Building a deck | What you need to know before you start

Building a Deck

A deck is something that everyone wishes to have at home. It is the best spot to relax and have fun on. But building a deck and maintaining it is not an easy task. There are a lot of aspects to be looked into before making your deck. Moreover, if you wish to have a luxurious looking deck at home, there are plenty of options to make it alive. Let’s see some of the important aspects to be considered before building a deck:

Permit to Build a Deck:

A deck is not much different from any other part of a building. All the safety measures and quality assurances are also applicable to a deck. Moreover, it does influence the environment and the neighbours to some extent. This is why some of the states have restrictions for building decks. This ensures that the decks are safe for use, are built with good quality material, is environment friendly and does not disturb the neighbourhood.

Where to get Approval From?

It is usually the State which regulates the rules and permissions regarding construction of houses and other building. But this power is delegated to the Local Council when it comes to granting building permits. Thus, if you wish to build a deck for your home, first you have to apply to the Local Council. Once you get the permission, you are free to go ahead with your deck building. But make sure that the design does not vary from the one you applied for.

How to Apply for Approval:

In some states like Victoria, you will have to get permit to build any deck irrespective of its size, location and design. To get the approval faster, you should have the complete documents relating to the deck plan and design. The plan should clearly mentions certain factors like the location of the deck, its height and the design of the deck you wish to build.
To build a deck you may need planning approval, building approval or both. The building approval is to show that the deck is structurally safe and sound. The planning approval is to ensure that the deck fits into the area, does not disturb the neighborhood and does not cause any damage to the environment.

When is Approval not required?

In some states, the decks could be built without the approval to some extent. Usually it is height and area that matters. Some states allow decks to be built without approval, if the height is less than 60cms. And in some states the decks which are less than the dimension of 10m * 2m could be built without any approval. However, once the area or height exceeds the limit, the Council will look into all other factors apart from the dimension to grant approval.

How to Proceed?

So if you wish to build a deck at your home, first you have to know the rules and regulations of your State. Each State does have an online portal where the regulations regarding building construction are specified. You can easily access these regulations to understand the restrictions in your locality. Once you understand the regulations are standards, you can engage an architect to draft a design of the deck. And this design should be within those constrains mentioned by the rules. And when the plan is ready, you can request the Local Council to grant approval to the building plan.

Where to Position the Deck?

Just like deciding the position of your home, the position of the deck is really important. It might take a bit of study to decide the location. There are certain factors which should be kept in mind before choosing the position. And if you have little space in your compound, this becomes a bit tricky task. Now, let’s see some important factors to be kept in mind while building a deck:

Where should the Deck face to?

This is one of the most important matters that should be analyzed in depth. And the facing orientation largely depends on the climate of the area.

A north-facing deck will get winter sun and so much of rays during the summer.
A west facing deck would be too hot at afternoons, and thus it’s not a preferred orientation.
A south-facing deck would get midday sun during the summer.
An East- facing deck will get enough rays in the morning and would be cool in the afternoon

Privacy

Deck is a spot where most of the people spend time for relaxing and leisure. Thus privacy is a matter of great concern while building a deck. In most of the homes, the decks are built at the back so that there would be enough privacy. But there are also more options to add privacy. If you have a large compound with little view from the outside, things would be much easier. In any case, analyze your property to find the spot which gives more privacy. Privacy is so much important especially if you wish to build a deck around your pool.

If you couldn’t find a spot which gives enough privacy, or if you wish to build a deck in a spot which is much exposed, we have other solutions too. The best solution is to install lattice trellis which could cover up your deck. And another option is to grow privacy screens.

Accessibility and proximity to the house 

Decks are usually used very often; they are not just built for a style or luxurious look. Thus while building a deck we must bear in mind the ease of use and accessibility. If you wish to make the deck as an extension from the house, do not place it too much away from the house. The closer the deck is, the more you feel comfortable accessing it.

Purpose of Deck

The purpose of the deck plays a major role in deciding the location of the deck. For example, if the primary purpose of your deck is dining, it should be built very close to the kitchen for the sake of serving easily. But if the deck is to be built for relaxation or leisure, it should be at some location which is more quiet and calm; deck around the pool is a very good idea. And if you have some water-body like river or a lake nearby, nothing else could be a better spot for your deck.

deck near lake

Views

The view is another important factor deciding the location of the deck. Everyone wish to build a deck where it gives a good view of the nature. This is why building decks near a river, lake or at a hilltop is such an attractive idea.

Wind

While positioning the deck, try to make it at a spot where the wind is little. If the wind is too aggressive, that would be too disturbing and gradually you would keep away from using the deck often.

