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Make it a great outdoors!

10 tips for creating your perfect deck

The backyard cookout. A book and a beverage. Dinner with neighbors. The outdoor deck is as versatile as it is attractive for those seeking fresh air without leaving the comforts of home. It is the place where people naturally gather to eat, drink, talk and take in the scenery, an essential part of any property that has adequate space.

Consider these 10 tips for planning and building the deck of your dreams!

Estimate future use

Before you charge off to Home Depot, the idea of adding a deck to your home has to make sense. A deck can recoup up to 75% of its cost upon resale, depending on materials.* Among home improvement projects, this is a decent return for extended living space that promises hours of outdoor leisure. As long as you think you’ll take advantage of those hours, go for it!

Size it out

When planning your perfect deck, make sure it’s big enough for the largest outdoor dinner party you’d ever try to host. For instance, 10 heads will require a 4’ x 8’ table, and you’ll want at least 4 feet on each side for people to pass. In this case, your deck should be roughly 12’ x 16’.

Weigh your options

The specific use of the deck will be important when calculating the cost of materials and labor. Decks are meant to support 60 lbs./sq. ft.** If you plan to put a hot tub on it or host epic bashes with dozens of friends, you’ll need to account for the extra support structures underneath.

Stay in code

Any addition to your home will require the green light from a government zoning authority. Getting a construction permit for a new deck is usually a matter of contacting your local Department of Planning and Development. After taking measurements and drawing up basic plans, an inspector will be able to advise you on applicable codes and regulations. Call well ahead of the time you plan on breaking dirt, as government offices tend to get backed up with requests.

Find the right stuff

Deck material is subject to the same cost-vs.-value comparison as any other home improvement project. Composite deck boards are more resistant to weather and decay than wood, but typically cost more and can take on stains from spilled food and drinks. PVC decking is tough and requires little maintenance, but can have a “plastic-y” effect. Wood gives your deck a rich, attractive look, costs less and won’t get stained, but requires more upkeep. Therefore, the material you choose may depend on a moving timeframe, local weather patterns, or your age and that of your kids, among other things.

Limit imperfections

If you’re going with the wood deck, make sure the planks you choose are as straight and unblemished as possible. Avoid cupped or curved boards and knots near the edges—these flaws may result in an uneven surface or footfall hazards over time.

Focus on the front end

The foundation of your deck consists of the footings and ledger board. The precision installation of these components is essential to creating a sturdy, safe and level deck. The footings are the concrete support structures under the vertical beams, and they must be set into the ground at a depth below the frost line so that the soil underneath doesn’t expand and contract with changing temperature. The ledger is the large horizontal beam that is bolted to the house and acts as the attachment anchor for the rest of the deck structure. To avoid potential disaster or financial loss, these two components must be done right the first time.

Make it seamless

Building your deck top-down with screws and nails rated for outdoor use is the time-tested, conventional approach. If you want to make it a smooth, streamlined model of modern construction techniques, however, hidden fasteners are the way to go. The drawback of this aesthetic improvement is a more involved installation process (aka “extra work”). However, there are quick and stress-free deck tools available, like the CAMO Marksman system, that don’t require the extra clips or routing that makes other hidden fasteners a hassle.

Stain, don’t paint

Painting your deck the color of your house may establish some visual continuity if that’s important to you, but you’re creating a lot of future work. Scraping chipped paint and applying a new layer is a laborious and painstaking job. Instead, put a coat of protective stain on a wood deck to keep the elements at bay. This also brings out the deep, full texture of the wood’s grain for the visual appeal you’re looking for. If your deck is made with pressure-treated lumber, let it dry out for a year before applying stain. And for a clean, spotless surface, give it a pressure wash the day before you start.

Finish strong

Adding the final flourishes and accessories to your deck is a matter of taste and time, but don’t overdo it. Whether you want to create a specialized grill station with custom storage or simply add some attractive post caps, this last stage of creating your perfect deck is all about your particular personal touches—just keep in mind that they should be in harmony with the house. Functional ideas for improving your proud new addition include perimeter benches, skirting and pergolas.

Adding a deck to your home is a wonderful way to expand living space, increase your home’s value and entertain guests. Plan it well, build it right and finish it with purpose, and enjoy the great outdoors!

*Remodeling magazine, “2016 Cost vs. Value Report.”
**ThisOldHouse.com

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