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A New Deck by Next Summer

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Summer is high season for outdoor decks, what with all the warm weather, barbecue and backyard parties. But while the sunny season is perfect for enjoying a deck, it’s not the only time of year to be thinking about how to enhance your backyard.    

In fact, local deck builders say that if you’ve just missed the mark for a summer build, now is the time to start planning out your new deck or scheduling a refurbishment.  

 “This time of year, things are not as rushed,” says Omar Stoltzfus of Deck Craft Plus. “You’re not trying to get it done quickly before your summer parties. So, you have more time for the homeowner and you have more time for the contractor to focus on your deck.”

Joe Oakes, general manager for First State Building & Design, agrees.  

 “At this point, the timeframe has passed to try and fit in a backyard remodel project for  this summer,” he says, adding that people who contact a deck builder now can be scheduled for a fall or early winter build—giving you plenty of time before next year’s high season.

If you’ve been staring out at your deck all summer thinking about when in the world you are going to get the old thing refurbished, now, with summer behind us, could be the time. The first step to see if you are a candidate for re-decking is the evaluation.  

 “The structural elements under the deck have to be assessed to make sure that we’re not putting a large investment on top of a rotting understructure,” says Juan Cardona, owner of Archadeck of Chester County. “The structures under the deck are reusable even 30 years later, 20 years later, as long as they were properly built to begin with.”

In general, getting a deck redone is less costly than a complete new build but it’s not always a sure investment.

“Once a deck gets to a certain age, over 20 years, the material is just to the point to the end of its life,” says Joseph Kalnas, general manager for My Deck. “And a lot of times we are recommending to the clients to just take it down and start fresh, because you’re spending a lot of money on maintenance-free  [materials]. So, it’s good to have a foundation that is as new.”

The other issue homeowners run into with refurbishing older decks is building codes that were not in place when the original deck was built.  

 “Refurbishing an existing deck is a roll of the dice,” Oakes says. “We abide by much stronger code when it comes to building in today’s world.”

Still, along with measures taken to make the deck code compliant, if the frame of your deck is solid, refurbishing can be an economical and practical solution for many homeowners.  

Starting at the beginning of your deck design process? Well, one of the first questions you’ll want to ask yourself is what you envision using your new deck for.   

 “Is there a large party event that you want to have space for?” says Keith Fry of Amazing Decks. “Or are you just looking for a small, quaint area for the husband and wife to go sit on?” Fry says other questions to think about include whether you plan to add a pool or hot tub in the future and if you want a roof structure for shade or a grilling area for cooking.  How often you will use your deck is another consideration.  “Some customers have a deck [and] they rarely use their deck,” Cardona says. “But they want to have one. And with that thought in mind, you don’t want to make a really large investment if you rarely use it for whatever the reason.” Although sometimes not using your deck can be sign that there is something missing.  

 “Sometimes [people] say they don’t use [their deck] because there [are] too many bugs and then maybe you can talk to them about possibly screening it in for them,” Cardona says. 

Besides screens, there are many other add-ons that can make a deck more enjoyable.  

 “We do a lot of fire pits— like sunken areas which are offset of the existing deck, which define an existing space,” Kalnas says.  

Other popular additions include pergolas, an outdoor sound system, bar tops and hot tubs. But one of the best ways to make a deck more pleasant is to add custom lighting, which will not only allow you to use it in the evening but can also be used to set a mood.

 “LED lighting is really the only way to light up an outdoor space anymore,” Kalnas says. “You can mount lighting underneath the railing as we do on a lot of our projects. … You can do  accent lighting in certain places and really create an atmosphere.”

Outdoor kitchens are another feature that is often requested by homeowners.  

 “That’s another item that we’re beginning to see more and more people go for,” Cardona says. “Rather than just a standard grill, they’ll do a built-in  kitchen area. So, a built-in grill, maybe a sink on the side.”

When it comes to choosing the materials for your deck, products that offer maintenance-free living—PVC or composite decking—are all the rage.  

 “Your upfront cost is more expensive but if you consider the fact that this product will last as long as you live there, unlike wood, which needs constant maintenance and may need to be replaced again in 10 to 20 years,” Stoltzfus says, “it’s just generally the best way to go if you can.”

Cardona agrees and says about 85 percent of the work his company does is with composite materials.

 “You don’t have to stain it every couple of years and you don’t have to do a water repellent on the deck every year, which is what should be done to protect a wood deck,” he says. “So, there’s a lot of maintenance that is done with wood that is simply not there with a composite deck.”

 “The designs we specialize in are curves,” Fry says. “We’re actually bending the product so it’s not the straight lines. … It adds a flair to the deck because everything is custom-made and custom-curved around certain landscape projects.” 

Multi-width decking is another way to give your deck a more dynamic look. Because these boards vary in width, they can be used to create variation.  

 “You still kind of create a pattern,” Stoltzfus says. “But it’s more to break up the monotony of it.”  

Bordering can also be used to break up the repetitiveness of a deck design.

 “Bordering in different tones [and] colors can give a real nice accent,” Kalnas says. “When you’re changing colors and texture, putting it together tastefully, it makes a project come together.”  

And intermixing stonework and custom metal into the design can help with adding texture.  

 “Modern mixed with rustic style is huge for us right now,” Oakes says. “Stonework mixed with natural wood is always beautiful.  Custom metal work that we can incorporate into the build is a specialty that we like to do.”

Railings are another area where deck builders can get creative.  One of the most popular types right now is cable railing.  

 “It’s very thin, so it opens up the view quite a bit, Cardona says. “If you have a really nice view off of your deck, cable railing is a really nice option.”

Cable rail can be horizontal or vertical, the latter of which is ideal for families who worry about their children climbing the railing. 

With so many design options to choose from, it can be a bit overwhelming to have to make so many decisions at once. But if you begin the design and planning process as the fall season is rolling in, then trying to create your dream deck before next summer can be a less stressful endeavor.  

 “It takes time,” Fry says. “Don’t rush into it. That way it is a well thought-out plan of what you’re doing in your backyard to tie everything together.” 

Protecting your Deck from Pests
Decks are a huge investment, and they can be susceptible to pets that could do damage from the inside out. Craig Sansig, technical services manager for Viking Pest Control, says decks are susceptible to insects even in the fall.

The most common species that infest decks includes carpenter bees, carpenter ants and termites. “They can get into untreated, unpainted areas, or into the area where the deck mounts to the house where debris and moisture gets trapped,” he says. “Termites are active from spring to fall. It may be warm enough during the day but at night they will stay active below ground.”  

Sealing a deck with sealant or polyurethane or paint is a good long-term solution, he says.

Keeping the area under a deck clean of debris is also important. “If yard debris is under a deck, it supports other species like cave crickets, rodents and centipedes,” Sansig says. “We can work in conjunction with a landscaping service to maintain that area and apply insecticide and bait products to eliminate those species.”

Amazing Decks
Ambler, Pa.
Flemington, N.J.
(215) 654-1886

Archadeck of Chester County
West Chester, Pa.
(610) 696-3340

Deck Craft Plus
Honey Brook, Pa.
(610) 273-3317

First State Building & Design
Newark, Del.
(484) 303-4384

My Deck
Flemington, N.J.
(908) 713-1000

Viking Pest Control
Multiple locations
(848) 251-0751

Select imagery courtesy of Amazing Decks, Deck Craft Plus, and My Deck.

Published (and copyrighted) in House & Home, Volume 20, Issue 2 (Fall 2019). 
For more info on House & Home magazine, click here
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