Decks: A Place to Enjoy the Outdoors Comfortably

Decks and patios are the perfect place to entertain guests on those warm summer days when being inside makes little sense. Add a set of lawn furniture, picnic tables and a barbecue and you can cook and eat outdoors, keeping your kitchen cooler and cleaner, and getting everyone outside in the fresh air. Throw in some outdoor yard games like badmitton or croquet, and you, your family and guests will be entertained with little or no effort on your part. No need to spend days house-cleaning if your guests will be outside most of the time. If you've been thinking about adding a deck to your home, we give you information you can use to decide if this is for you; including planning, decking materials, and more. In no time at all you can be enjoying this extra room and the outdoors with friends and family.

Step one: Plan Your Deck

As with most projects, planning should be your first consideration. What do you plan to do with your deck? Will you be entertaining a lot of people? Will it be used primarily for yourself and your immediate family? Will you want to include a barbecue and other furniture for your comfort and convenience? Where will the deck be located? How big do you want it? Will you use wood or other materials to construct your deck?

I'm sure there are more questions you can ask yourself before beginning construction, but these should be enough to get you started. If you are in the habit of entertaining a lot of friends or family during the summer months, you'll probably want the largest deck your backyard (and budget) can afford. Your deck can be pretty simple or pretty elaborate, again depending on your budget and entertaining needs. If your deck is just going to be used primarily by yourself or family, you can probably get by with something smaller.

As for location, we recommend building it close enough to your kitchen to easily go between it and the deck. Most people barbecue on their deck, so close proximity to the kitchen makes a lot of sense. Size will be determined by your needs and budget, as well as the available space in your backyard. Decks are made primarily from wood, but there is a lot of upkeep in order to maintain your deck in a safe manner. There are alternatives to wood which we'll cover briefly later in the article.

Once you have answered the above questions, and any others that come to mind, you can draw a sketch of your deck. It doesn't have to be the best art work, but your decking details should be included. Where will you place your barbecue? Do you want built-in seating or planters on your deck? Do you have any landscaping or other yard problems that will have to be dealt with, such as a sloping terrain or large trees?

Along with your planning, don't forget to get the necessary permits to build your deck, if they are required in your area. It could get even more costly if you neglect this step in your decking plans.

Building Materials

Most decks are built from wood, although there are now some composite materials that also make good decking material. Choosing the right building materials for your deck gives you a good start to a quality, long-lasting deck that you can enjoy for years to come. Buying pressure-treated lumber is a logical choice for your deck, as it is able to support more weight than cedar or redwood. It's also less expensive. Pressure-treated lumber is rated according to the pounds of preservative retained per cubic foot of wood. The higher the number, the better the protection against insect and fungi deterioration. "Above-ground" use (.15 to .25 pounds per cubic foot) is usually used for decking, fence and railing material. "Ground-level" (.40 pounds per cubic foot) is used for posts, beams, joists or decking. And "below-grade" (.60 pounds per cubic foot) boards are usually used for support posts that are buried below ground or for permanent wood foundations and planters.

The three main categories of deck boards are:
Natural woods which typically cost $1.20 to $1.80 per linear foot. They look great when new, but unless treated and maintained with a finish or sealer, they won't look so great a year or two later. They're also softer and more likely to get scratched or gouged if you're not careful.
Treated wood costs about $.50 to $1.00 per linear foot, is strong and long-lasting and less expensive. Drawbacks are that if they are not kiln dried after treatment, they will shrink noticeably after installation and may be prone to cracking once in place. You'll also need to apply a water repellent every year or two.
Composite deck boards cost about $1.25 to $2.00 per linear foot and are made from wood and plastic. They are resistant to rot and insect damage. In terms of drawbacks and complaints, there are very few--mostly from people who do not like it that they are not completely natural. As with other decking material, this type can become stained and dirty over time so a good scrubbing or pressure washing would be in order. However, this applies to all decking materials, not just composite. And because composite decking boards are fairly new, not all of them have been tested yet. Your local building authority should be consulted prior to purchase to see if what you want to buy is on the "approved" list.

For More Information

When researching this article, we found a lot of good sources for information and for buying decking material, which we'll share here:

Information on decks, including planning and building:
Readers Digest has an extensive informational site covering all facets of planning for and building your deck.
Lowe's has an informative site on deck building ideas. You can also purchase your decking material here, either online or at your local dealer.
Deck Designs - is another online site which will give you plenty of ideas for designing and building your deck
If you are interested in composite decking materials, visit the for more information

We have other articles for yard and garden projects, and more will be added as we go. Be sure to check these out too. Once you have your deck in place, you may want to add more improvements to your outdoor living space.

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