Whether you’re looking to install a simple grade-level platform or multi-tiered structure, decks are great for adding extra outdoor living space to your home. But, if you’re planning a new deck (or improvements for an existing one), there are a few important tips to remember.

Fine Gardening writer, Charles Miller, lists 7 guidelines for designing the perfect deck:

1. Consider what you’re going to be using it for.

The first thing to think about when you’re designing a deck is what you’re going to use it for so that you can size the space accordingly. Will your deck function as a kitchen, an outdoor living room, an outdoor dining room, or some combination of those options?

If you’re lucky enough to be able to build a deck with multiple levels, you can place individual functions on each level.

2. Leave some room to walk around.

While you’re planning the size of your deck, its uses, and the furniture you’ll put on it, remember also to think about how guests will walk across the deck. They should have a clear path back to the house or possibly into the yard without having to cross between tables and chairs.

3. Think about how you are going to deal with the sun.

When designing a deck, think about how you’re going to incorporate some shade/shelter into the design. Miller offers a few options:

  • A retractable awning shelters the outdoor cooking area and protects the cook from blazing sun or summer showers.
  • By casting nice shadows on the deck, a trellis protects you from the sun, and it’s also a pleasant structure to look at.
  • If your deck is attached to the house, you can add a shed roof, which not only gets you out of the sun but also gives you a sense of shelter.
  • Last, a big umbrella is a great thing on a small deck. An umbrella gives a deck a sense of place. It immediately makes the deck feel festive and lets you know that it’s time to sit down and have some fun.

It’s important to remember that putting a roof over a portion of your deck is not the same as turning your deck into a porch. Unlike a porch, a deck has some areas that may be covered, but others that are open to the sun. The idea is to give yourself the option of being in the sun (or the rain, for that matter) or getting out of it.

4. Block the breeze, not the view.

Depending on the conditions where you build your deck and the general climate, you might want to block the wind, or you might want to gather it to create a pleasant breeze.

“Prevailing breezes can be funneled toward an outdoor space by the configuration of fences,” says Miller. “So if you want to take advantage of a breeze, build a funnel. On the other hand, if you have a great view but there’s a prevailing wind in your face that makes it uncomfortable to be on the deck, consider a glass railing. The wind will hit that and bounce over the top.”

5. Educate yourself on necessary building codes.

Decks are subject to building codes just like any construction project. If you want to avoid headaches later, educate yourself on the codes that apply in your area before you design your deck.

6. Railings, railings, railings.

Railings are essential, even on a low deck. It’s not just the safety factor, though. Railings are a great place for conversations and for separating spaces on your deck.

7. Light it up.

There’s just something about a deck with good lighting. You can illuminate the pathways to and from the deck, the stairs, and the barbecue, if you have one. Consider putting uplights behind a potted palm tree, or disperse some around the backyard. That way, as you look out from your deck, you can enjoy the view even when the day is over.

One thing for sure – designing and building a deck is not a small project. For the effort you’re going to put in and the money you’re going to spend, some serious advance thought is definitely warranted. As always, talk to your local landscape architect to make your outdoor space everything you want it to be.

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