Saturday, June 6, 2009

Decks add space, options to home

Published in Parade of Homes, a special section of the Lincoln Journal-Star, May 10, 2008
Copyright Lee Enterprises, Inc. May 10, 2008. Used with permission.

Adding a deck to your home can expand your living area, giving you space to entertain, prepare food and relax in a comfortable outdoor environment. Choices in materials, size, placement and accessories depend on budget, personal preference and how you plan to use your deck.


More and more people are choosing to build a deck with composite materials made from a blend of wood and recycled plastic. Although more expensive than traditional wood, composite decks are virtually maintenance free, said Kurt Kontor, owner of Husker Deck and Fence. All fasteners are hidden, so there are no exposed screws or nails.

Composite materials last longer than traditional wood, said Douglas Litz, owner of DL Exteriors. However, keep in mind the deck will last only as long as its subframe, which is typically made of pressure treated lumber.

If you prefer traditional wood, you can choose from pressure treated lumber or cedar. It is recommended that you power wash and stain wood every three to five years, said Litz.

The cost varies from about $11 per square foot for treated lumber up to $35 per square foot for composite material.


A typical size for a deck is 10 feet by 12 feet or 12 feet by 12 feet; however, if your budget allows, you can go much larger. In planning for your deck, keep in mind that lumber always comes in lengths of even-numbered feet.

"Instead of doing 12-by-13, where you're cutting a foot off each board, you might as well do 12-by-14," Kontor said.

Many people are choosing to build decks with varying levels. From the base level, you step up a few steps to an entertaining area or step down a few steps for the grilling area. If your deck is more than 30 inches from the ground, a railing is required, which you need to take into account when planning for size and budget.


Most homeowners prefer to place a deck off the back of the house, but you may choose to add a deck to the side. Building codes typically require that a deck be at least six to eight feet from the neighbor's property line.

Placement also depends on the homeowners' preferences and how they will use the deck, Litz said. If you like the sun, then go ahead and build on the west or south side to soak up all the sun you can. If you like the shade in the evenings, the east side is best. Plan your placement according to the time of day you will use the deck the most.

"Most people use a deck for a breakfast nook or barbecues at night," Litz said. "Most people don't use it in the middle of the day."


Adding shade or protection from the elements can make a deck more usable, said Bill Budler, owner of Made in the Shade outdoor living center.

"You can spend thousands of dollars building a big, beautiful deck with nice landscaping, but if it's a blistering 140 degrees on your deck surface, you're not going to use it," he said.

If you are interested in shade protection only, Budler recommends a retractable awning made of acrylic fabric. With the flip of a switch, the awning retracts, allowing you to soak up the rays on a cool day or do a bit of stargazing at night. An awning, however, provides no protection from the wind, rain or snow.

A fixed roof, usually made of aluminum, protects against weather in addition to providing shade.

To further protect from the sun, you can add vertical solar screens, which can be raised or lowered depending on the angle of the sun. Made of fiberglass coated with PVC, solar screens can provide up to 97 percent blockage from harmful ultraviolet rays.
Adding a retractable or fixed cover can add from $2,500 to $4,500 to the cost of your deck, Budler said.


Because many people use their decks for evening entertaining, accent lights are a popular accessory, Kontor said. These often are put along the railings, and many are solar powered to eliminate the need for wiring.

Many decks are made with built-in seating, but decks become more usable with outdoor tables, chairs and benches. Most home owners choose to add upscale furniture rather than simple lawn chairs, Budler said.

Self-contained fountains are another popular accessory, especially those with LED lighting. Most are light enough to be moved indoors during winter and inclement weather. Solar powered fountains conveniently and economically create a relaxing environment for summer evenings on your deck.

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