Adding A Deck To Your Home

One of the many ways that homeowners add enjoyment to their life and value to their property is by adding a deck. Decks are not only aesthetically pleasing, they are also practical by providing more living space.

Barbequing, relaxing, and entertaining outdoors are some of the reasons why people add a deck. You may want to design and build a deck yourself, or have a contractor do it for you. In either case, there are several things to consider:

  • How large a deck do you need?
  • On average, how many people will be on the deck at one time?
  • Do you want your deck at ground level, elevated or split-level?
  • Are you restricted on the placement and/or height of the deck?
  • Do you want your deck in the shade, sunlight, or both?
  • Are you going to install a hot tub or gazebo on your deck?
  • Will your deck have railings?
  • Will it have stairs or a ramp to accommodate a wheelchair?
  • Do you want lights on the deck?
  • Do you want built-in benches and/or planter boxes?
  • Do you want built-in benches and/or planter boxes?

If you want the challenge and experience of designing and building a deck yourself, start by getting some books on the subject. Your local library or bookstore may have copies. There is a lot of information about decks on the Internet. Visit a lumber/home improvement store and speak with the deck expert about your project. Deck design software is also available.

You don't have to be an architect to do a basic drawing of the type of deck you want. You can use graph paper to create a scaled version, and smaller pieces to determine the amount of deck space required for outdoor furniture, the barbeque, etc. The cost of a pad of graph paper will save you the expense of enlarging your deck later!

You should find out if there are any deck building codes by contacting the engineering department of your city or town hall. You may need to change your deck design to meet code, and have your deck examined by an inspector. With your edited and final plan, determine the tools and materials required to build your deck. Tools usually needed include:

  • Stakes and twine (for layout)
  • Carpenter's square and level
  • Electric drill and bits
  • Shovel
  • Hammer
  • Line level
  • Hand tamper
  • Chalk line
  • Hand or circular saw

Building materials include lumber, hot-dipped galvanized or stainless steel fasteners, ready-mix cement, and gravel. Since the 1970's, the wood used in decks has been "pressure-treated" (also known as CCA-treated wood). CCA is a preservative containing chromium, copper, and arsenic. Repeated exposure to arsenic, which can be inhaled, eaten or absorbed through the skin, increases the risk of cancer, liver and neurological damage, heart conditions, and paralysis. Children are the most vulnerable due to their smaller body mass.

Health Canada has been working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to re-assess CCA-treated wood. While the EPA has banned U.S. retailers from selling the wood, to date, no such ban exists in Canada. Health Canada recommends that if you are going to use CCA-treated wood for your deck, wear protective equipment (e.g., gloves, a long-sleeved shirt, a dust mask, and eye protection) when sawing, sanding, and handling it, and wash your skin after coming into contact with the wood. Sawdust and chips should not be burned or used in landscaping. More information is available on the website, http://www.ccasafetyinfo.ca.

Alternatives to CCA-treated wood include alkaline copper quaternary (ACQ)-treated wood, naturally decay-resistant woods such as cedar and redwood, and composite, wood-like alternatives, which are made from recycled grocery bags, milk jugs, etc. Non-pressure-treated wood can also be used for your deck, but should be covered with a sealer annually or bi-annually, depending on the weather and amount of wear.

If you would prefer to have a contractor design and/or build a deck for you, the best place to start is your local Yellow Pages under "Sundecks". Have a representative of two or more contractors come to your home to discuss your deck idea, and to prepare a quote for you. If you do not want CCA-treated wood used, be sure to tell the rep. By the way, one of the material choices offered by contractors is vinyl-covered decking, which has warranties up to 15 years.

Ask each contractor for references, and contact some of them to make an appointment to inspect their decks. Doing so will give you a good idea of the quality of the contractors' work and materials used. Check with the Better Business Bureau and the business affairs offices of your municipal and provincial government to determine if there have been any complaints filed against the contractors. Once you are confident of their reputation and work, review their quotes and select one to build your deck.

Adding a deck to your home should be an enjoyable experience and an investment that enhances the value of your property as well as the quality of your family life. With proper planning, research, and effort, your deck will give you and your family many years of pleasure.

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