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  • Most folks use a deck as the central gathering and entertainment focus for their entire backyard.  Therefore the design becomes critical.  If planned correctly, your deck will custom fit your house, your terrain, your lifestyle, and your budget.  If you make sure you get everything 100% correct at the start you will be glad you did and never cut any corners in years to ahead.

    • Where To Build

    depending on where your door is will decide where the deck is In some cases, folks will want to consider adding a door (installing a door the same size and at the same place of an existing window makes the job easier and less costly).  Most decks follow along with the back of the house, working around such things as hose bibbs, dryer vents, chimneys (never attach a deck to a chimney or to a cantilevered bay) and downspout.   In locating a deck, you will also want to consider what in the yard is underground.  Do not cover a propane tank, or septic tank with a low-level deck without designing in proper access panels into the deck.  Also, where the sun comes up and sets and when and where shade is available when choosing a place.

    • Legal Stuff

    Check with your local council Department to decide how close you can come to your side and rear lot lines with your deck.  Sometimes they will allow stairs to come closer than the deck.  Sometimes a so-called "free-standing" deck can come close to a lot line than a deck attached to the house.  Ask if they have anything they can give you in writing. Trust me... it's better to know now and not plead ignorance later and wind up re-doing your deck.  Ask your local Building Department if they must a building permit and a set of Building Plans.  Call your local utility companies (gas, electric, phone, cable) and ask them to mark buried lines or pipes in the yard and to let know you the right-of-way on your property that prohibits constructing a permanent deck.

    • Size Matters

    That will depend on many factors including how large your house is, how small your garden is, how much you want to spend, and what you will want to do on the deck.  Don't plan a deck too big for your house.  And if your garden is small, you may want to keep some yards available for landscaping.  To get a feel for how large the deck is, try using string to line the perimeter of the deck.  Then place some deck or lawn furniture in the designated area to see how useful this space will actually be.  Will there be enough room for a table and chairs?  A grill?  A separate sitting area needed?  You will likely only build this deck once.  Do it right the first time... and don't make the common mistake of building it too small.  Five years from now you won't remember what you paid for it... but you'll darn sure know if you made it too small.  Another good point to remember in planning size is this:  Plan the distance out from the house in even 2' increments.  Normally your floor joists will be perpendicular to the house wall and wood lengths come in even numbers.  Don't waste materials if you do not need to.

    •  Design Enhancements

    A deck built-in just about any shape and with multiple levels and deck boards run at a 45-degree angle (or even alternating in a herringbone design) really adds aesthetics and strength to a deck.  But, yes, any of these design enhancements also add materials cost and normally also labor cost as well.  Maybe 5%-25% more depending on what design enhancements you want.

    •   Height Matters

    Typically build a deck no higher than about 4" below the door threshold.  You don't want water to gain entrance to your house.  Sometimes to gain more view from the house, or to attach a deck to a solid concrete foundation wall (as opposed to attaching it to a thin house floor joist plywood band), it is preferable to build a step in front of the door and lower the deck 14" to 16" below the door threshold.  Check with your local Plan Review to decide if a deck over a certain height will cross brace to increase stability.  If your land slopes down, you may want to build in level changes to follow the terrain.  It looks very cool... but it runs the cost up.

    •  Railings Height

    Typically it's 30", but localities may differ.  But even if you are not required to have a handrail, if you choose to install one, it must meet code requirements.  That means the openings are only so large (code changes periodically, but as of this writing most localities typically require that a 4" diameter sphere cannot pass through it) and the main support posts (usually 4x4s) cannot be too far apart (5' is typically the max).  A handrail is of sufficient strength to sustain both lateral and vertical forces specified by code.  The need for an architect, engineer, deck designer, or local Plan Reviewer to help you with what handrail designs meet or exceed code requirements is a must

    • Stairs

    As of this writing, code typically calls for stairs is no less than 36" wide (from inside of handrail to inside of handrail), have a banister (grab rail) down at least one side, have riser and treads limited in dimensions, a 1/2" to 1" stair nosing, risers enclosed, 2x12 stair carriages appropriately spaced (18" in some localities).  Again, work with an architect, engineer, deck designer or your local Plan Review to get a detail drawing of a typical set of stairs.  As with all of your deck, you will want to build stairs to meet or exceed code requirements.

    • Basic Components

    A deck is normally composed of vertical support posts that rest on buried concrete footings.  Code typically limits how far apart these support posts are when apart.  Each post supports beams (girders) that normally run parallel to the house.  The last deck part is the railing which is normally 36" to 42" high.  The code will dictate the materials, design, and spacing for railings and for all components of a deck.  Always give all Building Plans to your local Plan Review before building.

    • Building Materials

    There are more and more materials being used today, but consider whether the materials are resistant to decay and insects (CCA pressure treated wood is as also is cedar and redwood... but not as much).  What are the effects of water, sun, heat, and cold?  Some composites and plastics do better than wood in this area... but some composites "creep" with heat (meaning the deck boards actually sag between the joists).  Some plastics are very user unfriendly to install because many composites cut, nail, and screw like wood.

    •  Anything Else You Should Know

    After you have designed your dream deck and before you start building... please turn these preliminary plans over to someone who knows what he's doing and can generate a detailed, correct, complete set of Building Plans that will meet or exceed code.  Remember, what you are about to draw up is preliminary only.  It does not tell you where to find the footings, or how large to make them, or how far to span your floor joists, or how large the floor joists are, or a hundred other things... all of which are critically important to the structural integrity of your new deck... and to the safety of its occupants.  Don't skimp here, hire someone you trust like an architect, engineer or deck designer carpenters, however, are normally not good choices for this kind of work.  We have found that good carpenters can read a set of plans easily and can build a good deck from a good set of plans already made.

    Learn more about how to build a deck

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