5 Questions to Consider When Building Your Dream Deck

Start with these decisions to create an outdoor space that checks all of the boxes.
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Deckorators Composite Decking with Seating Area
Photo: deckorators.com

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Who doesn’t enjoy leisurely sipping a coffee outdoors on a sunny morning, or a good old-fashioned neighborhood cookout? The allure of a backyard escape has only increased in recent years, as decks became prime open-air hangouts during peak pandemic times and continue to be an important multifunctional space for work or fun outside the home.

Planning new deck construction—from material selection to scoping out size and features—is a large project for both DIY-inclined homeowners and those who prefer to leave the work to the pros. But these large outdoor builds can have equally grand rewards: an enhanced outdoor living area and improved home value.

Whether you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and begin construction yourself or hiring a licensed and certified professional, answering these key questions can help develop a solid game plan and a sturdier structure.

1. What is the right size deck?

Scale matters. Small decks (12-foot-by-12-foot, for instance) suit smaller yards, while large properties can accommodate structures that span the entire side of the house or sprawl out into the yard. Consider the size of your home, too: Sizable decks may look out of place against tiny homes, and small decks can look insignificant next to large estates. The “golden rule” for deck design is not to exceed 20 percent of a home’s total square footage to prevent it overwhelming the property.

Equally important is how you plan to use the deck space. You want to leave adequate space for furnishings and walkways. Decks designed for a grill and one or two lounge chairs don’t need to be very big (a 12-foot-by-12-foot size will typically work). However, those built for entertaining may contain separate areas for grilling, sitting, and dining—and need considerably more space.

  • Figure 15 to 20 square feet per person who might be on the deck at the same time. So to comfortably host 10-person parties, you’ll need a deck that spans 150 to 200 square feet. For 20 folks, double it to 300 to 400 square feet.
  • About 30 square feet of that can accommodate an outdoor sectional or sofa set, as these typically stretch between 6 and 7 feet in one direction and roughly 4.5 feet in the other.
  • Add 15 square feet for a grill, if there is one. The grill’s lid needs space to open, and no one wants to stand on top of a hot, greasy grill in the summer heat. Outdoor kitchens complete with counters and other appliances may require three to four times as much space.
  • If the plan is to include a hot tub on the deck or build a deck around one, plan an additional 50 to 64 square feet for the tub (which typically measures 7 to 8 feet square) and another 20 to 30 square feet for a walkway around it.
  • Occasionally, a deck serves as a bridge, such as between the house and the pool or between doors on adjacent sides of the home. In those cases, much of the deck’s size is already determined by the distance between the features.
Deckorators Composite Decking with a Pergola and Privacy
Photo: deckorators.com

2. What style element or feature do you gravitate toward when thinking about your dream deck?

Decks offer plenty of opportunities to incorporate personal touches and styling, and we’re talking more than just outdoor rugs and shade sails. Customization can begin as early in the design process as when the framing starts. Consider whether the design should go the standard or custom route: Standard, minimalist decks are ideal for some backyards, but some folks dream of custom touches that make their decks stand out.

Every design choice will impact the budget, but each one can make a huge difference in the deck’s usability and your enjoyment.

  • Indoor-outdoor flow. To blur lines between indoors and out, create a sense of continuity when exterior doors are open by matching the decking’s color to the interior floor. You might find a wood-and-stain combination that suits the decking and comes close to the interior vibe, or you may choose a fade-resistant option from a quality composite decking manufacturer like Deckorators that achieves a comparable color year-round. (Its catalog contains 16 color options across five decking collections!) Likewise, decking can be installed in patterns reminiscent of indoor flooring, such as herringbone, diagonal lines, even inlaid geometric shapes.
  • Complementary exterior design. When deciding on a decking color, also consider the exterior palette and style of the home. Choosing a gray wood-grain composite that’s tone-on-tone with your siding creates a calm, coordinated backdrop so the focus can be on your colorful yard, while complementary colors—a wood with orange undertones against blue siding, for example—can make the house’s overall scheme pop. For even more contrast, consider dark or black railing and picture-frame deck boards along the perimeter.
  • Custom privacy and shade structures. Built-in pergolas, gazebos, and privacy lattice add shade and a bit of seclusion from neighbors. These—along with tiered decks, integrated planters and benches, and other custom structures—can also help visually define spaces for different activities.
  • Outdoor kitchens. Most outdoor parties gravitate to food at some point, making outdoor kitchens a popular feature. Consider upgrading a stand-alone grill to a built-in station with a pizza oven and grill top. A custom bar built from decking materials (particularly one that incorporates a beverage fridge) will turn your deck into the destination for game day.
  • Lighting after hours. Maximize time outdoors long past sunset with a thoughtful lighting strategy. Plan ahead to best integrate these features, such as installing posts for string lights, adding a ceiling fan and light under the pergola, or integrating LEDs into the steps and deck boards for a truly immersive experience.
  • Integrated swimming areas. Decks can be the perfect lead-in to your water feature, but slip resistance should be a priority, wrapping around hot tubs or pools to minimize the chance of a fall. Look for decking with maximum grip, like Deckorators’ Voyage Decking, which offers 34 percent or greater surface traction than other leading brands.

