Design a Deck

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Designing a Deck: Part 6

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» Select Your Decking

The top of the deck—the decking—will be the most visible part of it and will take the most abuse, thanks to foot traffic and weather. If you have any extra money in your budget, spend it on better-quality decking.

Decide which way you want your decking boards to run. If you go with more expensive decking, minimize waste by using long boards that are cut close to their standard lengths. Your lumber dealer can provide you with information about standard lengths for different decking materials.

» Tip from the Pros

In general, build with longer lengths of wood; the fewer board-ends, the better. Though it's possible to create interesting patterns with short boards that join at different angles, butting boards together over a joist traps water, invites decay and encourages splitting.

Most lumberyards and home centers offer a limited range of decking material. You'll have to do some investigative work yourself if you want to examine all the options. But to get started, here's a rundown of some of your choices.

» Pressure-treated Pine and Fir

Pressure-treated wood is great for framing a deck, but not for decking it. Even the clearest, straightest boards can crack, warp and split with exposure to the elements. A protective finish, applied at least once a year, will slow down but not prevent this weathering process. Bottom line: your least expensive, most unstable choice.

» Redwood and Cedar

Both woods are naturally resistant to decay and far more stable than pressure-treated lumber; they're much less prone to warping and splitting. Bottom line: Top-notch natural decking material. Place your order well ahead of time because these woods are not always available.

» Exotic Wood

A number of small companies import tropical hardwoods to be sold as premium decking material. Heavier and much harder than cedar and redwood, these exotics require that you predrill pilot holes for screws. Bottom line: The most expensive wood deck you can buy, but you'll probably never have to replace it.

» Synthetic Decking

There are two types: composite lumber, made by combining wood fiber or sawdust with plastic, and all-plastic products. It's worth calling or e-mailing for product information because most manufacturers are expanding their product lines to include railings, balusters and other elements. Bottom line: If you don't need a traditional wood deck, this is the way to go. Relatively low maintenance, and composite lumber is an environment-friendly choice: it's made from wood waste and recycled plastic.

» Detail the Framing

Now it's time to work out the framing details. In your final plan and elevation views, show the spacing of posts, beams and joists, and note their sizes. If you're new to deck construction, take your design drawings to a lumberyard or to a professional builder, and let the pros work out the structural details. A lumber dealer shouldn't charge you for this service, but a contractor probably will. Even if you're comfortable working out the framing details yourself, it's smart to have your local building inspector go over them. The project will likely require a building permit, and this way you'll be sure your deck's structure meets your town's minimum code requirements ... Next

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