Design a Deck Like a Pro

With the high price of gasoline, we're all looking for ways to stay home, rather than loading up the car with the kids and heading off to have some summer fun elsewhere. One solution kills two birds with one stone: building a deck will give you a place to hang out and entertain, and add equity to your home.

Of course it's no secret that DIY deck building takes some careful planning, some tools that you probably already have, and lots of elbow grease. What you might not know is the construction details and tricks that the pros use. Read on and you'll be an expert!

Primary Considerations In Deck Design
As I mentioned before, prior planning before putting shovel to soil is the key to getting the deck that you and your family will really love and use frequently. As you slide into this stage of the project there are a few important things to keep in mind.

Building permits: Yes, this one is one of the biggies. Violate this one and you can really get into deep doo-doo with the city authorities and end up with some monster non-fans. Never miff a city construction inspector!

City easements: Once again, this is Big Brother getting into your business. Usually, city easement on your property is restricted to the area adjacent to the street or sidewalk at the front of your property line, but why take a chance? Check it out.

Zoning ordinances: These details might tell you what percentage of your property may contain an outdoor structure. In most cases this is not an issue.

Your neighborhood association: This one is my pet peeve; I think they ought to be strictly opt-in organizations; they tend to take on a life of their own. As with city inspectors, miff them and spend the remainder of your days in Hades.

Location, Location, Location
It's not just a rule with restaurants. Although most homeowners do have a bit of latitude to work with, the importance of location involves more than Feng Shui. What's important to consider for your deck are things like sunshine. When will you use it?
If breakfast is your primary concern, you're going to want subdued morning light, not stark rays in the old eyeballs. If afternoon grilling is your thing, you'll want the prevailing breeze not blowing smoke into the back door.
Another concern is privacy. Do you have inquisitive neighbors? You can either orient the deck a certain way or plan to put up a vine-wound trellis. Most often, the home's back door is the primary entry point for the deck, so that's a huge consideration. The deck layout might have to use that for a starting point.

Sketch It Out On Paper
Once you've got a good idea, sketch it out with pencil and paper. You'll get ideas on more embellishments as you do this. Add railings, box seats, maybe a different level. Here are a few things you need to include on the sketch:
Where's your backyard faucet?
Where's your buried underground utilities? This is very important and you might have to call the company out to locate them. First, you don't want to cut through anything like a gas line when digging post holes. Secondly, you might want to decide early on how to orient the planks so you can pull them off to service a line.

Sketch in any shrubbery and trees in the area. Why not incorporate them in your design?
Make note of any view you want to take advantage of. Are you going to hang out on the deck and take in the sunset?
And where's that hot tub going to be? This is where the nosy neighbor factors in.
Conventional Deck Design Types
There are several basic deck design concepts. For simplicity's sake, you can just put one of these in. But wouldn't it be a whole lot more fun to mix and match? Try these basic ones on for size:
The hot tub deck: This is what a lot of folks go for. What a way to relax under the stars, or...

Multi-level deck: This design is eye-pleasing and especially good for entertaining. A step up of six inches or so and some tiki lamps around the sides, and it's party time!

The basic deck: This is as simple as it gets. Usually either square or rectangular, it's an entry-level deck that leaves the option for later expansion open when more discretionary funds are available.

Basic deck with corner cutoffs: This is an enhanced version of the basic deck. The two outer corners are cut off at a forty five degree angle. Steps down to the lawn at one or two cutoffs make for easy access to the grounds.

Wraparound deck: Remember when we talked about the sun? A wraparound deck addresses this issue by forming an "L" around the rear and side of the home.

Freestanding deck: This deck can be one or a combination of any of the previous basic designs. Freestanding simply means that it sits apart from the house and not attached to it with a ledger board.
All of this should give you an idea of how to actually find out what you want from your deck before you jump in with your checkbook (or debit card) in hand. Chew on this for a while. Next week we'll start talking about the actual construction phase.
Photo Credit: Alamy

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