Check out the information below to help you decide which deck, material, and style is best for you.
A well-built deck is a thing of beauty for any homeowner. The process of building a deck for the first time or having an existing one rebuilt is a very exciting process but can be daunting. After all, a deck is an investment and will showcase the style of your house. Not only deck perfect for entertaining guests but it also increased the appeal and value of your home.
Since a deck is generally less expensive than other significant renovations, such as building an addition, it allows for homeowners to experiment a bit and get more involved in the deck design process. A deck may seem like a very straightforward project, and it very well could be if it’s simplicity you desire, but there is a whole world of different deck materials, pattern designs, and construction styles.
The classic wood deck never goes out of style, but it certainly isn’t the only option when it comes to materials you can use. There are quite a few different choices, from old wood standbys to high-tech synthetics.
Pressure-treated (PT) wood is one of the most economical material choices for a deck. It’s the most common wood used and can be used for all parts of the deck structure. PT wood comes in various grades, with grade #2 being the most common for the deck surface while higher grades can be used for railings or built-in seating. PT is popular for deck due to its price and ability to resist wear and tear.
PT wood has a greenish tint and an exaggerated grain, though appearance can vary from coast to coast and the species of tree the lumber came from. PT wood has been treated with chemicals that give it its ability to resist weather damage, insects, and aging.
Pros – Easy to work with; Ideal for DIY decks; Good durability and longevity; Accepts nearly any stain; Very easy to find throughout the country and at any lumber yard.
Cons – Requires maintenance in the form of yearly power washing, restraining, resealing, etc.; Contains chemicals that can cause illness during construction.
Redwood and cedar are often lumped together, though they have their own pros and cons when it comes to decking. Both are softwoods that are higher-end options compared to regular PT treated wood, often a good choice for someone that wants a different look to their deck but still has a budget to consider.
The two major differences between these two are color and durability. Cedar has a yellowish tone to it while redwood, as you’d assume, has a reddish hue. Both are very attractive and with age turn to a silverish color, though many choose to stain and seal to maintain the original color. Redwood is more durable than cedar and can be used for all parts of deck construction. Cedar is still strong but often reserved for finishing touches on the deck, such as railings, seating, planters, etc.
Pros – Very beautiful, particularly redwood; Naturally stronger than PT wood and with none of the chemicals; A more environment-friendly choice; May is not as expensive as you’d think if on the west coast; Can be beautiful on statement pieces of the deck or within a deck pattern.
Cons – Must use only construction or “heartwood” lumber as sapwood can’t handle the structural needs of a deck; Can be tricky to work with as it is softer, requiring pilot holes and washers.
A very popular choice if you’re not completely sold on wood, is composite decking. Composite decking is pre-made boards that are made of a blend of wood and plastic, usually a 50% or less wood fiber to plastic fiber ratio. These composite boards are often very eco-friendly as both wood and plastic fibers used are usually from recycled materials. Composite decks require less maintenance and still have a wood look to them.
Pros – Requires only yearly washing for upkeep; No worries about splinters or cracking boards; Long life of 25 to 30 years, depending on the manufacturer; Often come in numerous color choices; Completely resistant to insect damage.
Cons – Used only for the deck surface, so other lumber will need to be used for structure (usually PT); Some brands look more plastic than wood; they Will lose their color over time and you won’t be able to simply re-stain like wood.
Vinyl or plastic decking has become more popular and is a good choice for those that don’t care for a wood look. It’s fairly like composite decking, though it has some differences. Like composite wood, this plastic decking comes in pre-made boards shipped to you from the manufacturer. Many companies now provide matching railings and other deck parts along with the normal surface boards, so you can have everything match seamlessly. Vinyl decking is very similar to composite.
Pros – Even more color options than composite and less maintenance; Completely safe from insect damage; Lightweight and easy to work with if doing DIY.
Cons – Poor heat dissipation means it can get quite hot on the feet in summer; Is not a convincing substitute for real wood; Can’t be used for structural work; Pure plastic is more prone to splitting or cracking in temperature extremes.
