out.

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