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Building decks by Leon A. Frechette

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Builder's Guide to Decks, a comprehensive deck-building book by construction professional Leon A. Frechette, that describes how to lay out a deck project, the correct sequence of work, and construction techniques. Expert, hard-to-find advice on maintaining, repairing, and treating decks is included as well as other deck related subjects.

The 14" SharkSaw 10-2214 Composite Saw by Shark Corp, designed to cut composite materials commonly used in the construction of outdoor decking, railings, and staircases. This saw is perfect for cutting fascia, pickets, posts, and notches for precise placement.

The BoWrench deck tool by Cepco Tool Company, an easy and quick solution to pulling any style decking board into place (as well as plywood and T&G paneling). This one-man, hands-free, self-locking tool can push or pull warped boards in place. No decking job site should be without one.

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One of the luxuries of shopping for a new home is searching out just the right floor plan, a plan that will fit your own personal needs as well as the needs of your family. Your attention will probably be focused on how large the kitchen should be, how many bedrooms there are, if there is a master bathroom, and so on. But I'm curious. Just how much of your energy will be directed toward a deck and the landscaping that surrounds the deck?

Because decks are not the "platforms" of yesterday, many families have expanded their living space outdoors. This includes the installation of pools and/or hot tubs into the deck and gazebos, which often create a corner entertainment or eating area for the family gathering. Protection of the environment is also of great concern today, and there are many alternative products on the market, such as those made out of recycled materials, that could make your deck virtually maintenance-free.

If you are having a new home built, the builder can be a great help in constructing that dream deck. However, if you want to take the challenge and build your own deck, then help is here!

California Redwood Association

Of the commonly used materials for building decks—redwood, cedar, and pressure-treated wood including alternative materials—I find redwood to be the ultimate wood of choice for decking boards, railing systems, outdoor furniture, and other exterior uses. No one knows that better than the California Redwood Association. The Association offers free downloadable .pdf files to help you design and complete your dream deck, fence, and home siding project as well as accessory items such as deck furniture, a garden tool shed, gazebo, sandbox, picnic table, spa surround, etc.

To download literature from the California Redwood Association, visit their website at www.calredwood.org.

Careful Planning Required

As you design your deck, you should take into account how you plan to use it. It is a whole lot easier to incorporate your ideas into the deck's design before construction than to realize after the deck has been completed that it really doesn't meet your needs. Some important things to consider include:

  • Will the deck be used for entertaining?
  • Are any special designs planned for the guardrail?
  • Will there be an area for eating?
  • Have you considered a spa of some sort?
  • How about a ramp?
  • Have you thought about an overhead structure?
  • Would planter boxes be an attractive addition?
  • Do you have trees in the area where the deck will be built?
  • Have you considered lights for evening entertaining?
  • Would built-in benches meet your needs?
  • Are you restricted on placement and/or height of the deck?

A deck should reflect your own personality, help satisfy your needs and wants, and most importantly, not detract from the aesthetics or resale value of the home. Rather, it should add to that value when the time to sell comes. Close attention needs to be paid to attractively incorporate the deck into its environment.


Gazebos can add a touch of class to any deck, but they are not the easiest structure to build. I recommend that you hire an architect to help with your own design or purchase plans that have been designed for use with a deck. Be sure that the plans include the instructions; construction details; and footer, framing, decking, and handrail plans. Of course a better choice would be to purchase a kit—just think how easy a gazebo would be to build with all components prebuilt?


Attractive and appropriate landscaping should not be overlooked as you plan your deck and once your deck has been completed. Not only will landscaping enhance the deck and provide you with a great sense of accomplishment, but you and your friends and relatives will be treated to an environment worth viewing from your deck.

As I mentioned before, a gazebo can enhance a deck, but it doesn't necessarily have to be built on top of or connected to the deck. If you have the room, how about setting a gazebo out and away from your deck to create a special place—a private little getaway!

Have you considered installing a pond and/or waterfall(s) to really capture that outdoor feeling? If you have trees, don't be afraid to build the deck around them. You can always build a bench around at least one of the trees. Nothing looks more comfortable than a bench around a big old maple tree. Of course, it can be quite romantic on a starry summer evening. If you do decide to incorporate a tree or two, be sure to allow enough room between the tree and the main framework. Placing two rows of 2" x 6" decking boards in an octagon shape around the tree will allow you to remove a row as the tree matures.

Lighting & Other Electrical Concerns

Your deck looks so grand during the day—but is it useful after nightfall? Have you thought about lighting? Lighting can play a major role in the performance of the deck and how it can be used at night. Lighting is not only functional but also brings out the beauty of the deck. Also, any deck accessories (toys) you choose to use most likely will require electricity. Some of these could include:

  • Radio or stereo equipment
  • "Bug zapper"
  • Hot tub
  • Lighting (spot or floodlights)
  • Rotisserie for the barbecue
  • Timer

Some of these items may be hard-wired (direct) or require receptacles, so plan to run 120 volt, 240 volt, or both. Include enough receptacles to cover these items without the use of an extension cord. Also include a switch to activate some of the receptacles, e.g., for the bug zapper. Incorporate appropriate wiring and receptacles during the design stage so wires can be concealed in the framing with conduits (PVC or metal) or buried using UF (underground fused) cable at least 1' underground. Be sure to check the local electrical codes concerning electrical installation.

