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Decking Planning and Local Building Codes

Building a deck requires careful planning. Materials, structural elements, and aesthetics should be considered to create a harmonious structure that complements the style and design of your home. Done well, a deck is an organic extension to the home and its surroundings.

Choose materials that pair well with the exterior design of the house to enhance the overall look and add curb appeal. Consider the house, the deck, and the yard as parts of a whole, attractive from every angle, inside and out. Here are a few tips to help get your design ideas flowing.

A realistic budget

For most of us, budget is the first consideration before any project can begin. In addition to calculating the cost of the necessary materials, figure in the cost of any tools you’ll need, accessories you’ll want, and preparation of the land under and around the deck area. A realistic budget is a powerful tool when figuring the size and functional areas of the deck. If your current budget doesn’t fit your dream deck, you may find it useful to break the task into phases. Planning ahead for future phases allows for expansion and the addition of functional features to be budgeted in later.

Plan against your whole property, not just the deck area

Think of your deck as a three dimensional object to help visualize the finished project. A deck is far more than a bounded floor area. It will impact the visual line of the house and garden, and the space under the deck will be impacted. In the case of a raised or upper-floor deck, there will be deeper shade below and cooler temperatures inside. Will that space be wasted, or can it be maximized?

Sense of proportion

Proportion is important. Some of the most interesting decks are tiered, leading from a raised area down to a ground-level lawn, pool area, or garden. Building a deck on a grand scale is desirable if you have a large home with plenty of land, but will inappropriately dominate a smaller area and home. A small deck on a large house looks equally out of place. For the most pleasing aesthetics, build a deck that serves your needs and is proportionate to your house and grounds.

Practical shape

Most deck construction falls into familiar geometric shapes – rectangles, squares, circles, and hexagons. Odd or asymmetrical shapes are difficult and expensive to build and can be jarring to the eye.

Consistent style

Building materials should fit the style of the house. Adding a sleek Plexiglas and steel railing to a rustic fieldstone house would look strange. Choose materials that complement the color, style, and construction of the house for an organic feel.

Integration with the garden and yard

To lower constructions cost and extend the visual area of a ground-level deck, incorporate planting areas into the design.


Structural stability of the ground where the deck will be anchored is crucial. Consult a professional if there is any question as to ground stability.

Purposes in mind

Design your deck with purpose in mind. Will you build in seating or add furniture? Will you entertain, or will this be a private family retreat? Is an area large enough to accommodate a table and chairs necessary? A grill? A hot tub? An herb garden?


Accessorize accordingly. You may wish to address a hot or rainy climate with an awning, or screen your deck in an area where mosquitoes make outdoor life miserable…or leave room for planting bug-repellant plants around the deck perimeter.

Get permits, make sure your deck plan is to code

Before putting shovel to dirt for the first step in the deck-building process or any homeowner project, check with city and county building departments and obtain the proper permits. The county will come out and mark underground pipes and lines on request to avoid damaging sewer and water lines and other buried utilities. You may also need to acquire advance permission from your homeowner’s association and comply with applicable deed restrictions.