Deck additions are the most common home improvement projects and can be the easiest one to bungle unless you know what you’re doing. Problems like skipped permits, water infiltration, unsafe guardrails, and unreliable framing materials and hardware can undermine your deck’s performance, cause serious safety issues, and lead to unnecessary frustration and unplanned expenses. Before you commit to the project, make sure you know:

  • the pros and cons of attached and freestanding decks
  • deck safety features
  • how to make your deck durable
  • additional features to make your deck more enjoyable
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  1. Connection to the home

When you build a deck, you have the option of physically attaching it to the home’s structure, or letting it stand on its own in the yard.

Attached decks will let you save a bit of money on piers and footings, but impose additional loads on your home’s existing structure and penetrate the envelope, possibly causing water infiltration. Thus, if you opt for an attached deck, your two priorities should be ensuring a secure connection to the home, and preventing water intrusion.

Attached decks connect to the home via a ledger board, which is essentially is a rim joist that spans the length of the deck’s connecting side and attaches to the home’s structure. Affixing the ledger board to the exterior siding is not enough to secure the deck safely; instead, ledgers must be bolted to the home’s rim joist.

To deny any chance of water ingress at the point of connection, the penetrations must be adequately flashed and sealed.

Rather than relying on the home’s existing structure for support, freestanding decks are held up by their own footings and deck posts. You can place one anywhere on the property within the allowed setbacks – freestanding decks are treated as accessory structures for setback purposes. If you want to enjoy direct access from your home to the deck, you can place a freestanding deck flush with any wall of the house without attaching it to the structure. However, in this scenario, you will still have to flash and seal around the exterior siding penetration to keep out water.

Freestanding decks may cost more due to the need for additional footings and posts beneath the end that would otherwise hang off the home’s structure. That said, freestanding decks involve less structural planning and don’t overburden your home with additional loads. 

  1. Safety

Guardrails

As with any elevated structure, fall hazard is a safety issue on decks. Requirements may vary between jurisdictions, but at a minimum, deck guardrails must:

  • have a top rail that’s 42 inches or more above the surface of the deck or 34 inches above the stairs’ treads
  • have a bottom rail that’s 4 inches or less above the surface of the deck
  • have 4 x 4-inch supporting guard posts spaced 6 feet or less
  • have balusters spaced less than 4 inches apart to eliminate the strangulation hazard
  • withstand a single concentrated load of 200 pounds in any direction, applied at any point along the top rail
  • be installed at deck stairs and any other means of access to the deck

Some cities and counties may have more stringent requirements, so take the time to research when you design your deck. 

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  1. Durability

You want your deck to last long, but if you build it with the wrong materials, it won’t. All wood eventually rots when exposed to moisture, but by using the right framing material you can prolong the longevity of your deck and minimize future repair costs. Pressure-treated lumber is your best bet. It may lack visual appeal but makes up for it with an ability to ward off rot and other moisture-related conditions. Besides, you can always beautify your deck with pine, cedar, or composite deck boards.

The hardware which connects a deck’s framing, boards, and guardrails can also suffer from its exposure to the elements. Using stainless steel or galvanized hardware will extend your deck’s service life. It may even be a code requirement in your jurisdiction. By doing some research and investing in durable materials, you can mitigate the risk of future replacements and minimize repair costs.

  1. Additional features

Think your deck is boring? From awnings to hot tubs, there is a world of deck features for you to explore and make your deck stand out from the rest.

Canopies can extend a deck’s usable hours to those hot summer afternoons and the wet months of the rainy season. If this sounds like a worthwhile investment, find out whether a pergola, awning or simply a moveable umbrella will work best for you. If you opt for a permanent feature, such as a pergola, you will need to include its details in the drawings you submit for approval and permits.

If you want to decorate your deck with plants, your options range from floor and railing-mounted pots to planters built into the deck. If you choose the latter, you can also incorporate seating and storage elements into the deck’s design. The deck’s structure will have to interface with all these features, and you will have to show them on the drawings you submit to the building department.

For a cozy yet vibrant look, adorn your deck’s posts, guardrails, and steps with low-voltage, LED lights. You will need a transformer to power down the current; installing the transformer and the lighting system may entail getting a separate electrical permit. Be sure to get assistance from a licensed electrician and ask your local building officials whether you need a permit for this work.