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Renovation Solutions: Tips for a wooden deck addition

Published: Friday, May 2 2014 4:00 p.m. MDT

A wood deck addition is the second project with the highest return on investment in Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value report for 2013-14. The wooden deck is a common remodeling project, especially at this time of year.

As the weather improves, our thoughts turn to barbecues, outdoor parties and soaking up the sun. With our Utah climate, an exterior deck is a good outdoor living option.

There is more to adding a deck than slapping a few slats of wood in a rectangular shape in your backyard. You need to consider the location, the size and the design of your deck as well as the connection between your house and your new outdoor space. To make the most of your deck and your investment, you need to take time to determine what is best for your property.

Where to put the deck is the first decision. Most decks are attached to the house, usually on the side or back. Consider the amount of sun, shade and wind a potential location receives throughout the year. For many homes, there is only one logical place for a deck. If that spot is less than ideal in terms of climatic influences, you can usually still make it a pleasing outdoor space with a little extra effort by using landscaping, trellises or shading devices.

You will also need to check local building codes. Call your local zoning office and ask what your setback requirements are (this defines the buildable area on your lot). Then, ask about restrictions for decks that project into the setback area. Also, remember to check with Blue Stakes of Utah to see if there are any restrictions as to where you can dig to place footings. Call 811 before you dig, and they will locate your underground utility lines for free.

Next, decide how big your deck will be. Think about the activities you want to take place on the deck and decide how much space you will need to accommodate them. Balance that with the fact the deck should be designed in proportion to your house, and then come to a final determination of the size (a general guideline is that your deck should not be much larger than the largest room in your house).

Think about the connection between the house and the deck. A pair of French or sliding doors provides both a view of the deck and easy access. If you are going to install a new door, do it before you build the deck. Also consider the connection between the deck and the yard. For instance, a narrow set of stairs will not feel as gracious as wider ones, and the wider steps can be used for additional seating or a display of potted plants.

When building a deck there are several materials from which to choose. The goal is to use a material that resists bugs, mildew and decay. Cedar, cypress, and redwood are the standard options for natural, untreated wood. While these woods start out with a warm reddish hue, they will weather to silver gray if steps are not taken to preserve the original color. Pressure-treated lumber such as pine, fir and other softwoods are also options for exterior uses. The latest additions to the natural materials category are exotic hardwoods, such as ipe (Brazilian walnut), mahogany, ebony, sapele and teak. These woods are very hard and require predrilling for assembly and carbide blades for cutting.

Man-made materials are also available. Some maintenance-free options include composites made from wood fibers mixed with plastic, vinyl or rubber. These products are improving in their attempt to mimic the look of natural woods and they have definite advantages when it comes to ease of maintenance. They come in several choices of textures and colors that give homeowners many design options.

Once you have the size and layout of your deck decided you can consider embellishments that will reinforce or add to the function and design impact. These would include elements such as the railings, stairs and shading devices (ranging from full roofs to pergolas to canvas sails). Other items that can be added include a cooking station that could range from a simple portable barbecue to a full-blown outdoor kitchen, fire pit, hot tub, fireplace or even a TV.

With our pleasant summer and fall climate, decks can truly be an outdoor room. They can significantly expand the livable area of a home for a significant portion of the year. Adding a heat source can extend the useable season even further.

Decks can be a real asset to your lifestyle and property value. The Remodeling Magazine's Cost vs. Value Report for 2010-11 reported that midrange deck-remodeling projects recouped 66 percent to 72 percent of their original cost with real wood giving the highest rate of return. However, these figures are based on you hiring the work. Hiring a contractor to build your deck may cost you anywhere from $2,000 to $15,000. If you do it yourself, you can save 40 percent or more. For example, a 10-by-12-foot deck of pressure-treated wood will average from $500 to $1,200 if you supply the labor. To have someone do the work, the cost range expands to $2,000-$3,500.

However you accomplish it, adding a new deck should enhance both your property value and your quality of life. If you time it right and start the project now, you will be ready for a summer of wonderful gatherings and meals with your friends and family on a lovely new deck.

Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the principal architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs at RenovationDesignGroup.com. Send comments or questions to ask@RenovationDesignGroup.com

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