Deck in the Cards

So we've been working on some design stuff. The idea is, we want to build our deck off the back of the house soon. This is primarily so we can use the back door again, protecting our neighbors from the sight of us coming out the side door in our pajamas to let the dogs out in the morning. It would also be nice to be able to sit a bit up and look out over the garden. And have dinner in the garden that doesn't involve sort of crouching in the shrubbery with a plate of food.

Anyway, the deck. We went back and forth last weekend over some design ideas, but keep coming back to this basic simple shape. Not only is it easy to build, structurally, but it doesn't get too complicated to stand up to years and years of changing uses.


(Yes, we do plan to hold ballets on our upper step.)

The idea is to put in one long upper step, three feet wide. This will run from under the current back door along the back of the house, which enables us to peek in the bathroom window (not a required feature) but also means that when we do finally move all the rooms around inside the dining room doors will open up onto the deck without any reconfiguration outside. Bonus.

(We do plan to have railings, but I didn't feel like drawing them in this rendering. Also I am still working out how I want to deal with the planned grape arbor overhead.)

The deck is sunk down because our back door is more than four feet above the ground level. We don't want to be that high up; when we had the old stair there it was kind of like surveying the dominion from that far up. So we have a couple of steps (which also serve as informal seating) to a lower platform. As you can see we still have plenty of space out there for a table and chairs.

For materials we'd like to use a wood/plastic composite made of recycled materials. I know this stuff tends to get really hot in the sun, but we figure that will be a plus on cool nights, and if we choose a light colour as we plan, it shouldn't be too much of a problem, because it generally doesn't get THAT hot here. I'm going to do material research in a couple of weeks, to see what's available locally and how it fits with the look of the house.

Under the deck we'll have an access panel to get to the irrigation manifold and for the water tank. Which we need to buy and hook up. So the work order goes like this: 1) finish rear irrigation trenching, 2) buy and install water tank, 3) dig foundation piers for deck (we can't get enough of the foundations), 4) build deck.

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posted by ayse on 06/01/07


Regarding the wood/plastic composite, make sure you really do your research and see something built out of the exact material you plan to use. I know a couple that used some to build their deck and not only does the esthetic leave much to be desired (fake "random" wood grain imprints) but the railings sag and the whole thing had to be completely over built--supports under every single inch of railing (that STILL sag), ridiculous amounts of support under the actual deck. It ended up costing them twice as much as it would have to make it out of wood, but looks like they got the components out of a series of McDonald's Happy Meals. Just my two cents...

Yeah, that horid fake wood imprint is Not Acceptable. I hate things that pretend to be something that they are not. Finding a plastic/wood composite without that is my first challenge.

One of the problems I see with the plastic/wood composites is that people use them as if they are wood, including the span calculations and spacing. Because they don't have the same fibrous structure, they need shorter spans and a lot more support. And because they are partly plastic, they will not shrink like wood, either, which means you have to understand where in standard construction there are allowances for the wood shrinking.

We were not planning to use the stuff for railings; just for decking. There are a lot of materials in this range, and they have wildly different quality levels (not correlated with price). So yes, a lot of research is in order.

Is that done in Sketch Up?

Nice drawing.

(I'm guessing the weird diag on the stairs is a hatch headache?)

fwiw, we have a similar deck, and if I could I would change it to be one level. The top level is a little deeper than yours (maybe five feet rather than three - definitely no room for ballet) and the bottom level doesn't go out as far - it looks like it would add up to the same proportions. When friends come over with toddlers we have to be on high alert at all times with all those steps. It also seems to me that it would be easier to engineer shade (quite necessary in E Oakland) if everything was on the same level. I think the bi-level deck looks fancier, but I feel like we lose space with it.

Jenn, yes, it was done in Sketchup, which is why the texture is all weird on the stairs. We're planning to have a totally normal board arrangement there. Fun program, but not a terrific renderer.

Lala, it's not so much about fancy-ness as it is about not feeling like we're so high above the yard that we're not really in it. Not to mention the somewhat awkward aspect of ending up looking into our neighbors' gardens, because the floor of our deck would be near the top of the privacy fence if it were on a level with the floor of the house. As it is we have several windows (in our kitchen, living room, and bedroom) that look directly into one neighbor's windows.

As for toddlers, in this house stairs are the least of our worries. :)

The second-story deck in my new house is Trex-floored, which I think is a bonus as far as maintenance goes, but I haven't spent a summer with it yet to know whether I really like it.

You will definitely be happier with a finished backyard space. I never spent any time in the back of my last place until I had a patio poured. Then it became my second living/dining room.

Just my two cents: We had a cedar deck for 15 years...the maintenance and rotting were a pain. We replaced with Trex six years ago, Weatherwood color - it starts out light brown and fades to a grey color. No problem with heat, spacing, etc. as stated above. But you must follow directions for installing it re: underframe with closer spacing on the joists, consistant spacing on decking boards, etc. Our deck gets hot sun from sunrise until 3 pm each afternoon for 6 months of the year. We get some fallout from trees, so a light, very light power washing in the spring keeps the surface from getting slick. It may cost more than cedar, but the maintenance and longevity will more than pay for itself. I agree that the plastic/wood products with fake grain look tacky. Ours does not have fake grain look. Also, it is comfortable to walk on barefoot.

My suggestion for making usable deck space larger is to have the small upper level all the way across with a railing to a side staircase. That way you pick up several extra square feet of lower deck space, there by expanding your usable space below. If you need extra casual benches, add them around the perimeter as a quasi bench/railing. That way half of the bench can hang out over the outside edge of the decking into spare air.

That's good news about the barefoot qualities of Trex, because so far that's the product in the lead for us. I like the grey, and I like that it doesn't pretend to be wood.

And we're very much looking forward to having the finished space; we use the back yard now, but it's uncomfortable.

(Sorry to take so long approving comments this week; I've been out digging.)

Note: We're getting pummeled with spam comments, so I've turned off the ability to use any HTML or include any links for the time being. Email with any issues.

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