Types of Decks
Credit: mjpyro

If you ever decide to build your own deck, you need to decide five things before you begin. Even if you are planning on having a deck built, it would still be useful to think about the following items so that you can convey that to your builder.

Take the time to think through each of these items because they can have a significant impact on how your deck looks and how long it lasts. A deck can be an attractive transition between the indoor and outdoor spaces, particularly if you have a screened-in porch.

Design the Layout

Before you do anything, you need to decide what kind of deck you want. How do you want it to look? Plan your deck with your house and surrounding landscape in mind. This aspect may be determined by the layout of your back yard, the height of your house off the ground, or the grade of the property.  

For instance, if you have a sloping back yard, or your house is high off the ground, you might consider an elevated or multi-level deck. This might be useful if you would like the deck to reach a new second floor doorway you are planning out of a bedroom or other living space in your house. Each level would allow you to utilize sloped area of land that would otherwise go unused.

If your property is fairly flat, you might consider a low profile type layout which separates levels that define the entry points to the deck and the house.

Depending on the layout of your house, you may opt for a wraparound type deck which goes around the corner of the house.

In the end, the design of the deck depends on the layout and your own personal tastes, so it is important to get this right at the beginning before you drive one screw.

Type of Decking Materials

The next major decision you need to make is what type of decking materials you are going to use. There are two choices: wood and composite decking materials.

In this case, the wood must be pressure treated wood to avoid rot from the water it will be subjected to constantly. Wood has one major advantage. It cost much less than composite decking material. Typically pressure treated decking boards are a ¼ of the costs of one composite deck boards.  However, there is much more maintenance involved in wood deck boards. They must be treated and sealed everyTypes of Deck BoardsCredit: Amazon.com couple of years at a cost of $50 to $75 each time.

Most normal sized decks use at least 2 gallons of sealant to cover the entire area, and the sealant is around $35 a gallon. So over the years, the cost of maintenance will add up. Also, wood decking boards are much less durable than composite materials.

So when making this decision, understand that the upfront cost for composite materials will be more, but the back end maintenance will be virtually nonexistent. In fact, you will probably only have to sweep leaves off it from time to time, and that is about it.  

Type of Base

The next thing to consider is the type of base. There are two basic methods: burying pressure Building a Deck BaseCredit: Opensourcetreated 6x6 posts in the ground and covering with cement, or building a cement footing and resting the 6x6 on top of the footing away from any moisture.

As far as cost is concerned, there really is no difference to speak of. Placing the support columns on cement footings will require the additional cost of post anchors, basically steel clamps that are embedded into the wet concrete with a j-bolt, and hold the post in place with nails through the bracket and into the post. This is the recommended way to build a deck support system because it will not touch the ground, and therefore not get wet.

The other option is to simply dig a hole deep enough below the frost line, pouring pea gravel into the bottom, then putting the 6x6 post in the hole, and covering the surrounding area with wet cement.

In either method, the crucial part is to verify that the posts are plumb.

Location of the Stairs

Build Stairs for Deck
Credit: mjpyro

This may sound trivial, but decide where you want the stairs to appear before you begin any plans or any construction. Go out into the area where the deck will be located and imagine how you will exit the house and where you would like to exit the deck. The area chosen should be an entry that flows into the rest of the backyard or landscape. This is important because if you are constantly going around your house on a certain side, or there is heavy vegetation or a bad grade with poor drainage on one side, you do not want to have your stairs exiting in that direction.

For instance, if you have a storage shed in one area of your yard, or you tend to go around the house on one side because it is closer to your garage, then plan the stairs on that side to make it more convenient for you.

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I installed these aluminum balusters after several years for a more maintenance free life. If you ever have to stain the wood type balusters, you will probably only do that one time before you opt for something like this. Staining those individual wood pickets is a real pain.

Type of Railing

Aluminum Balusters

Lastly, decide on the type of rails you want. This is actually a major decision because it will be the most visible part of your deck. There are three type basic materials you can choose from

Wood Posts and Balusters

Wood posts and balusters are the easiest to install and the cheapest option. However, the same maintenance costs will apply as the wood boards. You can create a railing using balusters spaced every four inches, or simply use long 2x4s the length of each post with large gaps in between each board such as a split rail fence.

Metal Balusters and Metal/Wood Posts

The other option is to use wood support posts spaced every 6 feet, then use metal balusters every 4 inches for a more polished, professional look. Metal balusters cost about double what a wood baluster would cost. For instance, most home improvement stores sell them in packs of 10 for around $24. For comparison, a wood baluster costs about $1 each.

Steel and Glass Pane Rail

Finally, there is the really professional and expensive option of buy steel and full glass pane railings. The maintenance required on this type is minimal other than cleaning the glass periodically. This type of railing would be great if you had a beautiful view and you did not want it to be obscured by wood railings if you were sitting in a chair outside.

Final Thoughts

If you are considering building a deck, you should think about each one of these decisions before you start.

Decide on a layout and the type of materials you want to use before you get too far into the process. You may find you are willing to cut costs in one area, and build out in other areas based on this type of analysis. You might even save some money in the process.