Building A Deck
Before you choose a deck design from books, deck plans or
create one of your own, you need to think carefully about what you really want
that deck to do for you. The best way to do this is to go through a simplified
design process and become familiar with the basics of the deck construction.
Deciding where you'll build your new deck is the first
step in its design. This choice may seem obvious. For instance, you may know
you want your new deck outside your living room. But the implications of your
decision may not be as obvious as you think.
Ask yourself what the weather
is like outside your living room. The general climate of your area - whether
summers are sunny and hot or windy and cool - will determine how and when you
use your deck and should influence its design. Do you need an arbor to provide
shade during the hottest part of the day? Do you need a buffer to block strong
On a smaller scale, the
microclimates within your lot may also affect where and how you build your
deck. These pockets differ from the general climate of a region because of
their orientation or proximity to large physical objects such as buildings or
How well you take
advantage of the general climate of your area and the specific microclimates
around your home will have a great deal to do with how much you enjoy your
Sun and Comfort.
The amount and intensity of
sunlight that hits your deck usually determines how comfortable you are when
you use it. And since the angle of the sun changes not only hour by hour but
season by season, you should think carefully about when you'll use the deck
and what the weather will be alike at the time of day and season of the year.
If you live in an area with
hot summers and mild winters, shade may be welcome in summer, but not in
winter. By thoughtfully positioning an arbor or deciduous tree, you can
usually provide shade for a deck when the sun is high in the summer sky but
allow sunlight through in winter, when the sun is lower.
The orientation of your
house will also influence how much and when sun reaches your deck. In general,
a deck on the east side of a house is sunny in the morning, while a
west-facing one receives afternoon sun. South-facing decks get the most sun
and are warmest year-round. Those with a northern exposure are coolest.
Where summers are cool, the
heat reflected onto a deck from a south-facing wall may be just the extra
warmth you need. But in a hot area, the same wall could be a glaring
Dealing with wind.
Like sunlight, wind can be
both a blessing and a curse. A strong, constant breeze can make a deck feel
too chilly for outdoor dining or entertaining. On the other hand, a gentle
breeze can make a hot deck much more appealing.
If you live in a breezy
area, your house may be your most effective windbreak. If possible, build your
deck on the sheltered side of the house or design a deck that has a protected
area. You might wrap an L-shaped deck around a corner of the house; which part
of the deck you'd use when would then depend on whether or not the wind were
There are many ways to deal
with wind (see illustration below). Usually it is best not to block the wind
completely, but to redirect or buffer it.
Rain and Snow.
Unless you enclose your deck
completely, you probably won't be using it during rain or snow. But heavy
precipitation can affect a deck structurally. If you live in an area where
such weather occurs, be sure that there is proper drainage underneath the deck
and that gutters from the roof do not empty onto or beneath it. In an area
with heavy snowfall, consult a structural engineer to be sure your deck can
handle the extra weight.
The Base Plan
Once your ideas begin to develop, it's helpful to start
putting them on paper. The best way to do this is to create a base plan. This
preliminary plan should be drawn to scale on graph paper and include the
dimensions of your lot; indicate the location of the house and other
structures; and show utility lines, setbacks, existing trees and shrubs, and
any objects that might affect the design. It can also reflect natural features
such as views, sun and wind patterns, even circulation patterns. A sample base
plan is shown above.
Make sever photocopies of your base plan and use them
to sketch out various deck designs.
One of the first steps in designing any deck is to check
with your local building department to find out whether you need a building
permit and learn what codes might affect the deck's construction.
Local codes and ordinances can govern the height of a
deck, the materials from which it is built, its proximity to lot lines, and
certain details of its construction. If you fail to comply, you could be fined
or even forced to dismantle your deck.
Also check your property deed for possible building
restrictions or easements that might affect a deck's location or construction.
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