Decks and Porches 101

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A deck can be a great feature to almost any house. It serves a multitude of functions: family barbecues, get-togethers with friends, and enjoying those few fleeting days of the summer.

Unfortunately, many deck projects start out with homeowners who want an old deck removed because it’s such an eyesore or completely unfunctional — not to mention, those that are doing actual damage to the house itself.

The difference between a deck that’ll last you a good 30 years and one with a shelf life of five often comes down to three choices.

Here are a few choices to consider when thinking about your new deck:

  1. Location. There’s more to consider than aesthetics when choosing the ideal location for a deck. Think about its use in relation to the rooms in your home. Most homeowners opt to build a deck at the rear of a house, right off the kitchen. If the kitchen is small and can’t accommodate the additional foot traffic, this location may not make sense for you. A better option could be off the dining room or family room.

From there, consider its location in relation to your neighborhood. A deck that gives you a better view of a busy road probably won’t get as much use as one with a view of some trees or even your neighbor’s backyard — when privacy is a concern, a pergola or lattice wall can always be used to obscure sight lines.

And above all else, take into account the sun and shade of the location. Decks on the south side of a home often get the most summer sun, while the north side of a home will have the opposite effect, and could keep you from using the space in early spring and late fall.

  1. Materials. It should come as no surprise that the materials you choose to use have a direct impact on a deck’s lifespan. Certain materials require more maintenance than others. And if you don’t have the time or desire for its upkeep, that deck will fail sooner than it should.

Pressure-treated wood, for example, is chemically treated to be more weather resistant than “traditional” wood. This means rot shouldn’t be a problem. Nor should bugs. But it does require maintenance. And even with maintenance, this type of wood is known to split and warp over time.

Composite decking, on the other hand, is made of a mixture of materials, consisting of wood and recycled plastic. It provides the look of wood without the maintenance.

  1. Construction. The most common mistake I see with decks is the choice of contractor. Homeowners either decide to be their own, taking on the construction themselves, or let somebody with little-to-no experience in decking do the construction. Improper footings, poorly placed railing, undersized steps, and improper or poor construction can cause more headaches than they’re worth. So, if your dad or brother volunteers for the job, take them up on the offer but for an entirely different project.

As long as you take the time to weigh each of these decisions before building a deck, you should end up with an outdoor space that’ll serve you well for years to come.

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