Top Tips for Building Your Dream Deck
If you are a typical overwhelmed, under-relaxed, multi-tasking workaholic of the 21st century, you need a deck in your life.
For one thing, think about the practical benefits of a deck. When you add a deck to your home, you cost-effectively extend your living space. Plus, decks have multiple uses, and, as real estate industry research shows, building a deck is a smart investment. Experts say it’s possible to recoup up to 70 percent of the deck’s cost when you resell. Homebuyers in today’s market find decks highly desirable because they offer a comfortable and convenient place to relax and have fun.
But it can’t be just any deck. Whether you hire a contractor—or do it yourself—your goal is to build a deck that’s beautiful, safe and durable. So here are the top tips for building your dream deck.
I hope these tips are helpful. If you want more information, the Internet offers you lots of design ideas, plans, plus useful, easy-to-follow installation instructions. Before long, you’ll have a deck that’s beautiful, safe and durable, an investment that will enhance your lifestyle as well as your property value.
- Get That Vision Thing
Keep the end in mind. It will guide and inspire you in the deck-building process.
Envision how you will you use your deck. Every day, of course, you can have breakfast, lunch and dinner on your deck. One New Hampshire family often grills dinner on their deck, despite the frigid New England winter.
And think of the endless possibilities for year-round entertaining. Imagine a casual family dinner that first warm evening in spring or a summertime dinner party under the stars.
Decks also offer countless ways to relax. A Californian family relaxes at the end of the day in their on-deck hot tub all year-round. Will you use your deck for your daily yoga practice? Will you use it to sunbathe, create a potted herb garden, or listen to music, read the papers or listen to the soft gurgle of a fountain?
Whatever your vision is, plan carefully to make it a reality. For example, don’t forget to plan for electricity and water sources. Consider designing living areas into your deck as you would your home a dining area and a sunbathing area separated by a step, for example. This will make the deck feel more cozy and you’ll use it more. And consider mixing colors and patterns to add visual interest to your design.
- Design for Beauty—and Safety
Make sure the deck you have in mind suits the size and style of your home. For example, you don’t want a ranch-style deck for your cottage by the sea. Before designing your deck, measure furniture you plan to use on the deck. You don’t want to build your deck only to find it’s too small for your furniture. Nor do you want your deck to be too large or too small for your house, in terms of proportion.
Also, make sure you know about—and carefully adhere to—your local building codes; you might have to rip down your newly built deck if it’s not in compliance. Your town’s building department, also known as code enforcement office, can help you avoid problems. For example, one stay-at-home mom in New York took her plans for a deck to her town’s building inspector. After he stopped laughing, he helped her by explaining how she would need to redesign the deck to meet the local codes, which are for her children’s safety.
Choosing the right decking material also will contribute to the beauty of your deck. Use the correct decking material for your local climate, taking into account such factors as humidity and temperature.
If you choose to build your deck with wood, choose quality materials such as Brazilian Ipe’, an exotic hardwood, or California redwood, which resists warping and splitting, and is fire-resistant. Before you begin, be sure your wooden decking material is dry and acclimated to current weather conditions.
Many people don’t like the look of nail or screw holes on the surface of the deck. They feel it spoils the beauty of the decking material. So, experts advise, carefully choose a method to fasten the planks of your deck.
If you don’t want nail or screw holes in your deck, consider concealed deck fasteners. Glenn Eberle, whose family for two generations has built quality homes throughout the New York metro region, says, “No mater what kind of decking material you choose, today there’s a hidden deck-fastener system for you.”
In fact, the Eberle family invented EB-TY® Hidden Deck Fasteners™ (www.ebty.com) because, as Glenn’s dad, Harry Eberle, puts it: “We wanted to avoid nail and screw holes, which are unsightly and allow moisture to seep into the deck, which damages the decking material. We wanted to create a clean, uniform appearance for our clients’ decks.”
