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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. 

Site Considerations

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 winds?

     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 trees.

     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 deck.  

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 nightmare. 

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 blowing.

    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. 

Legal Considerations

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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