Deck Building: Materials and Construction Basics
Photo By: Trex
Photo By: Lydia Dotto, ImageInnovation Photography
Photo By: Photographer: Matthew Borkoski
Photo By: Chuck Collier Schmidt
What to Know Before Building a Deck
A good builder will add what's called flashing to the ledger. "Flashing is something that goes up against the ledger and stops water from going into the home or seeping into the brick and then into the house. A lot of times, when that step is missed, depending how the rain water falls on the patio, you can have rotting problems," says landscape designer Darin Brockelbank, founder of Metro GreenScape, a company in Charlotte, N.C., that specializes in designing and building environmentally friendly outdoor living spaces.
Brick homes, for instance, can have attached decks, but freestanding decks are often a better choice. "If the footing of the brick wall is strong, and the wall itself is a solid width of at least 12 inches, reinforced with rebar, then you can connect a header attached directly to the brick with lag bolts to adhere the deck to the brick with no problem," says Darin. "This will effectively support the structure." Metro GreenScapes has done numerous decks with brick homes or walls in this manner. However," he cautions, "if home design allows additional posts, that is the preferred method of construction against the brick."
Some engineers and builders prefer freestanding decks, built just one inch away from the house, to prevent harm to the exterior. In this case, your deck parts, such as the piers, become even more important as they prevent the deck from wobbling.
Deck Beams and Posts
On that note, your deck should primarily be assembled with screws rather than nails. "You have a rust element, and they aren't as strong," Darin says. "A lot of times you'll see bubbling in the wood, and that nail will start coming out, where a screw has a wider head, and it holds everything in place and minimizes that risk."
When selecting joists, check the board for defects: A knot on the underside of a joist won't support weight indefinitely.
Material Options: Wood
Cedar, the most popular wood species, is beautiful (red cedar, for instance, ages to a silver color), fragrant and extremely resilient. Cedar does splinter easily but is weather resistant, if stained annually.
Redwood and pressure-treated pine are also favorites for their durability and appearance.
Material Options: Composite and Stone
Travertine, a limestone mined for various building purposes, is gaining in popularity as a patio and deck material. It costs $50 to $60 a square foot, according to Darin. Photo courtesy of Trex
Cost should be taken into consideration throughout the deck-building process. A curved deck can be 50 percent more expensive than a square, boxy-shaped deck, simply because more cutting is required, Darin says. Photo courtesy of Paver Pro
Balusters, or posts that are attached from the top of the railing to the bottom, are another component to consider. Wood posts are a traditional choice, but cable and glass balusters are growing in popularity because they provide unobstructed views.
Extras to consider include trim, which can camouflage joists, screws and other unsightly hardware. Photo courtesy of Paver Pro
And it's just as important to make sure you're up on building codes, says Mel, adding that code information is often posted on state, city and county government websites. "Some counties require half-inch leg bolts into the ledger, so if you or your contractor uses 16-inch penny nails instead, then there's a problem with not understanding the code."