Decks - Trends, Mistakes, and Tips


In this article, we'll review several different aspects of adding a deck to your home. We'll take a look at some of the hottest current trends, from simple to elaborate. We'll examine which projects can be safely and easily tackled on a DIY basis and when to call in the professionals. Common mistakes in planning and construction will be covered. In addition, should you decide that your deck requires a skilled touch; we'll give you some tips for choosing a contractor.

Adding a deck has been and continues to be one of the most popular home improvement projects. Decks have many benefits. In addition to increasing the value of your home, they offer tons of outdoor entertainment opportunities. Barbecues and all types of outdoor parties are great examples. Different elements can be incorporated into a deck to add even more versatility, such as a jacuzzi. Even something as simple as a glass of lemonade on a hot summer day feel more luxurious when it's enjoyed from the comfort of a shaded deck chair.

Trends in Deck Building and Design

Size Matters...Somewhat

In the past, homeowners were roughly divided into two camps: those who wanted a small, functional rectangular deck and those who wanted an elaborate two-story structure complete with every possible extra.

Due in part to the changing economy, homeowners have begun to look at decks in a new way. Instead of wanting extremes, they're considering functionality like never before. Today's decks, whether smaller or larger than in years past, are much more usable and livable. Homeowners are taking into consideration exactly how they want to use their outdoor living space before building it, which allows them to use clever space-saving design plans and other elements to create a personalized deck the entire household can enjoy.

Eco-Friendly and Low-Maintenance Materials

Nothing looks worse than a cracking, peeling, and splintering deck. Not only is it an eyesore, but it's a literal pain to walk across in bare feet! Thankfully, today's innovative decking materials have taken away the worry of ending up with this issue.

No homeowner wants a deck that's hazardous to the environment. The newest and most innovative products on the market combine the durability of composites (wood mixed with polymers) with the natural beauty and sustainability of earth-friendly woods. These new composites are remarkably resistant to fungus, mold, mildew, splintering, chipping and cracking. They look amazingly like natural wood, with many even mimicking the grain of different species. Truly the best of both worlds, these new composites are changing the way decks are built. Be sure to let your contractor know that eco-friendliness and low maintenance are important to you, and they'll give you a wide range of options.

Built-In Luxuries

Today's families are staying in more than ever before. With the economy still recovering, it makes good financial sense, and it's just plain fun! Whether you're hosting a neighborhood barbecue or just relaxing with family after a hard day at work, adding a few carefully chosen extras to your deck will make staying in feel like a luxury.

There are three hot trends right now in the world of deck built-ins. Kitchens are an obvious choice for households which love to grill outside. You can keep it small by installing just a gas grill or, if your budget allows, you can go all-out and install an entire outdoor kitchen. The most elaborate feature every convenience you have in your current indoor kitchen. Sinks, stoves, refrigerator/freezers and plenty of counter space are all possibilities. Remember that some appliances must be protected in the winter if you live in a cold climate, and be sure to only install things you'll use on a regular basis.

Fireplaces are quickly replacing fire pits as the must-have deck accessory. A built-in fireplace is much safer than a free-standing fire pit, since fire pits can tip over and spread red-hot coals over your deck floor. A fireplace can be a permanent fire pit in the deck itself, or it can be a more traditional vertical fireplace set in a stone wall. The choice is yours, although households with small children or pets may want to consider the potential dangers of a permanent fire pit. They can be covered when not in use, but a vertical fireplace is still the safer choice.

Beautiful specialty lighting is a huge trend right now. For many years, deck lighting was either non-existent (cutting short many a party) or confined to torch-style lamps which often clashed with the overall home dècor. Those days, thankfully, are long gone. Today's deck lighting options are nearly as numerous as the options for interior lighting. With the advances made in LED technology, deck lighting can draw very little power while still providing enough illuminating to make nighttime entertaining convenient and safe. A very popular current design trend is to top railings with lamp fixtures.

Floor lighting is another trendy addition which really ups the safety of a deck. Floor lighting is something you're probably seen in movie theaters...tiny bright lights wired directly into stair risers which provide illumination for walking without flooding the area with light. Overhead lights can also be beautiful on a deck, and dimmer switches allow you to go from bright to relaxing with a simple turn. Regardless of what kind of lighting you choose for your deck, the variety of new options allow you to add a whole new dimension of livability to your outdoor space.

Common Deck Mistakes

There are two main types of mistakes when it comes to deck building: planning and construction.

Unless you're working with an architect and contractor while planning your deck, you run the risk of making some costly mistakes. Here are some of the most common.

Open Stairs

An open stair design may save a tiny bit of money in time and materials, but it's a big safety risk you don't want to take. Stairs without risers invite trips and falls, especially if children or those with limited mobility will be enjoying your deck. Play it safe from the very beginning and enclose your steps.

Lack of Sufficient or Proper Railings

Nearly every municipality has specific regulations regarding deck railings and fencing. These are essential safety features, so don't be tempted to leave them out of your design (if it's even legal) or scrimp on materials.

In most areas, you'll be required to apply for a permit in order to legally build a deck. When you do this, you'll be informed of the railing and fencing requirements. Your contractor may already be familiar with these requirements, but if you're attempting a DIY job, be sure to obtain the exact specifications. Your deck will not be approved until it includes all required safety features.

Not only should a railing be high enough have the correct amount of space between supports, but it should also be made of an extremely strong materials. Don't make the mistake of using a cheaper, lighter wood or metal simply because it won't be walked on. Quality materials can mean the difference between leaning on the edge of the deck to savor the view and crashing through the railing.

Can You DIY?

Building a deck is a huge project. In fact, its one of the most common projects for a homeowner to begin; only to discover that they simply don't have the skills necessary to properly complete. Worse yet, some realize that their skills aren't sufficient, yet built the deck anyway, leaving themselves, their household and their guests open for injury.

Take an honest look at your skills before you decide to tackle a deck on a DIY basis. Have you worked on a large-scale project in the past? Do you understand the importance of smaller details such as flashing, supports and framing? Are your plans structurally sound and precise?

Since a deck is such a large addition to your home, it's not an area where pinching pennies makes sense. Far too much in the way of safety is riding on a deck's quality construction. In addition, a poorly constructed deck can sag prematurely and have many different types of structural issues. Nobody likes to spend time on an uneven deck, and so your investment won't pay off the way you had envisioned.

If you aren't completely confident in your (and your crew's) construction skills, play it safe and hire a professional.

Finding a Quality Professional

Since a deck is such a large project, it's normal to feel a bit nervous about letting a complete stranger take control. When you consider the number of so-called “experts” who will appear once you make it known that you're building a deck, those nerves can get even more frayed.

Thankfully, there's no reason to be nervous. Thanks to today's home improvement websites, you don't have to worry about “just anybody” building your deck. You can look through local professionals who are qualified, and even view important criteria such as licensing, insurance and years in the industry. On many sites, you can read user reviews and view pictures of finished projects, giving you a very valuable look at how a particular contractor actually operates while on the job.

With all these tools at your disposal, and with the use of old-fashioned common sense when making a hiring decision, you're sure to connect with a professional who's not only pleasant to work with, but who will deliver a safe, structurally sound and beautiful deck.

Posted by: Diane Sheppard
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