Outdoor construction 101
9 important things you should know before you start working
Getting ready to build or renovate a deck? We've done some of the homework for you so you can spend less time sweating the details and more time enjoying your new outdoor living area.
1. Invest in fasteners
Trying to save money with low-quality, low-cost screws is one of the biggest mistakes you can make when building a deck. Low-quality screws corrode, discoloring your deck and shortening its life, particularly if the wood used is pressure-treated. (Even if your decking isn't pressure-treated, it will be attached to pressure-treated beams and joists.) When old decks start to get rickety, it's often because of failing fasteners rather than the wood. Stainless-steel or coated screws specifically made for pressure-treated wood resist corrosion and extend your deck's life. You'll find a free downloadable guide to wood screws at woodmagazine.com/charts.
2. Conceal your support
Many people don't mind seeing screw heads on their deck. But if you do, you have options. Hidden fasteners, like the EB-TY connectors shown here (rockler.com), sometimes require that a single anchor row use visible screws (which you can then hide with wooden plugs). But the fasteners themselves are all but invisible once installed, resulting in a deck surface with a clean, simple appearance. Hidden fasteners come in a variety of styles with differing methods of attachment, so check with your materials supplier or deck builder to see what's available.
3. Do your level best
Need more room? Don't just build a bigger platform; instead, construct two levels—or three—rather than one. Various levels allow guests to congregate in small groups and provide cozier settings for relaxation. A second level not only multiplies available living and entertaining space, but can also break up an exceptionally long flight of stairs leading to an elevated deck.
4. Branch out
Homeowners have more decking choices than ever before, both in wood and other materials. For fans of wood, pressure-treated, cedar, and redwood are traditional choices. But several tropical hardwoods, such as ipe and jarrah, also are available. Their longevity puts them in a league with composites, and they offer a luxurious, rich appearance you can't get with other decking. They are more expensive than most other woods.
If you're searching for something other than wood, consider composite decking, and other synthetic materials such as vinyl, which are revolutionizing the deck industry. These products are as close to maintenance-free as you can get, and last for decades. They cost more than most woods, but the payback comes in reduced maintenance, often needing no refinishing. The appearance is different from that of wood, so personal taste is a big part of the decision to choose synthetic decking.
5. Play with color
Most homeowners carefully coordinate the color scheme of their home's exterior, yet many don't consider a decking color other than brown. With today's selection of stains and deck materials, it's easy to find a hue that complements your home's exterior, regardless of the palette. The right shade can mean the difference between a deck that looks like an addition, and one that's a natural extension of your home.
6. Finish off your deck beautifully
Innovative railings have taken deck design to new levels. Alternatives to wood, such as the vinyl rail and balusters shown here, offer years of no-maintenance beauty. But you're not limited to vinyl; railings, trim, and balusters also come in composites, metal, cabling, and even glass, and all have tremendous impacts on the overall look of your deck.
7. Open the view
High decks need railings for safety, but if your property has a gorgeous view that you'd rather not block with a lot of obstructions, consider a low-to-the-ground deck, like the one shown, as an alternative. Railings aren't required if your deck remains below a height specified by your local codes, often 18" or 24".
8. Set the mood
Small touches make your deck a relaxing place to hang out. Lighting, a sound system, planters, a fan, perhaps a built-in bench or two—these details turn a drab deck into a desirable destination. Think about these amenities during the initial planning phases for your deck rather than putting them in as add-ons after you've finished building. Not only will they look more like an integral part of the design, but during construction you can hide wires and attach structures far more easily than you can once your deck is completed.
9. Working with water
Water-resistant deck materials are ideal for surrounding a pool or spa, and decks with textured surfaces add traction for wet feet. But while the previous 8 tips apply to just about any deck, this one is specific to decks used when enjoying water, as pools and spas involve several construction considerations.