Decked Out for Spring

*This article features DeckWright, now known as MOSAIC Outdoor Living.

By Carrie Whitney

If you’ve been considering expanding your outdoor space, make this the year you catch the Atlanta trend of adding an inviting deck or patio to your backyard—or maybe even both. Turning an old deck into a gathering area or creating a patio with an outdoor kitchen and built-in seating can drastically increase your total living space. What’s more, deck and patio projects are probably the least invasive remodeling jobs out there. While occasionally, homeowners will want to replace a window with some new French doors, adding a deck or patio does not need to change thestructure of your home at all.

Getting started
Before planning your new deck or patio, think about how your family already uses the space and how you would like to use it. Would you enjoy more room in order to entertain? Or are you looking for a shaded spot to sit and read? The design of the outdoor space should reflect the functions it will serve.

In addition to uses, you also need to think about the surroundings and environment of the deck or patio. The orientation of the house and levels of sunlight should be taken into account. What kind of shading and trees are available? How can you ensure visual and acoustical privacy? Overall, your needs and the site will dictate much of your deck or patio design, according to Rick Goldstein of DeckWright.

Deck or patio?
Generally defined, a deck is a structure on a raised platform, which can be either a couple feet off the ground if your house is mostly level, or as high as a story or more if the rear entrance to the house is above the ground. By contrast, patios are located on the ground.

Most decks are built from wood or wood substitutes, while patio flooring can be anything from stamped concrete to stone or pavers. Both are usually found on the side or back of a house. Porches may be similar to either, but they are covered. It is quite possible to have all three features on one house.

Design to match
To incorporate the outside areas into the rest of the home, design elements can be extended from inside. Color and materials used in your home might be mimicked or at least complemented on the deck or patio. Architectural design elements can also be repeated, especially columns or arches. “The size of a deck or patio and how it fits with the house has become more important to people,” Goldstein says. Lighting is another feature that can add pizzazz and integrate the outdoors with the inside. It is also important to consider how your outside view will look from the inside rooms.

The overall design of the house can also be matched outside. For a woodsy, rustic feel, a flagstone patio and outdoor fireplace might harmonize well with a traditional home. To turn a backyard into a space that complements a more modern house, consider tempered glass panels in a handrail, horizontal steel cables and a deck made from one of the new composite materials for a cutting-edge look.

The right materials
Patios can take advantage of a myriad of materials. Even if the patio area will remain dry, the products used need to be outdoor-quality since they will still be exposed to a couple months of cold weather a year, as well as hot Atlanta summers. Some of the popular materials being used today include concrete, brick, stone, slate, flagstone, tile and all kinds of pavers. Using more than one material can help create distinct areas, such as an outdoor kitchen or dining area. Other design elements that can double as dividers are retaining walls, built-in benches, planters or water features.

In the Southeast, the standard deck-building material is pressure-treated pine, and a Grade One pine has fewer knots and imperfections than Grade Two. Pine products today are more environmentally friendly than they once were, according to Goldstein. Pine is the least expensive deck material, but has relatively high maintenance requirements. Another wood gaining in popularity is Siberian Larch, which is a light-colored wood that has been used in Europe for centuries. It is bug and rot-resistant, dense, and has a high concentration of resins. It’s a little more expensive than pine but requires less maintenance.

Probably the most exciting wood around today is Ipe, a Brazilian hardwood that is dark and rich in color. Ipe is extremely dense and bug- and rot-proof, as well as extremely striking. If you do not regularly stain the Ipe wood, it will turn a silver color, but the integrity of the wood will not be compromised. “It’s so dense that when you are putting a stain on it, you’re not helping the [stability of the] wood,” says Bobby Smith with Decksouth. “Honestly, it’s the best wood out there.” In fact, he says, if you skip staining it for a few years, you can sand it and stain it to bring back the color. This is drastically different from woods like pine or cedar, which are irreparably damaged when staining is neglected.

Aside from wood, composites and plastics are additional options for decks. Composites, a combination of wood and plastic, require almost no maintenance and do not need to be stained. They also do not produce splinters and stay fairly cool during the summer. They can be more expensive than pine, but less than Ipe, which is the top of the line. Plastics are made without any wood fibers at all and have the benefit of not fading or lightening.
They come in a variety of “stained” colors, even some that imitate Ipe. Since some composites and plastics look realistic, while others simply look like plastic, be sure to get large samples of the product that will be used to build your deck.