Receptacles need to be placed in outlet boxes approved for outdoor use, i.e., watertight. The outlet box covers need gaskets and the receptacles themselves—ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs), of course—should have a spring-loaded cover with a gasket or a weatherproof outlet cover. I am a firm believer that an electrician should be hired for this part of the job. Besides, your state may require a licensed electrician.

Low-Voltage Lighting

Low-voltage outdoor lighting can enhance the natural beauty of the home, driveway, sidewalks, gardens, and finished deck. In fact, this is something you can do on your own. To get started, explore the website of Intermatic, Inc. (www.intermatic.com), a leading supplier of low-voltage lighting products.

A low-voltage outdoor lighting system can have a dramatic impact on a home's appearance. According to Intermatic Malibu's Marketing Manager, setting the proper "lightscaping mood" isn't as difficult as one might think. The recommendation is to select one or two focal points to highlight, such as a tree, pathway, flower bed, etc. Then he suggests using a variety of lighting techniques, such as downlighting, uplighting, and cross lighting, to achieve special effects. Here are some other general recommendations:

  • Try to conceal the light source, unless the lights themselves are to be a focal point.
  • Don't overlight. A little light goes a long way.
  • Strive for a natural look. Lighting should imitate moonlight or filtered light without glare.
  • Consider illuminating steps, paths, and changes in the sidewalk level, or any potential obstacles that may cause injury.
  • Situate lights so they don't shine into a neighbor's window or cause unpleasant glare when viewed from neighboring homes and yards.
  • Keep color in mind. Colored lenses are available for most floodlights. In addition, some companies now offer silicone-colored bulb sleeves to change the color of tier lights, deck lights, walkway lights, and entrance lights.
  • Consider the ease of servicing the lights. Make sure they are easy to reach so that changing lamps and cleaning lenses is as simple as possible.

It's a good idea to incorporate lights into the deck's design before actual construction begins. Many styles of deck lights are available. Some lights can be mounted either horizontally or vertically and are great for under steps, benches and for railings. Choose the correct light to give unique lighting effects that you will enjoy.

Some of the lighting effects to consider incorporating include:

  • Path Lighting. Install along walkways or other places where careful footing is required. Such lighting makes the walkway both safe and eye-pleasing at the same time.
  • Spotlighting. A sequence of spotlights can create an intriguing mosaic of colors and textures. After dark, unusual textures on garden walls can create attractive focal points.
  • Uplighting. Uplighting is great for interesting objects such as statues, fountains, or tree foliage canopies. Be sure to direct any glare away from the view. Concealing fixtures behind shrubbery affords the most natural appearance.
  • Crosslighting. In this type of application, the unusual interaction of beams of light can yield as much visual artistry as the feature being illuminated. Again, direct any glare away from the viewer and conceal fixtures behind shrubbery for the most natural look.
  • Highlighting. Providing imaginative illumination on a broad surface behind a landscaping feature creates a showplace for that feature. The larger illuminated area also increases safety and security.
  • Floodlighting. Floodlights are versatile for illuminating a wide range of landscaping features. Garden ponds, gazebos, statues, and prized plant specimens all become more visually impressive when properly lit with low-voltage lighting products.

When creating a lighting plan, take a walk both before and after dark around the yard. Observe the different lighting effects created by the sun and the moon on the area where the deck will be built and the surrounding landscaping. Remember to use the three basic lighting techniques when recreating these effects:

  • Choose a focal point. Look for the main features around the deck, home, and landscaping. Select the main element(s) around which to design the lighting plan. Choose no more than one or two focal points. A good focal point may be a large tree, a main entrance, a front walk, or a landscaped island.
  • Plan for safety and security. Look for dark spots in corners and behind large bushes. Look for potentially hazardous steps and curbs. Plan to light these areas for both safety and security. Consider adding infrared motion detectors and photo control accessories to automatically turn lights on to scare off would-be intruders.
  • Combine lighting techniques. For maximum interest and appeal, blend different lighting techniques into one plan. For example, backlight a row of bushes along a wall, or uplight a nearby small tree while downlighting the surrounding low ground cover.

If you have space and the opportunity to install a pool or if you have an existing one, you will find that if you incorporate a deck around it, it will seem as though you have a small pond out in the backyard. By connecting two decks with a third, it will appear as though the surrounding decks are floating.

No matter what direction your deck plans take you in, be sure to consult with your local building department to ensure that the deck will meet all applicable codes in force in your area. Also, make sure that deck is truly your "dream deck" and will meet both your vision and your lifestyle.

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Copyright © 1996, 1998, & 2006 LAF/C.R.S., Inc. All rights reserved.
Portions of the information contained in this article were gleaned
from Builder's Guide to Decks (McGraw-Hill, 1996).

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