considering a new deck

Considering a new deck? Peter Jeswald's handy volume offers loads of design and material ideas

With springtime here, it's time to head outside to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air. And what better place to do that than on a deck overlooking the yard? If you have a deck you love, great. But if your deck is need of a makeover or if you're considering building a new one, I can't think of a better place to start than Deck Ideas That Work, by Peter Jeswald (Taunton Press). Read on for tips from the book about deck design, materials, lighting and more.

Extra living room. Decks are great options for creating much-needed living space for older, smaller homes. With an overhead structure and some furniture, a deck greatly extends the home's living space.

And don't stop there. Decks can be great places to enjoy family movie night; outdoor dining, cooking and entertaining; a soak in a hot tub; or a special retreat for some quiet outdoor time. It all starts with making a wish list that defines your goals.


Choosing materials. Are you the type of person who has to have a natural decking material? If so, your options go beyond pressure-treated lumber or cedar. Ipe, cumara, garapa, cambara and bamboo are among the many harvested woods that you can choose from.

Try ipe, a sustainable product, if you like the darker, richer look of mahogany. Or use bamboo if you're looking for something that's lighter and also known for its sustainability.

Do you have concerns about maintaining the deck over the long term, but want the look and feel of wood? If so, maybe a synthetic material like a wood-plastic composite (WPC) is right for you.

When selecting a decking material, Jeswald suggests considering:

  • accoya (radiata pine) for its resistance to rot and insects as well as sustainability

  • pressure-treated woods for their long life and low cost

  • cedar (white and red), a native material

  • WPC for its woodlike appearance and low maintenance

  • PVC for its resistance to weather, insects, splintering and fading

  • coated WPC for combining the best features of WPC and PVC

    And did you know that there's also aluminum, vinyl and fiberglass decking? These aren't all that common, but they may be just the solution you're looking for.

    Take field trips to look at decks made of the materials you're considering. And talk to a local decking pro to get some advice on what's available in your market, plus each material's cost and maintenance.


    Working with a patio. Sometimes we think we should have either a deck or a patio, but not both. Not so, says Jeswald. A deck and patio can work very well together, especially on a sloping site, or when you want to make a graceful transition between inside and outside with a few feet of height between the two. In this example, a small deck area with a broad flight of steps to the patio allows for that gradual transition.


    Take advantage of a view. Decks don't have to be large. Sometimes a deck for one person to sit and take in a view is the best approach. A deck area as a retreat for just one could be that quiet space that keeps you outdoors all the more.

    If you have a special view that you want to maintain, consider using cable rails or chain link fencing to create a visually unobtrusive rail that meets building code requirements. Cable rails can be costly, but a simple wood rail with vinyl-coated chain link is inexpensive and attractive.


    Light it up. Backlighting your deck's stair risers is an unusual way to put exterior safety lighting where it's needed. Simple cutouts in the risers in any pattern that suits you can yield a delightful decorative element while keeping you out of the dark.

    Don't make lighting the deck an afterthought. Effective lighting will increase the enjoyment you'll get from the deck. And lighting your deck will keep the view to the yard all the more enjoyable by eliminating the "black mirror" effect on windows when it's dark outside and all lit up inside.

    When thinking about lighting your deck, the book suggests considering:

  • ambient light created by the bounce of light off exterior walls and surfaces

  • shadowing to highlight interesting shapes, by shining the light on the object so its shadow is cast on a nearby surface

  • silhouetting an object by placing light behind it

  • moonlighting by casting light down from a high spot in a tree

  • vignetting by using several lights to illuminate a spot or object

  • task lighting with focused lights on a particular area, like an outdoor kitchen

  • safety lighting, such as light on the stairs from deck to lawn

    Finishing touches. Furniture, plants and other outdoor accessories bring the best of modern life outdoors. Organize plants in a container garden that adds color and structure to the deck and can be used to flank doorways and stairs.

    Extend the use of your deck throughout the year with a chiminea, freestanding fireplace, fire pit or outdoor heaters powered by electricity or gas. Outdoor heaters can range from small, inexpensive tabletop units to larger, more costly freestanding gas units on wheels, allowing you to move them to where the heat is needed most.