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We won’t sugarcoat it: Planning a new deck construction is way more involved than an afternoon at the table dreaming up ideas. From material selection to scoping out size and features, it’s a hefty project even for those who are DIY inclined. But while the build can be an undertaking, the end result makes it so worth it—not only will you have an outdoor space ready for many evenings of entertaining, the addition can also boost your home value.

Whether you’re ready to roll up your sleeves or hire a pro, asking yourself these key questions first can help you form a solid game plan.

1. So how do I choose the right deck size?

Scale matters. The golden rule for deck design is to not exceed 20 percent of a home’s total square footage (this way, you don’t overwhelm the property). Equally important is how you plan to use your deck. Do you need just enough space for a small bistro set or are you looking to work in a grill and full-size table? Maybe you need separate spaces for dining and lounging. No matter what, always leave adequate room for furnishings and walkways. Here are four by-the-numbers tips to keep in mind.

  • Allot 15 to 20 square feet for each person who might be on the deck at the same time. For example, to comfortably host 10-person parties, you’ll need a deck that spans 150 to 200 square feet.
  • A typical outdoor sectional or sofa takes up about 30 square feet.
  • Add 15 square feet for a grill. Outdoor kitchens with counters and other appliances may require up to three to four times that. 
  • Looking to include a hot tub? Plan an additional 50 to 64 square feet for a standard size, and another 20 to 30 square feet for a walkway around it.

2. What’s the main attraction?

Decks offer plenty of opportunities to incorporate personal touches and styling—we’re talking more than just outdoor rugs and patio shades. Customization can begin as early as when the framing starts. Here are six ideas to bring style—and function—to your outdoor space.

  • A cohesive look. Blur the lines between indoors and out by matching your decking’s color to your home’s interior flooring. You might find a wood-and-stain combination that suits the decking and comes close to your interiors, or you may choose a fade-resistant option from a quality composite decking manufacturer like Deckorators that achieves a comparable color year-round. (Its style guide contains 16 colors across five decking collections—more than enough to choose from.) Likewise, decking can be installed in patterns reminiscent of indoor flooring, such as herringbone, diagonal lines, even inlaid geometric shapes.
  • Complementing—or contrasting—your home’s exterior. Choose a composite that’s tone-on-tone with your siding to create a coordinated backdrop, or try complementary colors like a wood with orange undertones against blue siding. If you have black railings and accents, a lighter wood deck will make a strong statement.
  • Privacy and shade, but make it custom. Built-in pergolas, gazebos, and lattices add shade and a bit of seclusion from neighbors. These—along with tiered decks, integrated planters and benches, and other specially built structures—can also help define spaces for different activities.
  • Alfresco-friendly entertaining. Most backyard hangs gravitate to the food at some point. Consider upgrading a stand-alone grill to a built-in station with a pizza oven and cooktop. A custom bar built from decking materials (particularly one that incorporates a beverage fridge) will turn your deck into the destination for dinner parties and happy hours.
  • Mood lighting. Linger long past sunset with a thoughtful lighting strategy. Plan ahead to best integrate features like posts for string lights, a ceiling fan and light under a pergola, or steps or deck boards with LEDs.
  • Safe swimming. Slip resistance should be a priority when there’s water involved. Look for decking with maximum grip, like Deckorators’s Voyage Decking, which offers 34 percent or greater surface traction than other leading brands.

3. How much maintenance am I willing to do?

A deck can take a beating from the elements and usually requires some level of upkeep to stay in shape. 

Wood decks—commonly constructed with pressure-treated lumber, cedar, or redwood—will require seasonal washing, as well as staining and sealing every few years, to protect the wood and prevent rot or mold and mildew. Even so, individual boards may need to be replaced. It might not sound like it, but this can end up being a lot of work on a larger deck.

Composite decks are a higher investment up front, but they’re much more low-maintenance in the long term. Fade- and UV-resistant composite decking only needs a quick wash once or twice a year to keep it looking fresh. It’s also water resistant, bug resistant, and generally more durable, but it’s still smart to look for a manufacturer’s warranty. Deckorators covers its composite decking with an industry-leading, 25-year structural and stain-and-fade resistance limited warranty

4. What’s my budget?

HomeAdvisor puts the average cost to build a deck in the mid-$7,000s, with a full range from $4,000 to more than $11,000 depending on size, materials, and design. Small, simple decks on the ground level made from pressure-treated lumber will typically fall on the lower end of the scale. Larger composite decks elevated and guarded by railings will often cost more to build, but they’re more durable and require less maintenance.

While affordability is relative, homeowners planning to build decks should take those baseline costs into consideration when creating a budget. Then it’s just a matter of determining priorities: square footage, high-end decking, ancillary features, or custom design elements. Here are a few ways to save without compromising the materials or space you really want.

  • Most building materials come in lengths divisible by 4, so designing your deck’s size in 4-foot increments (8-by-8-foot, 12-by-12-foot, 12-by-16-foot, and so on) means there will be less waste. All of Deckorators’s decking boards are available in 16- and 20-foot lengths, and some are available in lengths of 12 feet. 
  • If choosing a weather-resistant hardwood like cedar or redwood, consider using more affordable pressure-treated lumber for the framing.
  • Even if hiring professionals for construction, consider demolishing an existing deck yourself. This is an extra cost that you won’t have to cover.
  • Play it safe and set aside 10 to 15 percent of the budget for unexpected expenses.

5. When do I want to hang out on my new deck?

Project planning always includes setting a realistic timeline, no matter whether you’re hiring the work out or handling the job yourself. So when do you want to use your deck? Work backward from there to find a start date. (We’re sorry to say that the answer can’t be “tomorrow.”)

First, you’ll need to order materials, and we all know how that’s going right now. The process may take longer than it has in the past. Giving yourself or a contractor enough time to find the specific materials you want (like actually want, since this is an investment) will be better in the long run. 

DIYers should set aside several weekends for a deck project. Removing and disposing of an old deck will likely take one weekend. Digging footings and pouring concrete will likely take another two days. Framing will also take at least a weekend, while installing the decking can take a day or two on its own (and that’s if it doesn’t have a complex pattern). Installing stairs, railings, and other touches can take a week or so. And if the deck is high off the ground, the process in full can take two or three times longer due to more framing and structural support requirements.

While pros can do the job with more efficiency, a basic deck can still take a contractor two weeks to complete once the materials are on-site, and popular builders have busy schedules. It’s smart to pick up the phone several months in advance; for instance, if you’re planning to build a deck next spring, consider getting the work on the calendar right now.

If you’re ready to go, connect with a Deckorators Certified Pro for a project consultation and estimate. And then get ready for all those sunny morning coffees, backyard barbecues, and happy hour hangs.