Trees

If you wish to have trees around your deck, try to make it so. You can choose a location where there are some trees or you could plant some trees where you wish to build the deck. Having trees around the deck is a good idea, as it could give you more privacy and natural cooling.

Building Drainage for the Deck

When you build a deck outside the house, the issue of drainage is something that cannot be sorted out easily. Unless you have roofing for your deck, this issue would be too intense; but building a roof for the deck may take away its charm. And even with roofing, the issue of drainage is not sorted out. As far as there is rain, you have to find an effective system to take away the water falling on to the deck.

Why deck draining is important?

Unless you have a proper drainage system, the water would stay on the deck that causes damage to the structure as well as the deck floor. In addition this may create slip hazard on the deck. Standing water under the deck may cause mosquitoes to breed under it. Thus drainage is a primary issue while building a deck.

The Simplest Drainage Techniques

Spaces between Deck Boards

The space between the decking boards serves as a drainage system. The water simply falls underneath the deck through this space. And this system does not require a special mention, as this is inherent to every deck designs. Thus while designing the deck floor, try to make the spaces between deck boards wider. But do not make it too wide to lose the charm and style of the deck. Another idea is to have smaller boards for your deck, rather than having wider ones.

Slope

Another tip to help you with draining the water on the board is to have a slight slope. If you already have a deck, you probably know the spots where the water collects. So make a slight slope while building the deck.

Advanced Options

At times the methods mentioned above would not completely solve your issue. You may have to design a better system to completely drain away the water collected on and under the deck. For example, though the water may naturally drops down through the spaces between the boards, the water would still acquire at the bottom of the deck which would breed mosquitoes. Or you may wish to have the boards very close to keep up the style and looks of the deck. This is where we look for some advanced options regarding drainage. Let’s see some of the most commonly used drainage techniques on decks:

Deck-Membranes and Downspouts 

Plastic membranes are arranged underneath the board spaces to form toughs. This creates channel for water to flow away from the area under the deck. These channels run off the water to downspouts positioned near the joist header.

UnderDeck Ceilings

The water dropping through the board spaces could be channelled to flow away from the protected area using ceilings. These ceilings may be built of plastic or aluminium panels.

Waterproofing Decking Flanges

This technique is simpler than membrane and ceiling system. This technique diverts the water that falls through the space between the decking boards. Dexedry flanges are designed to act as spacer between boards and in addition to this collects the water falling from the board.

Footing for Decks

Since the decks are built to handle a reasonable amount of weight, it is important to have a strong and durable footing for the deck. The soil type and the terrain should be analyzed properly before making the footing.
The footings for supporting posts are of two designs. The common design is concrete footings with galvanized stirrups fixed on the concrete footing to support the post. The second design is where the post is directly immersed into the concrete footing. While choosing the second design, it should be ensured that there is enough concrete under the post. Also, the top of the concrete footing should be made a slope away from the post.
The Australian Standard for Deck footing are AS2870 and AS1684. These standards are for domestic decks that has average load with moderate ground conditions. If the conditions vary a lot, for example, if the deck is to be tiled; the design is to be consulted with a structural engineer.

Decking Patterns

Now, this is something that decides the real beauty of your deck. Also, the pattern plays a major role in making the structure more stable and strong. Thus, it is important to choose the right pattern that matches your deck boards and deck structure. Let’s see some most common decking patterns:

Diagonal Decking

In this design, the decking boards are installed on a 45 degree angle across the joists. Diagonal decking increased the strength of the deck frame, thereby preventing racking. In this design there is no need for installing sway bracing.

In diagonal decking, you may need to reduce the joist spacing to 12” on center to help support the diagonal span. For building this kind of decking, you may require more labor time as it requires more cuts made at very accurate lengths. But, diagonal decking may increase the waste factor up to 15 percentages. However, this design is preferred most if the width of the deck exceeds 20’, because it reduces butt joints.

Herringbone Decking 

Apart from the traditional patterns there are plenty of patterns that could be applied on the decks. This could make the deck more attractive. In a zipper pattern, two diagonal decking patterns combine in the center to provide the appearance of a zipper. A hearing bone is a pattern similar to zipper, but the meeting in the center is without the use of an opposing pattern.

All these patterns require support from the bottom. It requires a lot of blocking on the frame below the pattern. While choosing the color for these kinds of patterns, try to apply contrasting colors for adjacent boards to give emphasis to the pattern. Also, try to avoid working with small boards.

