Decked out for summer: Three easy tips for making your dream deck a reality

(BPT) – Summer means deck time for many Americans. A deck is an ideal spot for relaxation and entertaining. Imagine a cook-out with friends, snoozing in the sun on a hot day, snuggling with your sweetheart watching shooting stars, or having a backyard camp-out with the kids.

Are you dreaming of deck time this summer, but dreading the construction and maintenance required? Although decks provide hours of fun and relaxation, the thought of adding a new deck or refurbishing an existing one can loom as a chore that cuts into summer fun.

Whether you are a do-it-yourselfer or plan to hire a contractor, remember these three tips to help make your new deck a breeze.

Use free online design tools

With easy-to-use, Web-based deck design tools, you can avoid the hassle of messy pencil sketches and piles of crumpled balls of paper. The websites of home improvement stores like Lowe’s host their own deck designers, and an online search for “deck design tools” will turn up many other free options. Such tools provide a simple way to explore different deck layouts and rapidly calculate material quantities needed for construction. Some decking manufacturers offer free online viewers that let you mix colors for decking and railing components to fit your own tastes. Many also have photo galleries for inspiration.

Talk to your local building department before beginning

One of the biggest headaches a construction project can face is being shut down by the building inspector for not following building codes. This can mean a costly and time-consuming break down and rebuild of your project. Besides keeping you out of trouble, sticking to code helps ensure a safe deck.

Think you can sneak your project in without the inspector noticing? Neighbors often report building projects to authorities, and some building departments drive around looking for evidence of new construction. Simply take your proposed plans in for review. The building official will tell you about any changes needed for code compliance. Better yet, talk to them before you begin planning your project, as they can offer guidance on required railing heights, how to attach the deck to the house, and other design issues.

Choose your decking material

At one time decks were only made of wood; the only question was which species to use. Today’s homeowners have a much wider choice of materials, including engineered decking and railing systems. One material quickly growing in popularity is wood-plastic composite decking, according to the Freedonia Group market research firm.

Homeowners choose composite decking and railing for its long-term durability and ease of use, as the material does not need to be painted, sealed or stained. Composite decking comes in a range of hues, and some brands have realistic embossed grain patterns and color streaking emulating the beauty of exotic hardwoods.

For homeowners who want a smooth deck surface, hidden fastening systems provide a good alternative to surface screws. The fasteners use specialized clips that fit into grooves on the side of composite deck boards. “Hidden fasteners are becoming very popular with deck builders. Not only do they create a more beautiful and pristine surface to the deck, but using pneumatic tools can even make many of the systems faster to install than traditional screws,” says Brent Gwatney, senior vice president of Advanced Environmental Recycling Technologies, Inc.

Many composite decking brands also offer matching railing components, including post sleeves, post caps and balusters. For example, ChoiceDek introduced a new speed rail line at Lowe’s stores across the U.S. Similar to the traditional carpenter’s 2-by-4 wood railing systems, the line offers builders and homeowners a quick and simple install. The components are available in prepackaged kits making it easy to purchase the right amount of materials for each railing section.

Although a new deck requires planning and attention to detail, it can be a fulfilling project to build yourself. Whether using wood or composite decking, many homeowners already have the necessary tools. These include hammer, power screwdriver, circular saw, level, tape measure, rasp and chalk line. Decks often can be completed in a weekend or two of work, so start making plans now for how you will enjoy your new outdoor living space this summer.