Pre-historic people lived out of doors most of the time and got along without decks. On hikes in the mountains or at the seaside we get along just fine without decks. A cleared area, a flat rock or a log can serve as a fine place to rest or share a meal. "Roughing it" can be a lot of fun but it has its limitations. Decks can have many advantages over make-shift outdoor locations. For example:
I love decks and have made sure that they are an integral part of my own home. I look forward to the warm weather when we open the doors onto the deck and thereby extend the living (and dinning) spaces into the yard. But I also enjoy our decks during the cold weather when the decks provide a visual extension to our home.
A raised wood deck
Photo courtesy of our sponsor EB-TY® Hidden-Deck Fastening SystemsTM.
Our decks are raised wood decks like the one in the photo above, but there are many styles of decks:
Patios - Low to the ground surfaces made out of various types of stone, masonry or wood. Balconies - Cantilevered extensions to upper floor rooms (made popular by Juliet). Roof Decks - Flat roof surfaces that are designed as an outdoor living space (hint - this is a very demanding type of construction).
There are many materials that can be used in the construction of most deck styles. Wood is one of the most popular.
It seems that whenever I drive by one of the "box-store" lumber yards I find a small "demonstration deck" by the front door and a sign promoting the low price of the materials and the ease of construction. And I have little argument with either claim. Decks can be relatively inexpensive projects and they can be a relatively easy construction project. This leads many of us to shop and build first and design later, I know, thats what I did with my first deck in 1971.
But even the least expensive deck uses costly material and many hours of labor. And all decks require some maintenance. Good design and planing can help you:
I love collecting urban myths and some of my favorites involve building and construction. The issue of permits, codes and zoning are the subjects such myths. Some tips regarding zoning, building codes and decks:
Building permits can take some time and cost a little money but have many advantages:
So, call your building and zoning departments early in the planing process. Ask lots of questions. Ask if they have some information about decks and permits for decks. Find out about the time it takes to get such a permit.
The use of wood in deck construction has become more popular with the introduction and availability of various types of weather and rot resistant lumber. Such products have made deck construction and maintenance easier and less expensive than before.
Wood rot and weather resistance depends upon the type of wood used and its applications. Some of the wood choices available on the market include:
The use of cedar or redwood in decks requires careful selection of material. Young sap-wood material may have very little resistance to rot. Old heart-wood material has much better resistance to rot but is hard to find and quite expensive. But no matter how good the quality of the cedar or redwood, decks made out of these materials will require frequent treatment with a wood preservative.
Treated lumber can last for decades with relatively little maintenance and repairs. The decking should be coated with a penetrating finish in order to reduce wood cracking. Pieces that are cut or shaped during the construction maybe subject to wood rot damage in the areas where inner/untreated sections of a board are exposed. And this decking, like almost all others may have to be pressure washed and treated for moss in order to keep the deck from becoming slippery.
This is a relatively new lumber product on the market. It seems like a very promising and low maintenance product. But I do suspect that even Ipe will succumb the our Seattle area rain and have to be cleaned and treated in order to prevent it from becoming slippery.
Composite wood can be worked with most wood-working tools. Its heavier per unit than the other options and bends more easily. As such, it may require closer joist spacing. I have seen many decks and outdoor public structures made out of composite woods and have been impressed with the results. I have also seen two decks with surface damage produced by the paws of the family dog - I have no idea if or why that might be a common problem.
The use of rot and weather resistant lumber by itself is not enough to guarantee the quality of the deck. Well-built wood decks are characterized by the following:
|The Hidden-Deck Fastening SystemsTM from our sponsor EB-TY® come with their own stainless-steel screws, and create a beautiful, safe and durable deck surface.|
Wood preservatives and pressure-treated lumber may contain toxic substances. Instructions must be read carefully. Pressure-treated lumber should never be burned. Gloves and protective clothing and disposal of excess material and debris according to regulations is mandatory. For folks in the Seattle area, the Seattle/King County Health Department can answer any specific questions.
Similar Household Hazards Information Line services are provided by local agencies in most parts of the country.
The current electrical code requires that receptacles on decks be protected with a ground fault interrupter (GFI). Hot tubs and spas that use electricity are also required to be protected in this manner.
In building a deck, careful attention must also be given to the proximity of the deck to existing electric lines and other electrical equipment. For example, a new deck built onto an existing structure can interfere with the location of the electrical meter base and may be too close to the power lines.
Planting areas on decks are a major cause of wood rot, but when properly built and maintained can be trouble free and add to the enjoyment of the deck. Year-round water and soil are a must in planter boxes, mandating even more careful selection of construction techniques. But planters also need to overcome some of the special challenges of deck gardening:
With a bit of planing our decks can be in their full glory as company comes from out of town. We will can then assure our guests that not every summer morning allows for a leisurely breakfast in the sun. And if a bald eagle or heron flies overhead, we will have a ready opportunity to talk about the fragile environment, Hershel and his friends, and the population explosion.