Horizontal Decking 

This is the easiest and most commonly used pattern used for decking. This does not require much calculation or cutting, and could be completed very fast. Here, the deck boards are installed parallel to each other. These deck boards require fastening at both the ends by 2 nails, screws or any other hidden fastening system.

The horizontal decking pattern does not require any butt joists or splices, if the deck is less the 20’ wide.

wet deck

Decking Inlay 

Decking inlay is the best way to make your deck more attractive and stylish. While making deck inlays, try to add contrasting color to give emphasis to the pattern.

However, Deck Inlays require more time and planning. They need more cutting and fastening depending upon the complexity of the design. Moreover, inlay designs require more support from the bottom.

Which material to go for?

This would be the factor where you spend a lot of time thinking. Yes, it’s indeed a crucial part of the deck design and building. The market is flooded with a lot of materials and brands to go for. Making the right decision might sound so straining. But let have an outline of all the commonly used materials to make your task a bit easy.

Pressure-Treated Softwood Decking 

This is the most commonly used decking wood nowadays. Almost 75% of the new projects use pressure-treated softwood decking. The main reason behind its popularity is its low cost combines with ease of availability and ease of use. This material is made from pine which is then treated to guard against rot, fungus and wood-boring insects.

The main disadvantage of using this kind of material is its maintenance. It is prone to cracking, splitting and wrapping, if not maintained properly. Pressure-treated softwood should be treated annually to maintain its durability. However, if properly maintained, it could last up to 30 years.

Naturally Durable Softwoods – Redwood and Cedar 

This kind of timber has natural tannins and oil that prevents from rot, decay and insect attack. As they do not contain any chemicals, they give a natural look and finish to the deck. They may cost more than 3 times the cost of pressure-treated softwood. However, they last a lot more than the former one and requires less maintenance. For instance, a Redwood or Cedar deck requires only a protective finish once in 3 years to keep up its look and finish.

One important aspect to be considered before buying this kind of wood is its quality. The quality of the wood varies depending upon the area it grew within the tree. The wood that grew in the heart of the tree contains more tannins and oils and is considered to be of better quality. The wood to the outside of the tree is softer and contains less oils and tannins. Thus the quality of the wood should be ensured before purchasing it.

Hardwood Decking 

Many of the hardwood timers are also widely used for decking. Some of them are Oak, IPE, Mahogany, Massaranduba and Cumaru. They are so hard and thick compared to other wood species. Moreover, they are naturally resistant to rot, fungus and insect attack. Thus they require less maintenance and protection to keep it safe from any damage. They are a good option for areas with very extreme weather conditions as they could stand any climatic conditions.

However, due to its hard nature, it is so difficult to work on them. The cutting and fastening may require more time, effort and labor. This indeed increased your cost. For example, if you want to screw a nail into the wood, you cannot do that without drilling a pilot hole.

Hardwood is costly compared to pressure-treated softwood. However, it could be compared with cedar and redwood. Hardwood also requires an additional protective layer which is specially designed for hardwood.

Composite Wood Decking 

Composite Wood decking is an area of continuous growth with new products introduced every year. It is a reliable alternative for traditional wood decking method. Composite Wood Decking materials are made of a mixture of wood and plastic particles. These provide extra resistance to adverse weather conditions and other damages. In addition, it will not split, crack or splinter. Some companies even manufacture pure plastic decking which could be good choice.

The main issue of using composite wood decking is that, it does not look like wood. This would be a real problem if you love the natural look of wood. However, to mitigate this drawback, it is comes with the advantage of less maintenance and protection.

Another advantage of using composite wood decking is that it comes with a variety of colors. Thus, it does not require a finish work. The companies which manufacture composite wooden decks also manufacture moldings and railings to match the material. This means you spend little time choosing the type of railing.

Another factor to be considered while buying composite wooden decking is that it does swell like the natural timber. However, unlike natural timber, it swells along its length as well as the breadth.

Metal Decking

For metal decking aluminium is the most commonly used metal. It is strong and lightweight. As aluminium is resistant to the usual damages caused to timber, like cracks, insect damages or swelling, it is more reliable. It could be cut or molded easily and made into shapes that could match the deck. Despite of being a metal, aluminium does not undergo corrosion and thus lasts longer compared to wooden decking.

Coming to the cons, the remarkable one is its looks. Metal decking does not give the natural look given by a wooden deck. If look do matters, this would be a real issue. But metallic decking is more durable and requires less maintenance compared to all other decking materials.

