Adding a backyard deck is one sure-fire way to increase your home’s living space, at least for considerably more than half of the year, depending on what part of the country you call home. It’s an integral part of summer; barbecues and get-togethers, not to mention a sweet spot for chilling out in a lounge chair or hammock and savoring warm breezes while you sip an iced tea or a cold beer and listen to the birds. It also makes your home appear larger than it is, and a well-designed wooden deck, say some housing pros, can actually increase the value of your home — or at least act as a selling point — should selling your home be in your not-too-distant future.
That said, adding — or even replacing — a backyard deck requires some forethought and planning to pull off, which is why we’ve created a brief “to do” list for you to consider before you head to the home improvement store or your local lumber yard to start amassing deck materials.
Building a Backyard Deck: Hire a Pro or DIY?
The first thing to consider is whether you’re willing and able to take on the project yourself, or simply start doing some research on local contractors to do the job for you. Let’s weigh the pros and cons of each.
If you do it yourself, you stand to save just by virtue of labor costs. However, building your backyard deck could eat up a number of weekends, depending on how quickly you work. Also, the DIY option may be perfect if you’re planning on a fairly simple square or rectangular deck, but things could get dicey if you choose a more complicated multi-level deck design.
Hire a PRO
Hiring a professional is obviously going to result in a pricier deck since you’ll be paying for their labor. On the plus side, a professional contractor — at least one who’s reliable — is likely to finish the project faster than you will. A professional will also take care of the permitting process and will already know what is “up to code” and what isn’t, ensuring that your new deck will be a-okay with your city inspector.
Have a Plan — Literally
You can get deck plans online or at your local home improvement/big-box store, and most come with a materials list, which could spare you the task of having to figure it all out and create your own. Step-by-step instructions can come in handy too, especially if you’re not completely sure of your skills and this is your first time building a backyard deck.
Get Permission: A Word About Permits
Many cities and towns mandate obtaining a permit if you’re planning to add a deck to your home. Although it may seem like a hassle, there are good reasons for permitting laws. For one thing, obtaining a permit will make you privy to the building code requirements for decks in your area (e.g. spacing between balusters, guard and railing requirements, weight requirements, etc.). Last spring saw several news stories about residential decks collapsing during backyard get-togethers.
Although you may not love the idea of having to shell out extra money and take the time to obtain a permit — not to mention having to pass an inspection by your local building inspector — you’ll be glad you did in the end. Not only will you be confident that your new deck is safe, you won’t have to worry about problems or questions concerning the addition from your homeowners’ insurance provider or from future potential buyers.
Consider Traffic Flow and Convenience
Most people like their decks to be just off the kitchen, for obvious reasons. If you’re going to build a wrap-around deck, try to have the door to the deck just off the kitchen, which will make summer barbecuing and even wintertime grilling a breeze. Also, make sure that you include room for a dining area with chairs and that it’s not in between you and the pathway from the kitchen to the grill.
Don’t forget to consider options like built-in benches, planters, and even lighting, all of which can make your backyard deck more accommodating and comfortable.
If you choose to build a wooden deck, keep in mind that the least expensive option — pressure treated wood — requires upkeep in the form of stain and sealants to keep out the weather. If you want wood and can afford it, cedar is a great choice since it’s natural weather and insect-resistant and weathers to a nice, mellow gray.
Composite decking generally requires little or no upkeep but is considerably more expensive than most wood decking, and you’re not likely to recoup that cost in terms of “value-added” from a sales point of view. However, if you’re planning on staying in your home for the foreseeable future, it’s a good option that eliminates the worry of splinters on bare feet and becoming a slave to deck maintenance.
Now, as we bundle up and count the days ’til spring arrives, now a great time to complete the planning phase of your new deck so that you’re all set to begin when the weather turns and the days get longer, brighter and warmer!