On Deck – Creating Great Spaces for Relaxing and Entertaining Outdoors

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After the hot days of summer, most of us are looking forward to cooler fall days. For many of us, the deck will beckon during those autumn evenings, so now is the time to make sure your deck is ready for entertaining.

Decks and porches are among the most common home improvement projects homeowners undertake. Not only does a deck or porch add to your outdoor living space, it provides a relaxing setting for gathering with friends and family. For many homes, a deck or porch may be necessary to provide entry into the home.

Though decks and porches are similar structures, they are different. A porch is generally built as an entrance to a home and is usually roofed. Decks can be freestanding patios, but most often they are attached to the home to provide access to another element of the property, such as the backyard or a pool. Single level decks provide a transition between the house and yard. Multi-level decks provide access from an upper level of the home. Decks are often built in the shape of simple rectangles, but some have angles to add interest. Some are roofed, but many are not.

As you can see, decks add variety and interest to a home, and for many do-it-yourselfers, decks are a manageable project.

As you plan, think about factors such as views, sun/shade, and entryways that will have an impact on your design layout. Check out Pinterest or Houzz for online photo galleries of deck ideas. Plans are available for purchase, but many are available free. Two sources are trex.com and yellawood.com. The websites of home improvement centers may have plans as well.

Keep in mind that multi-level decks are the most complicated and best left to a professional. Regardless of location, it is very important that a deck adhere to local building codes to ensure the safety of those who will use the deck. Safe construction and choosing the right materials is essential. Check with your local building inspector to make sure your plan meets building codes and safety requirements.

You may find that you need to enlist an experienced contractor or carpenter to work on your project. Much like you might consult an interior designer, deck contactors can help make your dream outdoor space become a reality. When researching contractors, look for someone that specializes in decks. Ask your friends for references and interview prospective contractors before making a final decision.

Whether you hire a contractor or go the DIY path, the first step is choosing a plan. Once you have that in place, it’s time to get started. Here is a review of the basic elements of any deck:

Location. Survey the area where the deck will be built. The size and shape of the deck may be determined by where and how the deck will attach to the house. The slope of the land is important as well.
Support system. Decks must have a support system, generally a combination of ledgers or footers. Ledgers connect the deck to the home or structure. Footings are usually made of concrete, either dug into the ground or precast deck piers. The location of ledgers and footers will provide the essential framework for load supporting beams.
Foundation. The foundation is built on top of the support system and consists of a framework of joists. Joists support the deck boards and span the frame of the deck.

Decking. This is the most visible part of the deck, and as with any home improvement project, there are many options in a range of prices. The least expensive option is treated pine lumber, available at home improvement stores. More expensive wood options are also available by special order. Many homeowners are choosing composite decking, such as Trex. Composite decking resists fading, and according to manufacturers won’t rot, warp, crack, or splinter like wood products will over time. Composite decking is more expensive than wood, however, so you will pay more upfront for lower long-term maintenance.

Railings. While railings provide a necessary safety function, they also serve an aesthetic role by creating a decorative frame for an outdoor space and defining the setting’s style. Ready-made railings are available, as are step risers, pergolas, and other structural accessories.

Decorative elements. Many deck accents are available, including decorative posts, balusters, caps, and lighting. Lighting will add warmth, ambiance, and safety to an outdoor space. Another hot trend is to incorporate warming features into outdoor spaces. Create physical and ambient warmth with candles, tiki torches, lanterns, and firepits.

Once the deck is finished, follow the recommendations of the wood manufacturer for sealing or finishing your deck. A deck that is properly sealed, kept clean, and maintained regularly will last for many years.

If you already have a deck, now is a good time to freshen it up. A good deck cleaner will brighten weathered wood surfaces. Most can be sprayed on and rinsed off after 10-15 minutes without scrubbing.

When cleaning the deck, it’s important to protect trees, shrubs, flower beds, and any other natural or man-made objects nearby to protect them from the acid in the cleaners.

Finally, apply a finish. Water sealers do just what their name suggests—penetrate into the wood and create a moisture barrier that keeps water from seeping deep into the wood. Usually water sealers are clear. Deck stains are available for a range of purposes, from transparent stains that show off the natural beauty of the wood to solid color and deck restoration products that resurface aging wood and hide blemishes.

Once your deck is ready, take some time to spruce up the space. Just like you would for interior rooms, infuse your personality into the design of your outdoor space. Choose colors and patterns that reflect your style and customize with personal touches, such as pillows, throw blankets, art, tableware, and plants. Switch accessories seasonally to keep your space fresh and fun—ready for football, barbecues, or simply relaxing at the end of a gorgeous fall day.

Sources: Great Decks & Porches: A Step-by-Step Guide by Rick Peters (available at Amazon and West Georgia Regional Library)
Trex.com