Our first deck on our first house was a basic, 12×16 square, and what we expected to take a weekend took most of the summer. The second deck we built is the one on our current home, a 20×30 with three levels. We built the first two levels in a couple of weeks and added the third when we bought a hot tub. My husband didn’t set a deadline for building the second deck.
Before beginning your own deck project, first understand that building a deck is challenging and a lot of work. Also, the project will probably take longer than you think.
With those points clearly in mind, I now offer the following advice to help the process go more smoothly, especially if you’re approaching your first deck-building adventure. Even for those tackling deck building again and wanting the process to go more smoothly than in any previous attempts, these tips will hopefully prove helpful.
Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail
Taking the time to research your options and put together a solid deck-building plan will make all the difference. For this reason, the following tips are centered almost completely around the planning process. So, when planning to build a deck onto your house, consider each of the following carefully:
Purpose. What will you do on your completed deck (family dinners, sunbathe, read, etc)? What furniture or other items (grill, hot tub, flower pots, etc.) will go on the deck? How do you want to arrange all of these items? Considering what you will do on your deck, your purpose for having one, will help you make decisions in the rest of the planning process.
Size. What’s the ideal size for your deck? What’s the smallest you’re willing to have? Likely, the end product will exist somewhere between these two points. As you plan material to achieve the decided size, remember to account for slight gaps between the deck boards to allow for water removal. You definitely do not want puddles on your deck after it rains.
Material. Composite or wood? There are benefits and drawbacks to each of those. Our first deck was wood, the second composite. Any future deck we build will be composite. See graphic below for a comparison of these two materials. Note that regardless of whether you use composite or wood decking and rails, the under carriage is 2×8 or 2×10 wood pieces. Also note that you will use 4×4’s cemented into the ground to attach the 2×8 or 2×10’s to in order to create a secure base for your deck.
Extras. Do you want railing? What type/style of steps? Or, will the deck be low enough steps aren’t needed? There are tons of options available, so be sure to check them all out. One extra that is a must for safety with decks 12” or more off the ground is railings. Many people will install railing on ground-mounted decks just for aesthetics too. Remember to consider safety and to start with your ideal deck plan (what you could do if money were no object) and then pare down to fit your budget.
Budget. What can you afford? Based on this, what features are a must? Do you have the furniture and other items that will go on the deck, or do you need to include these in your budget too? Get only what you can reasonably afford, and leave options open wherever possible for adding features at a later date. Don’t make the mistake of over-spending and having financial concerns cloud the enjoyment of this new space. At the same time, don’t let a crowded deck keep you from spending time there either.
To help coordinate all of these planning elements, consider using an online program like Lowe’s Deck Designer, or going to an expert at your local home-improvement store. Finally, ask a friend or two to help you (especially if they’ve built a deck before), and most importantly… always measure twice and cut once.
DISCUSSION: What deck-building tips can you add?
Kari Scare also writes at Struggle to Victory.