Decks & Patios: Getting Started

Keep these thought-starters in mind when planning or renovating a deck or patio
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decked-out-01-circular-deck

Photo by: Trex

Trex

Options are vast and varied when it comes to decks and patios. Location, design, materials, maintenance—and of course, the budget—are all important issues to understand and work through. Here are some questions and ideas to help you get the planning process under way.

Location. Will the deck or patio sit in full sun, a partially shaded spot, or near a pool? Are there any related maintenance concerns—drainage, for example? What type of access should the space afford to the house? How will the deck or patio relate to neighboring homes? Be sure to ferret out and factor in these different considerations, along with your personal goals and preferences for how the feature should look and function.

Design. In general, a deck or patio should fit the style of the house. In a period home, that might translate into paving and stone walls, while a modern home could accommodate sleek decking. Likewise, accessories, plants and enhancements—minimalist or colorful, leafy and jungly, built-in seating or fire pits—will also contribute to the design.

Deck Design Ideas

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Retaining structures in this hillside garden allowed the creation of a lower daybed lounging area and an at-grade dining deck. All aspects of this garden now have a spectacular ocean view.

You may think of your deck as just an innocuous wooden platform jutting out to your backyard, but with a little planning and a good design, that space can become a fabulous alfresco family room and entertainment center.

Original or new addition? The beauty is in not knowing for sure. The lines of HGTV's Green Home screened-in porch smartly match those of the existing home, right down to the railings, and add to the quaint feeling.

There are many reasons to tier your deck. Sometimes it just breaks up the monotony of a large flat space. Or perhaps the terrain slopes and you'd like to utilize different levels; in this case, the top level serves as an entertainment deck that opens from the kitchen, and the lower level is designed for lounging. If you want to highlight a view, having more than one level allows multiple vantage points. And you may choose to tier your deck space because you're seeking some public and some private outdoor areas or you want to devote an area to a specific activity, such as barbecuing. Photo courtesy of TREX

There's no need to sacrifice railing style and design for efficiency and safety. If you're afraid of blocking a fabulous view, many contemporary railings are available with glass or see-through slats. When selecting deck railing, consider how easy it will be to maintain and how well it will hold up to weather conditions. And don't forget that the railing is as much an aesthetic component as is the deck's building material — think about style and congruity.

That backyard slope of yours may just be your friend. Some of the most imaginative deck designs are the result of working with the terrain. In this case, what could have been a detriment — a steeply sloping backyard — has been made accessible and useful with a stairway that leads to a entertaining area and viewing deck. Photo courtesy of Cedar Deck

A panoramic view deserves a panoramic deck, but with wraparound decks come special challenges. One of the first things you'll need to do before you begin framing is to determine the decking pattern. Consider the most unifying patterns and the patterns that work best with the existing lines of the house. A well-designed wraparound could offer one spot for barbecuing, another for sunning and yet another for privacy — all with the turn of a corner. Photo courtesy of Fiberon

Built-in seating can vastly expand the versatility of your deck. If you expect to do a lot of entertaining, you'll need to add less furniture. The downside, however, is that once the built-ins are built in, they're there to stay and they'll dictate what you can do and how you move around your deck. Photo courtesy of Timber Tech

Photo By: Al Lang

This traditional deck was transformed into a functional dining room with the addition of a custom-painted "rug," a large custom dining table, tall, simple copper planters, and a retractable awning.

Materials and maintenance. Materials for outdoor spaces encompass a variety of synthetic and natural products, each with its own particular upkeep requirements. The elements can damage natural wood decks, for example, and they require regular attention (paint or stain, plus a clear coat of oil or water-based sealant). In terms of value with low maintenance, a long-wearing paver patio may be an attractive option. Again, research and planning are essential in selecting materials that match up with expectations.

Budget. Use the questions and requirements that arise when siting and designing a deck or patio to create a realistic "must-have" vs. "nice-to-have" list. That list will, in turn, guide the budget. If things don't match up, revisit the choices and make compromises. Cost savings may often be found by simply swapping one material for another (natural wood instead of composite deck boards, for example), or by taking on some of the labor yourself. A resourceful and flexible approach can help ensure a happy end result and good return on the investment.

Permits. The last thing anyone wants is to invest in a beautiful outdoor space, only to find out it must be ripped up because there was no building permit. There are codes and safety requirements in most towns if the deck is higher than 18 inches or larger than 100 square feet. Also, homeowners' associations often have covenants governing outdoor structures and additions. Be sure to cover the bases before construction begins.

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