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Posted on Fri, Mar 16, 2012 : 9 a.m.

Consider how you'll use it when designing your dream deck

By Keith A. Paul

Hi Keith,
e have been saving for our dream deck. We are ready to get started so we can enjoy it this spring. Can you give us some advice on how to design it?
—Robert G, Canton

Before you start, as with most projects, contact your local building department to check on permits needed. If you are contracting a company, have them apply for the permit on the work they are completing. If you have a homeowner's association, verify the regulations and restrictions before you draw out any plans.

When developing your plans for your deck, take into consideration the main times you will be on the deck. What is your main usage for it? Will it be a kitchen, a retreat, a hideaway, used for star gazing or soaking up sun pool-side? The location and design will be drawn to make sure you get the most out of your deck.

Not all decks have to be directly attached to the home. You may want to consider a free-standing deck that can be put anywhere in your yard. These are nice if you do not have a door that you could access the deck directly from.

You may want to build it in the middle of your garden area to enjoy the hard work you put into your flowers. Free-standing decks can become a private get away from the commotion inside the house.

After you figure out what you can have and where you want it, it's time to decide what kind of material you would like to build it with. There are many types of building materials you can select, from your standard wooden decks to composite materials. Railings can be made from the same materials or metal rails.

1. Consider the various materials.

a. Composite - stands up to extreme weather and is very low maintenance, though the upfront costs are higher.

b. Wood - treated pine or cedar has to be stained every couple of years to keep its beauty.

c. Metal railing

2. Measure your deck and place stakes and strings in the approximate area to get a visual sense.

3. Then call Miss Digg to come out and check your placement to make sure that you will not be placing posts near any utility lines. Usually give them three days before you are ready to dig your posts.

4. Consider planning your deck in two- or four-foot increments to save you from wasted material, because they come in standard lengths.

5. Decide on a patterns. Laying the decking in a diagonal pattern vs. a straight pattern will also use more material, both in the support system and the decking.

6. Don't forget lighting. Lights can add a beautiful touch if done right. Low-voltage lighting to light stairs or posts can make a huge difference for safety, especially if your deck is larger. Small landscape lights can be just as effective.

Now that you know everything you want to have for your new deck, it is time to get a layout. If you are having it done by a company that does decks, make sure they can give you a layout of what your new deck will look like.

If you are building it yourself, you are in luck, because several of your big box stores (Lowe's, Ace, etc.) offer free deck designs, and, as a bonus, they will print out a detailed material list for you so you won’t forget anything. Enjoy your new deck this year!

Paul is a State of Michigan Licensed Builder. Paul serves as President and founding member of Nationally franchised HandyPro Handyman Service, servicing Washtenaw, Wayne and Oakland Counties. Email questions or comments to