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Deck Planning and Materials Guide

Deck with trellis and deck furniture.

Updated January 7, 2022

Marc M.

By Marc M.

Learn about decking materials, and get helpful advice when developing your deck building plans.

Things to Consider When Planning a Deck

A beautifully planned deck is an extension of your home’s living space. Before you begin planning, gather inspirational photos, learn your local codes, requirements and restrictions, including those of your homeowners association (HOA), and set a reasonable budget.

Consider whether or not your deck will include features such as outdoor seating and dining areas, an outdoor kitchen, outdoor heaters, or a gas fireplace/fire pit. 

Shade and privacy should also factor into your decision for deck placement. If you address privacy and shade in the planning phase, you’ll save yourself work later. 

Finally, consider family members, pets and children and the associated safety and accessibility concerns of each. Your deck may be a wonderful place to practice universal design.

For more on designing and building different types of decks, see Design and Build a Deck.

Labor

It’s important to consider whether or not this is a viable DIY project or one best left to the pros. Some hidden costs and construction challenges might surprise you. When drafting your plan, check your work with a building inspector to ensure you have enough supports for the size of your deck and that your railings are up to code. In the planning phase, consider enlisting the help of an electrician to run electricity to your new deck for ambient nighttime lighting.

Decking Material Options

Some materials enable customizable design options, from curves to multiple colors and woodgrain patterns, while others are more limited in scope. When choosing a material for your project, keep your priorities in mind. Are you looking for great design options, the best value or maybe a product that offers a balance of both? You’ll also want to keep in mind deck safety, which type of cleaning products you’ll need for your deck and how much maintenance your deck will require. 

To learn more about cleaning your deck, see Clean, Seal or Stain a Deck for reference. Our Deck Safety and Maintenance Guide will help you.

Composite Decking

The ultimate in backyard decking. Part wood, part plastic, this wood-alternative board is easy to maintain, resists scratching, is impervious to termites and decay and won't warp or splinter. It weathers lighter, so consider a deeper-hued initial purchase. Capped composite is wrapped in a tough-as-nails finish that keeps the beauty in. Clean with a water hose and cleaner made for composite decking as pressure washing isn't recommended. Painting, staining and sealing aren't required.

PVC Decking

PVC is an all-plastic material with no organic content that resists scratching, splintering and cracking. It won't warp or splinter, doesn't require sanding, staining or sealing and isn't affected by termites or decay. Clean with soap and water. Don't pressure wash.

Wood Decking

For the purist, a wood deck is real and natural with a pleasing heft. This includes pressure-treated lumber, cedar and redwood decking. Any wood component that touches the ground must be pressure treated. Cut ends must be treated with a preservative. Regular staining and sealing are required. Some finishes may fade or change color over time, and some absorb more heat than others. You may use a special cleaner and water hose or a pressure washer to clean. For more information, see our Deck Maintenance Products Buying Guide.

Railing Materials

Railing is typically the same material as the decking. However, you can mix and match to reflect your personal style.

Deck Maintenance

Yearly deck maintenance is necessary. Check for loose, split or damaged areas and repair as needed. Depending on your decking material, hose clean or pressure wash to remove grime and mildew growth. Re-stain and seal as recommended by your product's manufacturer.

Tip
Before beginning any excavation, check for underground utilities. Call the North America One Call Referral System at 1-888-258-0808 (or just dial 811) for a national directory of utility companies.
Tip
Follow all local building codes when planning and building a deck.
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