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Designing a Deck

Deck Design and Builders

For a good deck design you may be able to find a builder that's able to draw one for you but most have little time or will lack the ability to come up with a good design. More often than not, they prefer building and making income rather than spending time designing decks. Below are some tips to help you get started in designing a deck that's right for your home.

Step 1. The Proposed Deck Location

The best way to start planning a deck project is to use 2 pieces of paper or graft paper. Draw in scale the top view of the back of the house and proposed deck area on one page and the elevation view on the other. Make sure to leave enough room to draw the deck in including any relevant measurements and distances to existing or future objects such as trees, paths, pools, fences, etc.

Top View of Home and Proposed Deck Area
  • Graph paper or an architects' ruler is an excellent way to draw your home and proposed deck in a reduced scaled down size. Both are usually available at Office Supply Stores.
  • Tracing paper: To test several deck layouts, tracing paper comes in handy. Place the tracing paper directly on the top view that you have drawn. Then draw each deck design idea on the tracing paper rather than drawing directly on the top view. Use different sheets of tracing paper for different deck designs.

Step 2. The Elevation View

On the second sheet of paper, draw the elevation view of the home with an approximate indication of the grade. The elevation view and measurements are helpful for staircases and deck support post lengths and determining the amount of deck skirting if used. The measurements from the floor of the home to the grade are important but do not have to be exact due to the onsite measurements that will have to be made during construction.

Back of the House and Grade

The elevation view will help determine the approximate length of staircases, support posts and materials needed for lattice skirts.

Step 3. The Size and Layout

If you're not sure of the size or layout of your proposed deck, it's helpful to measure interior rooms for size comparison. Add about 3 feet to the length and width to achieve the same spacious feeling outside on a deck. Then with this in mind and in the location of the proposed deck, start measuring out from the house. Chart down the measurements that feel right for your particular family and entertainment needs.

Measuring and Staking the Deck Area

Stakes and string make it easy to view and alter a proposed deck shape.

Step 4. Drawing a Deck

Once you have a few measurements have been written down, place the tracing paper on top of the top view and pencil in the proposed deck. It's best to think squares and 45-degree angles. Curves are difficult to build and add a considerable amount of expense to the construction cost.

Back of the House and Proposed Deck

Designing a deck will take time. Plan on spending a few weeks pondering your thoughts and developing your ideas. Keep revising the deck shape until you're happy with the final layout. The more planning and redesigning you do will help achieve a better deck design.

Things to Consider when Designing a Deck

  • Tables: If you intend to have a table on your deck, plan accordingly. An average size table for 6 takes up to 140 square feet of deck. This is the equivalent of a 10 by 12 foot section of deck.
  • Deck levels: Different deck levels make interesting layouts. However, when planning levels consider that the step between each level will take up usable deck space.
  • Railings: Railings add a feeling of security when sitting on a deck. A low elevated deck without one may give you a sense of vulnerability, as if "sitting out in the open." A railing also prevents someone unfamiliar with the deck from accidentally walking or backing up and off the edge.
  • Balusters: Railings must have vertical spindles or balusters to prevent small children from climbing up.
  • Spindle spacing: Spaces between spindles or balusters will have to be less than 4 inches. This is to prevent small children or animals from squeezing through.
  • Railing safety: Building codes strictly regulate deck railings for safety. If your deck is higher than 24 inches you will need one.
  • Railing styles: Railing styles vary and can enhance the architectural detail of a deck and home. If your deck will be in plain view, you may want to consider a railing that best fits the look of your home. For instance, a Colonial style railing may look better than a Modern style railing on an older built home.
  • Benches and planters: Benches and planters can not be near railings. A child may have the inclination to climb or stand on the bench or planter be higher than the intended top height of the railing.
  • Access Ramps: The maximum rise on a ramp should not exceed 1 inch for every foot of ramp. This means if you have to go up 24 inches, the ramp will have to be 24 feet long.
  • Chairs and tables: Sitting areas are best away from doors and high foot traffic areas.

Things to Consider with Deck Staircases

  • Staircase length: Approximately every foot in elevation will take 1.5 feet in length of staircase. A staircase for a deck 8 foot in height will take up approximately 12 feet in horizontal distance out from the deck. A concrete landing will add a few feet more.
  • Long staircases: Long staircase are best divided into 2 shorter staircases with a midlevel platform. See examples below.
  • Minimum staircase width: The minimum width of a staircase is 3 feet 6 inches.
  • Landings: A solid staircase landing such as concrete, pavers or asphalt is necessary to prevent stepping onto an uneven surface, such as grass or gravel.
  • Staircases area: Try not to have seating near a staircase. People tend to feel uncomfortable sitting in close proximity to stairs.
  • Wide staircases: Try to avoid wide staircases unless it's only for a few steps high. Many building departments restrict wide staircases unless a handrail is installed every 5 feet apart. The logic being is that if someone were to accidentally stumble they would be able to reach out and grab a handrail to maintain their balance.
  • Stairs near doors: Stairs that lead to a house door should have 4 feet of deck or more in front of the door. This is necessary to avoid awkwardness when opening or closing the door.
  • Gates: If you have a pool you will need a self-closing gate. This is to prevent a small child or animal from accidentally gaining access to the pool.

Popular Staircase Configurations

The deck substructure is beyond the scope of this article. However, there are many deck magazines and books that have been specifically written for deck framing and construction.

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