Deck Design

Written by Donald Sparacin
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When you want to combine the comfort of a room with the beauty of nature, and you want your idea to be aesthetically pleasing, safe, and long lasting, begin with a good deck design. We've all seen decks that looked like they were built by someone who possessed very little imagination and even less skill. They seem to hang precariously from houses on long stilts and look about as safe as if they were made with cardboard and glue. They are great examples of poor deck design.

Some people who have good skills with basic tools think that they can just drop into the home center, buy as many straight pieces of 2X4 that they can load onto the back of their pick-up truck, and build a good deck. They soon find that they bought too much or too little material and they will have to return to the home center several times before they complete their masterpiece. Usually, their mental design doesn't calculate for proper footings for the climate, proper materials, or proper transition from house to yard. In short, their finished project looks like it was built by the neighborhood kids and probably wouldn't safely hold many of them.

Good Deck Design Involves Planning and Thought

Before you even begin to put pencil to paper, you need to decide exactly what you want your deck to do for you. For some homes a deck is a way to get from the kitchen or great room to the back yard. Perhaps the property is sloped in such a way that the kitchen is a full story above the yard, so stairs will be needed. The weekend builder without a good deck design will most likely construct a long, straight stairway. The homeowner that gave some thought to the design will instead have a landing or two to transition the stairs in an aesthetically pleasing and functional way.

Both the husband and wife should be involved in the preliminary design process if the finished project is to have any chance of real success. Begin by jotting down what each of you wants the deck to do for you and the home. Configuring a grilling station near the kitchen door may sound great to the husband that doesn't want to walk too far with his grilled steaks, but will the smoke blow into the house if it's too close? The wife will probably want planter boxes to decorate the outside room, so you may want to think about having a water source nearby. Electrical outlets are usually something that gets added as an afterthought when proper planning isn't used in the original deck design.

Think about where the sun will hit the deck if you enjoy sunbathing, and consider some form of pergola or roof if you prefer to keep the sun away. Storage is another one of those things that is all too frequently an afterthought. You will most likely have deck chairs that will need cushions stored away when they aren't in use, and many people enjoy candles in the evening that will need to be kept out of the sun. A nice way to provide storage and add additional seating is to design benches that have a lift-up top. Proper design can also allow them to be waterproof and critter-proof as well. They can also be an excellent place to store away the barbecue utensils and smoking chips.

A Good Deck Design Should Provide a Complete Materials List

Once you know how your deck will be used and how it will look, you will need to make detailed plans for its construction. All deck design plans that you can use on your computer will offer a detailed materials list. The list will include all the nails or screws, quantities of dimensional lumber, and other hardware that you will need to complete your project. No matter what the materials list indicates, it's always a wise idea to buy about 5% to 10% more. No matter how good you are, you will bend a nail or screw every so often, and you will most likely make a bad cut or two with your saw.

There are many online deck design software packages available, and most good home centers will also provide this service. Yet it's frankly difficult to think of everything while you're sitting in a busy store, so an in-home design package is strongly recommended and preferred. However, it's always a good idea to bring your completed plans to the home center for their advice as well. They may have a new product available that could improve on the quality of construction or beauty of its appearance. For instance, while most people use nails to secure the decking boards, screws will hold better and will allow you to remove them easier. With the advent of cordless screwdrivers, it's also an easier way to do the work.

Another aspect of deck design that usually gets missed until it's too late is the choice of railing. Most guys just want the deck built and forget that a railing will add safety and style. They usually realize it too late and have to rig up something that looks awful and wouldn't hold back a gentle breeze, let alone Uncle Jay after he's had too many beers on your new deck. Give some thought as to this finishing touch aspect of the quality deck before you dig your first posthole. Railing style can make or break your deck design, so choose wisely.


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