Surprisingly, PVC is one of the latest materials to add a new twist to wood in outdoor spaces. Columns, handrails and trim can be made from PVC material, and, according to Goldstein, once the material has been painted, it can actually look better than wood, and it won’t warp or change over time.

Deck design
The most useful and often-seen shape for a deck is a rectangle. But if you start with this basic outline, interest can be added by bumping out sections to create cozy seating areas or specialized spaces for other uses. Another nice touch is to add dog-earring, according to Frank Pologruto of Decks & More. Knocking off the corners of the deck at a 45-degree angle and creating about a two-foot section with a handrail makes a nice space for two people to have an intimate conversation. If the deck is made with composites or plastics, you can get really creative, as the material can be heated to create different shapes and curves.

Out with the old
Existing decks that need some dressing up can benefit from three procedures that can make a lot of difference but don’t require starting over. Staining the deck and adding low-voltage lighting under the handrails are both cost-effective ways to bring some spunk to the design. A more involved project, but one that can make a big difference, is to rebuild the handrails. Taking down dull handrails and replacing them with a more stylish version, maybe with posts raised through the top rails at intervals, can create an entirely new look, according to Pologruto.

Keep it in shape
Getting the ideal deck or patio built is only a small part of the experience. What is most important is making sure to maintain it. If your wood deck was not stained by the builder, it must be stained within three to six weeks, Pologruto says. If you wait, splitting might start, and there will be irreversible damage. According to Pologruto, the average lifespan of a deck is only about seven years, because people do not take care of them. If decks are properly maintained, they can last for around 25 years. After the initial staining, typical wood decks need to be restained every one or two years depending on the level of moisture and sunlight. Composite and plastic decks do not need to be stained, but they do need to be washed. However, since they are softer than wood, they should not be pressure- washed.

What you’ll pay
Adding a deck or patio is a feasible and noninvasive way to expand your home. “It’s probably one of the least expensive methods of increasing living space,” Goldstein says. Generally, the formula is that as maintenance decreases, cost of materials increases.

For starters, a 20-by-20-foot deck of pressure-treated pine built up one story with a basic staircase may cost between $6,500 and $8,500. Depending on materials, size and design features, the price will probably increase from that level. The cost of a patio can start at around $20 per square foot.

Of course, a deck or patio does not need to be just basic. Smith recommends opening your mind to woods other than pine. Decksouth has an outdoor showroom in East Cobb that is open almost anytime to help homeowners visualize what some of the newer materials can look like in practice.

When looking for a professional company to build the deck or patio of your dreams, make sure the builders are skilled with the latest materials and really know how to use them. Check out portfolios and ask for references. You might also look for membership in a trade organization such as NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry) or NADRA (North American Deck and Rail Association). Decks and patios can be not only great additions to the home, but also investments in the home’s value, so make sure your outdoor space becomes an asset instead of a tear-down. And one last piece of advice—plan ahead. Deck builders definitely have busy seasons, so if you are planning a Fourth of July party, make sure you start the process well before June.


 

The Level Below

If water is running off your deck when it rains and creating a muddy area below, you might want to consider a deck drain system. “A deck drain system drives water away from the house and away from the foundation,” says Jeff Butler of Rainaway Deck Drain Systems. Some of the benefits and tips for a deck drain system are:

  • It will keep the area underneath the deck dry and make the space usable.
  • Make sure you get a ventilated system that allows air to flow; otherwise, the system might actually shorten the life of the deck.
  • Keeping a space dry that is as little as three to four feet off the ground makes a great storage area for lawn equipment and outdoor gear.
  • If the deck is about one story off the ground, the now usable space below it can become another outdoor room. Decorate it with outdoor furniture or a hot tub. You can even screen it in. The ceiling will support lighting, a swing and a fan.
  • Deck drain systems come in a variety of colors and textures to allow for a truly personalized space. Another job of the systems is that they make the deck appear more finished, so they have cosmetic benefits as well as practical.
  • Deck drain systems cost roughly $11 to $13 per square foot, so expect to spend about $3,300 for a 14-by-20-foot deck.