Deck Railing

Railing is an integral part of a deck, unless you are having a very low deck which is just few inches above the ground. Railing could not be avoided especially when you are having kids at home. Apart from providing safety, rails do give a stylish look and thus is an area that could help you increase the elegance of your deck.
Let’s get to know the components of railing first and understand their relative importance:

Posts 

The standard measure of deck rails are 4×4” or 6×6”. These posts are the ones which keep your deck railing erect, strong and safe. The posts hold the balusters, spindles or provide framework for cable railing.

Balusters, Spindles or Cables

Balusters and spindles are the pickets that go vertically along the railing and fill in the spaces between adjacent posts. Metallic cables are also used for railing which does not impend the surrounding view like the other alternatives.

Handrails 

Handrails run horizontally along the rails which provide space for leaning, supporting or as grip. You could also build a drinks rail by making it flat at the top.

Post Caps or Finials

These caps sit on the top of each post. Apart from giving a decorative look, it could be used to fix lights on top of it.

Now, having known the components of railing, let’s see the main railing options before us:

Wooden Railing 

Wooden railing is the most commonly used railing option. Since the deck is usually built by wooden boards, wooden railing is the best to match with it. Wooden railing also provides flexibility as the contractor could design a custom design to match the decking you have.

The disadvantage of using wooden railing is that it is very expense to maintain it. The usual staining, cleaning and painting is to be done regularly to make it look good always. Apart from this installing wooden railing could be so difficult if you have a curvy deck.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ntmprojects/5456271285/

Metallic Railing 

The commonly used metals for railing are aluminium, galvanized steel and iron. The main advantage of using metallic railing is that is it slimmer compared to and thus consumes less space compared to wooden or composite railing. Thus they do not block the view to the surroundings. Unlike wooden railing, metallic rails does not crack or get damage by extreme weather conditions.

Capped Composite Railing

Composite Railing gives a much cleaner look. It requires less maintenance and lasts very long. The cost is moderate compared to other railing options.

Cable Railing

Cable railing is a high-ended option when it comes to deck railing. It costs very high compared to wooden, metallic or composite railing. However, the relative benefit of cable railing is remarkable. The railing vanishes to the view and does not disturb the view to the surroundings.

Tempered Glass

Yet another option to add elegance to your deck design. Tempered glass looks great especially if you are having a deck to have a view of the landscape. It is also preferred when the effect of wind is too high in the area. It could prevent the wind from making too much of disturbance. However, tempered glass is very costly.

Finish for the Deck- Whether to paint, stain or leave unfinished?

When it comes to finishing the deck, you have three options; paint it, stain it or keep it unfinished. All these three options has their own pros and cons. Choosing each of these options depend upon a number of factors and situations. Let consider each of these options in depth:

Leaving the Wood Unfinished 

Depending on the type of wood you choose and the exposure your deck has to the external weather, it could be left unfinished. But this would not be a good option for most of the cases. Because, to keep the wood from being damaged, it’s best to have finish. Most of the timber undergoes damage on continuous exposure to the weather conditions.

Thus, unless you are having a very hardwood timber for your decking or if your deck is completely within the house with proper roofing to keep it away from adverse weather, it is not recommended to leave the deck unfinished.

Finishing the Deck with Paint 

This is the most commonly used finish for deck due to many reasons. But if you love the natural look of the wood, this won’t be a good option for you. Let’s see some pros and cons of using paint as a finish:

 
Pros

  • It gives a wide range of colors to choose from. You can use any color and thus make any design or pattern just with the paint on your board.
  • Paint can fill cracks and gaps. Since paints are thick, they can mitigate the damage caused on the wood like cracks.
  • Paint is easier to clean.
  • Paint protects wood better than any other options of finish. Paint resists rot, mold and sun damage caused to wood.

Cons

  • Paint is forever. If you choose to paint the deck, you will have to paint it again and again. You can’t think of an alternate option once you choose this finish.
  • Paint can be slippery when wet.
  • Paint takes away the natural beauty of the wood.

Staining the Wood Deck

If you do not wish to have paint on the board, this would be the second option before you. You could either stain the board or have a sealer on it. Let’s see some pros and cons of staining the deck:

Stained deck 
Pros

  • It retains the natural beauty of wood.
  • It is less slippery compared to paint finish.
  • It is easier to apply.
  • You still have options regarding stains. It comes in a variety of colors.

Cons

  • It has shorter life compared to paint.
  • Unlike paint, it does not fill in the crack on the board.
  • It does not protect the wood as effectively as paint.

Deck building is a very complex task and there are a lot of aspects to be considered before making a move. And this may be a very confusing task. However, once you could make a firm decision regarding your design, it will be just a few steps ahead- you will have your beautiful deck home.