Wood decks are traditional but take lots of work to maintain. Fortunately there are many new deck materials that require far less maintenance. These materials may cost more initially but when you look at the total cost over 20 or more years, you'll find that you'll save money from lower maintenance and repair costs.
Some people may claim that decks and other home features require no maintenance but that's simply not true. Maybe you don't have to stain and/or seal a deck made of composite materials but it will still need an occasional cleaning.
Building Your Deck
Start by listing how you’ll use your deck. To relax? entertain? cook? eat meals outdoors? How many people? Furniture cutouts help verify the size you need. Consider your budget. You might build your dream deck in stages as the average deck in New England costs $14,723. The good news is you can expect to recoup 70 to 80 percent of the cost of your deck when selling your home.
Next you need to draw up plans and get them approved by your town’s building department. Building codes are for safety, i.e. to prevent decks from collapsing and injuring people.
You want good access to your deck from inside your home (sliding patio door is most common) and outside (one or 2 sets of stairs from your driveway or other high traffic areas). You can enhance your deck with one/more of the following:
- Railings (usually required if 18/more inches above ground); you’ve got lots of choices in materials (see below) and they can enhance your home’s exterior
- Plan outdoor lighting to compliment your lifestyle
- Built in seating makes good use of limited space
- Planters can add a nice splash of color and bring the out of doors closer
- Shade can extend the time you spend on your deck – consider the use of arbors, gazebos or awnings
- Lattice is often used to enhance the appearance of a deck while providing great outdoor storage for tools, sports equipment, etc.
For home owners who want to tackle this project themselves, they should carefully study one/more “how to” books like the Build Like A Pro: Build a Deck. The most difficult part of building a deck is the structure below the floor. One of the top 10 handyman repairs involves the ledger board used to attach a deck to the house. If not flashed properly, water runs back into the house causing extensive wood rot. To evaluate your readiness to tackle this project, read Ask the Builder’s 15 Tips on Building a Deck.
My Handyman offers “do-it-yourself” customers a unique partnership – let us dig the holes and build the hidden structure. Then you can finish building your deck! We’ve also been called to finish projects that homeowners start and find they don’t have time to complete.
Picking Your Deck Materials
You’re tempted to go with one of the new composite deck materials but you’re not sure about the added costs. It’s true that the composites might add 50% to the cost of materials. However, you want to consider maintenance costs over 20 to 25 years, the typical life of a wood deck. Regular maintenance involves cleaning and sealing your deck every 2 to 3 years so the cost of hiring someone to do this work will likely exceed the higher material costs you might spend up front. Do the math and you might be surprised at the numbers and decide to invest now, to save time and money later.
- Wood – pressure treated is most common followed by cedar, mahogany and ipe, all woods that contain natural chemicals that resist UV rays, moisture and insects.
- Composites – claim they won’t rot but most contain wood fibers (up to 70%) which rot unless treated with a preservative like zinc borate. Get preservative information in writing and follow instructions to keep your warranty in force.
- Plastic – My Handyman started using Azek Deck (pictured here and formerly known as Procell) in 2006. It’s made of cellular vinyl with no wood content. It’s resistant to mold, insects … plus stains and scratches.
- We found this material for a customer who was replacing a deck around a pool where resistance to water and stains, i.e. suntan lotion, is important.
- Railings – are often made from a different material than your deck floor. Your choices include wood, vinyl, composites, aluminum, wrought iron or glass panels.
Regardless of the deck material, most decks use pressure treated materials for the supporting structure. DO NOT use a composite as they don’t have enough strength.
Deck maintenance shouldn't be ignored. With a composite deck, don't forget that your hidden support structure is still built from pressure treated wood. Inspect the structure annually and make repairs as needed to protect the integrity of your deck and keep your family safe. If you've opted to save money with a pressure treated deck, read Wood Deck Do's and Don'ts.