3. How much maintenance do I want to commit to?

Outdoors year-round in rain, shine, even snow, a deck can take a beating from the elements and may require some level of maintenance to stay in shape. How much maintenance you want to schedule every summer will influence your decision in decking material, as some need much more upkeep than others.

Wood decks will require seasonal washing as well as staining and sealing every few years to protect the wood and prevent rot or mold and mildew. Even so, individual boards may need to be replaced. This can be quite a bit of work on a larger deck, so it’s important to consider the construction of pressure-treated lumber, cedar, or redwood.

For a slightly higher investment up front, composite decks are much more low maintenance in the long term. Fade- and UV-resistant, composite decking only needs a quick wash once or twice a year to keep it looking as fresh as can be for a decade or more. These deck boards are also water-resistant, bug-resistant, and generally more durable, so look for a manufacturer warranty. Deckorators covers its composite decking with an industry-leading 25-year structural and stain and fade resistance limited warranty.

Deckorators Composite Decking with Clean, Simple Design
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4. What is my budget?

HomeAdvisor surveys of recently completed deck projects put the average cost to build a deck in the mid-$7,000s, with a full range from $4,000 to more than $11,000—all largely dependent on size, materials, and design. Small, simple decks on ground level made from pressure-treated lumber will typically fall on the lower end of the scale. Larger composite wood decks elevated and guarded by railings will often cost more to build, but they’ll also add more to the home’s value in the end.

While affordability is relative, homeowners planning to build decks should take those baseline costs into consideration when creating a budget to work within. Then, it’s a matter of determining priorities: square footage, high-end decking, ancillary features, or custom design elements.

As with most big projects, saving in select areas can help create room to splurge in others. Keep these tips in mind to stretch your dollar:

  • Standard square or rectangular-shape decks will typically stretch the budget further than using complex designs.
  • Design your deck’s size in 4-foot increments (8-foot-by-8-foot, 12-foot-by-12-foot, 12-foot-by-16-foot, and so on). Most building materials come in lengths divisible by four, meaning there will be less waste. All of Deckorators’ decking boards are available in 16- and 20-foot lengths, and some are available in lengths of 12 feet.
  • If choosing a weather-resistant hardwood like cedar or redwood as a decking material, consider using pressure-treated lumber for the framing.
  • Even if hiring professionals for construction, consider demolishing an existing deck yourself. This is an extra cost that you won’t have to cover.
  • Play it safe, and set aside 10 to 15 percent of the budget for unexpected expenses.
Deckorators Composite Decking with Geometric Floor
Photo: deckorators.com

5. When do I want the project completed?

Project planning always includes setting a realistic timeline, no matter whether you’re hiring pros or handling the job yourself. It’s important to allow enough time for the project to wrap up. There’s a trick to this: Visualize when you want to be using your deck and work backward from there.

First, there’s the time needed to order materials. With the current state of materials availability, this may take longer than it has in years past. Giving yourself or a contractor enough time to find your specific materials may help ensure you’re happy with the final product.

DIYers will want to set aside several weekends for a deck project. Removing and disposing of any old deck will likely take 1 weekend. Digging footings and pouring concrete will likely take another 2 days. Framing the deck will also take at least a weekend, while installing the decking can take a day or two on its own if it doesn’t have a complex pattern. Installing the stairs, railings, and other touches can take a week or so as well. And if the deck is high off the ground, as is often the case with raised ranches, the process in full can take two or three times longer.

While pros can do the job with even more efficiency, it’s still important to have a realistic timeline. A basic deck can take a contractor as few as 2 weeks to complete once the materials are on-site, but good licensed contractors have busy schedules. It’s critical to get on their calendar in advance to allow enough time for them to get to the job by your deadline. Calling them a month ahead might not be enough time if their schedule is full, so it’s a smart idea to talk to them several months in advance. For instance, homeowners planning to build a deck next spring should consider getting on a contractor’s calendar right now.

If you’re ready to hire a contractor, connect with a Deckorators Certified Pro for a project consultation and estimate. These certified contractors not only know decks, but they have also trained with Deckorators to deliver the best possible project for homeowners in their area.

This content has been brought to you by Deckorators. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.