When considering a do-it-yourself home improvement project, building a deck seems like a great idea. However, there are many factors that need to be taken into account before you’re able to stretch out on a lounge chair with an iced tea, admiring your newly-completed backyard oasis! First, and most importantly, check the zoning laws and deck building codes in your area and with your HOA (home owners association) if you belong to one. Different municipalities may have wildly differing requirements, and not checking before you start your project can open you up to hefty fines and additional headaches, including the possibility of having to tear out work that is not to code! Be sure to talk to your local building inspector and find out if you need a building permit prior to starting your deck project.
Once you’ve read up on local laws and obtained a building permit you’re ready to start designing your deck. The first step to take is assessing the location. Will your deck be attached to the house or free-standing? If you plan to attach it to your house, you may need to remove the house’s siding in order to access either the wall studs or floor joists, which you’ll want to attach the deck to for stability. You should also be aware of the ground where you plan to build the deck, paying particular attention to the frost line (you should be able to find your area’s frost line from the building inspector). It’s hugely important to make sure your deck is constructed below the frost line; otherwise, the frozen soil may expand, ultimately resulting in your deck twisting and warping over time.
You also want to make sure your deck is built on level ground. This is one area of construction where you obviously have some control – if your ground isn’t level, you can usually level it yourself, although of course this may add significant extra work and cost to your project. Even if your ground is relatively level, you still need to clear it of grass and large rocks before you can begin construction.
Next, you need to think about the size, style, and functionality of your deck. This is the deck design phase, and seeking out an experienced contractor is likely a good idea unless you have a lot of experience yourself. You need to consider the material that you’d like to construct it with. When reviewing the zoning laws and building codes, you may have discovered that you have very little leeway in selecting your deck material. Some areas have very stringent zoning requirements, while others may be more lax.
Before you select the type of wood you want use, you first need to decide if you even want to use wood. That’s right – wood is no longer your only choice of material when constructing a deck! You can now build what is called a “composite” deck, which is made out of a material that is a blend of wood and plastic. This material looks and feels like wood and can come in a variety of textures and colors. It is lower maintenance than a traditional wooden deck (for example, there’s no need to paint or stain a composite deck), and it also won’t rot or splinter. On the other side, composite wood materials are much more expensive than wood.
If you had your heart set on using wood, you can opt for pressure-treated wood, which is pressurized to strengthen the wood and prevent mildew, and wood rot from developing in wet areas. You could also choose to use cedar to build a deck. Cedar is a very popular deck material, because the oils in cedar naturally repel insects. It’s also a “hard” wood, so it tends to last longer than other types of wood.
If your head is spinning by now, you’re not alone! Though deck construction seems like an easy, do-it-yourself project, most homeowners find that it can actually be quite overwhelming. Even if you have good carpentry skills, the project can be extremely time-consuming. Time saving and inherited expertise are two great drivers to hire a local deck design contractor that specializes in deck construction. Not only will your deck be up and serving your family in far less time than you could do yourself (and with much less work!), but you can also rest assured that the deck will be well-constructed and in compliance with all local laws and ordinances. That is, of course, assuming you’ve done your due diligence and selected a well experienced, reputable deck builder and deck design contractor who will perform above expectations. As always, select wisely….