Made in the United States of ultra-violet resistant polypropylene, Hidden Deck Fasteners are virtually invisible from top or bottom, so they highlight the beauty of the decking material. Concealed deck fasteners are the safe alternative to using hundreds of nails and screws in building your deck. They don’t pop up, which is good news for people who love to go barefoot when they’re enjoying their deck. As one mother in the Northwest put it, “Those nails are toe killers.”
- Take Advantage of Today’s Technology
Because decks are such a hot trend these days, technology is rapidly emerging to meet consumer needs.
For example, the latest trend in decking materials is composite decking material, which is made from recycled wood fiber and plastic. Composites are smooth, splinter-free, cool underfoot and don’t contain any harmful chemicals like some pressure-treated lumber products do. And they’re easy to care for. Experts say that composite woods, which are environmentally friendly, closely resemble the rich look of tropical hardwood from Latin America.
Why use composite decking material? “Too often today’s lumber is produced from trees that are relatively immature; it’s not as durable as lumber produced years ago,” says Martin Grohman, president of Maine-based Correct Building Products, LLC (www.correctdeck.com), manufacturers of best selling CorrectDeck composite decking material. “Buying wood today can be like buying a new car from a once-great car company. Every year, they introduce a slightly lower-quality model.” In fact, says Grohman, this has been the case for at least the last 25 years.
Another example of innovative deck-building technology is stainless steel hardware, including screws, which, when used in combination with concealed deck fasteners, reduce staining due to fastener corrosion. Bart Swan, of Maryland-based Swan Secure Products, Inc. (www.swansecure.com), says stainless steel fasteners are superior to ordinary methods of deck fastening, which “don’t get along with” the copper used in the new arsenic free pressure treated lumber. “Going with stainless fasteners is the best choice because they last a lifetime. Stainless steel fasteners don’t corrode like other fasteners on the market, they preserve the beauty of the deck by preventing rust stains on the deck surface, and lastly, their use virtually eliminates having to replace or repair your deck in the long run.
- Finish Your Deck In Style
Once your deck is built, it’s time to apply the finishing touches.
While you can certainly stain or paint composite decking material, you don’t have to. However, you will need to finish a wooden deck to protect it from the elements as well as to enhance the beauty of the decking material.
It is not a good idea to paint a wood deck. Instead, use a penetrating stain or a latex stain, followed by polyurethane sealer. Experts recommend against using paint on wood deck boards for two reasons: 1) the unpainted underside of painted wood deck boards absorbs moisture, which can result in peeling paint on the surface of the boards; and 2) a painted deck gets hot—hot enough to make walking barefoot painful, especially for tender baby feet.
Many fine stains are available. If you are planning to finish the deck yourself, ask your contractor, builder or lumber supplier for advice. If you used concealed deck fasteners, you won’t have to worry about removing any splinters, because, of course, there won’t be any. However, if you used nails or screws, you may need to lightly sand splinters or rough areas.
Before staining, carefully sweep your deck, but don’t hose it down. You can remove pencil marks made during installation with a little rubbing alcohol. And before applying polyurethane sealer, follow the manufacturer’s instructions, and wait for a spell of dry weather.
- Protect Your Investment
All decks need periodic cleaning and maintenance. Use any general-purpose deck cleaner at the beginning of each season. To improve the effectiveness of the cleaner, let it stand on the deck for at least an hour. Then, you can use a pressure washer to rinse your deck. Deck cleaners are also useful for getting rid of muddy footprints.
Every week, sweep your deck. Again, it’s not necessary to use the hose. Sweeping is especially important during pollen seasons—spring and late summer—because pollen creates a surface film where unsightly mildew can grow.
If your deck is attacked by mildew, you can use any one of several cleaners specifically made to eradicate the problem. Spray on the cleaner to ensure consistent coverage. And you can use bleach and automatic dishwasher detergent in warm water to remove small black mildew spots (about the size of a pencil eraser).
Since decks are for having fun, you’re bound to have occasional spills, grease spots, etc. If you find grease spots on your deck after a barbecue, use any heavy-duty grease remover. Wood bleach will get rid of rust marks from metal porch furniture, toys, etc.
Susan Mach teaches business communication at Rutgers Business School, and owns a communication consulting firm