Once you’ve decided on the material, you’d like your deck to be made out of you can look into some different decking patterns. Even a basic pressure-treated wooden deck can give your home a more upscale feel simply by using a unique pattern. This is an easy way of further increasing value with relatively low additional costs.
The most basic you can get with a deck pattern is running the boards either parallel or perpendicular to the house. Typically deck boards run parallel with the face wall of the house. It is possible to instead run boards perpendicular, though it may require changes in the construction of the joints and ledger. Parallel boards give the deck a longer appearance as the lines draw the eyes out along the length of the deck. On the other hand, perpendicular boards will make a deck seem wider. Both options look nice, but one may be a better choice if you’re trying to fool the eye.
A diagonal pattern doesn’t seem like that much of a difference, but it completely changes the look of a deck. Typically, the boards will run at 45-degree angles diagonally. Looks aside, diagonal decks are also sturdier and don’t need sway braces. Diagonal beck boards are limited to full-length boards all the way across. You can also do framed diagonally which looks quite beautiful and still maintains the strength of a classic diagonal deck.
Parquet or basketweave are patterns whose names are often used interchangeably. Parquet deck patterns are those that have different patterns, within the same square size, within the deck. For example, you may have different squares of the deck, some with boards running parallel while others run perpendicular. Basketweave is the correct name for the specific example given, while modular decks can be anything else or consist of framed modules.
The chevron pattern is nice and tends to work well with larger decks. Chevron deck creates a V-shaped pattern and can be done in a couple of ways. You may have the boards run straight across the whole deck or instead have chevron with straight transition boards in the middle. Herringbone, another beautiful design, is often confused with chevron but is slightly different. Herringbone looks complicated but it’s not that difficult to assemble.
There really is no limit to deck board patterns, and really it comes down to the skill of the contractor. Custom deck designs include more elaborate patterns like the nested square or decks with a cross, diamonds, or other shapes set within. Another option for some homes that have an Asian landscaping look to them includes laying decking boards on their sides rather than on their face like you normally would. This gives a unique “East meets West” feel to the deck.
Another important aspect of designing a deck is figuring out how you’d like for it to be constructed. It’s easy to get caught up in the details and forget that there are also choices for deck styling.
Platform decks are those that are ground level and are the most common type for single-level homes. These decks are simple to build, whether you do it yourself or hire a professional. They can be constructed quickly and can be quite a bit less expensive than raised decks or the like. Special care does need to be paid with platform deck material selections, particularly any joints or other lumber under the deck that may meet the wet ground. Platform decks usually don’t have rails or steps, which makes them an even more economical choice.
Second in popularity is the classic raised deck. A raised deck can be just a few feet off the ground or raised up to the second story depending on the home. The cost of a raised deck compared to a platform is greater but just how much more expensive depends on the height. Raised decks look very nice and allow for storage or entertaining underneath them as well. If you live in a region where flooding can/does occur from storms, a raised deck could be more of a necessity than simple aesthetics.
Two-story decks are grandiose but not quite as popular due to the construction skill and costs involved. It can also be tricky to design a two-story deck that looks good to the eye as it’s easy for it to seem cluttered. Many two-story decks begin as a platform or raised deck on the ground and end up being connected to a second-story balcony. For large vacation homes with living/entertaining areas on both floors, a two-story deck can really be a useful feature when entertaining large groups of people.
A multi-level deck can be quite a work of art and extremely visually appealing. Unlike two-story decks, multilevel decks are typically designed as a platform deck with additional terraces. In essence, a multi-level deck combines characteristics of a platform and raised deck together. This style of deck construction is ideal for those that want a deck that really makes a statement. The different levels look very impressive and each level can serve a different function. For example, a separate left-off to the side of the deck would be a prime location for a BBQ or outdoor kitchen area.
Freestanding decks are just like platform decks in that they are usually ground-level and simple in design. The difference is freestanding decks are separate from the house, popularly located within a garden or other landscape with a pathway from the home. These decks can be covered with a roof and are also ideal as pool decking.