These popular outdoor living spaces offer a wide variety of choices for design and materials.

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Q: I’m looking to install a deck in the coming months. What do I need to know beforehand?

A: Over my 30-some-odd-year career, I’ve had the opportunity to build a lot of decks, from extremely custom to quite simple. Decks can include railings, stairs, covers, trellises, lighting, privacy and different levels. They can be square or radius, with many different uses. They provide a footprint of expanded living space and entry access, and are used for cooking, entertaining, lounging and experiencing the outdoors at home.

It’s no wonder that these outdoor spaces offer such a wide variety of choices for design and materials; so much so, in fact, that it can be difficult to know what might be best for your needs or wants.

Here are some of the main things to consider when deciding what type of deck space might work best for you.

Identify where the deck is going to be and why. For instance, is it going to be used for barbecuing, where you will need immediate access to the kitchen, or do you want to expand space off the bedroom to create an area for downtime? Is it down off the first floor, or up off the yard tying into a second story? Are you interested in having it covered to extend the season, or perhaps carry a hot tub where extra engineering and privacy might be important?

The key here is thinking it through so when it’s time to call a deck builder, you’ll be able to communicate clearly what kind of usage you want, and where it’s going to be built. Sometimes, it might be necessary to call a designer or architect to help you through that process.

When it comes to building a deck off the second floor as opposed to the first floor, there are a few more things to consider.

Because the deck is high, the understructure can typically be seen, so it should be built to be visually pleasing. There is often usable exterior space below, too, so consider how this view will look and feel and if you want to keep things dry underneath. If so, maybe a waterproof design is best.

Another thing to consider when building a second-story deck is if access to the yard is desired. If so, the footprint of a stair structure does have an impact on the yard space. Stairs should be located where access to the yard from above is easy, but still out of the way from traffic flow in the yard below. Plus, the structure should be visually pleasing and not feel like a barrier.

Once usage, location and access are identified, it’s time to think about your deck’s design. Design has three components: architecture, materials and engineering. All three work together to result in a solidly built deck that has the desired final look and feel.

Maybe an unobstructed view is important, so a glass railing may be best, which affects architecture and materials. A hot tub is heavy and affects structural engineering and space design. Privacy affects architecture, materials and maybe engineering by way of tie-in posts for structural strength, or with trellises additions or lattice work.

Also in the mix to consider is maintenance over time. For instance, wood will require more maintenance than composite materials. In considering materials, there are many types and choices within types, so do your due diligence.

After all of that, I have two final recommendations: 1) Go through the process of getting a permit, and 2) stop by a lumber company that has a variety of material samples and knowledgeable individuals to help you learn.


Daniel Westbrook is the founder and owner of Westbrook Restorations and a member of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties, and HomeWork is the group’s weekly column. If you have a home improvement, remodeling or residential homebuilding question you’d like answered by one of the MBA’s more than 2,800 members, write to