Decks: Top 12 features included in the best decks for long-term value!
1. Better footings
Building the best deck you can on concrete plugs makes no sense at all. How do you know how strong the soil below that concrete is? Will moisture run through the ground cause that footing to shift? Was there a well there at one point? Did somebody bury garbage there in 1930? Will the Mississippi like Mudd swell when it rains and shrink when it doesn’t?
We don’t need to gamble on footings these days. Helical footings take the guesswork out. Based on a torque reading on the machine that installs them, they know precisely how much pressure the footing will bear. If they have to send the helical in 30′ to get an adequate bearing that is what they do. You can also increase spans by using larger helicals, which means efficiency.
2. Better frame
Two frames built by 2 builders using exactly the same grade and quality of lumber. One may be absolutely perfectly straight, the other will be all over the place, with dips here and there, and may not even be close to level. Why? One was trained in the art of framing, the other was not. Simply put, very few “Deck Builders” were taught how to frame a deck. If you want to learn more about it, consult any book on framing and look at the chapter on Crown. If you want to know if your builder knows how to frame, ask him about crown and instruct him to mark crown on every part of the frame with a red crayon.
Different types of materials require different types of materials. Even if you are using PT decking, increase the value of the deck by framing to support composite at 12″ centers. (distance between joists). It’s worth a couple of hundred dollars in lumber. Also, consider using 2×10 joists rather than 2×8, and keeping the frame well above code requirements. If you have the option to remove the inexpensive decking and apply composite or PVC, that will save you thousands later!
When you want to build a deck to last 50-100 years consider using Aluminum or Steel joists and beams. It will be a much larger budget, but it will have the highest perceived value possible.
3. Joist and Beam Protection
A little rubber between the joists and decking can work wonders long term. Prevent the moisture from getting to the top of the joists and you defer rot for decades. This is one of the easiest ways of extending the life of a deck. We also use joist protection when we are redecking an existing frame to assure the frame lasts as long as the decking.
4. Better Decking Products
Generally speaking, pressure treated is the low budget choice for decking. Red Cedar will age more gracefully than pressure treated. Pre-finish the red cedar it lasts longer and ages more gracefully. First generation composites look rough after 5-10 years, as does red cedar.
Clad composites age better than Red Cedar and First Gen Composites, but do tend to sag between supports and swell at the ends a little over time.
The best decking on the market now is a solid PVC product with ASA Shell, which is a similar material that is used for your car’s dash. It resists fade and can look more like wood than wood. No stain required ever…just keep it clean. It may fade slowly, so choose a finish and color that will not show fading so much.
5. Low Maintenance Railings
When it comes to staining decks, the absolute worst part to refinish is the rails. Using powder-coated aluminum will mean the rails need no repainting for decades. These days they look great, are very strong and block very little of the view. When you have a million dollar view, you will want to step up to tempered glass railings, or frameless glass railings. The perceived value of these railings is very high.
6. Wider Staircases
Nothing screams OPULENCE like wide stairs. Make them 5 or 6′ wide and give the larger newel posts and it sends the perceived value of a deck skyward. Stairs are a large part of any second level deck, so do up your seat belt, this comes with a higher budget!
7. Outdoor Kitchens and Bars
Having an outdoor kitchen designed into a deck is certainly a high-end thing. Running plumbing, electrical and lights and building it into a weatherproof outdoor kitchen is not easy or simple, though there is a huge range of budgets to achieve an outdoor kitchen.
There are modest all in one outdoor kitchen available in big box stores, and there are grills and pizza ovens that sell at similar prices to cars. It is all down to budget. Who doesn’t want a bar on their deck with a kegerator!
8. A Roofed Area
When you really want to kick things up a notch, roof part or all of the deck. Decks with roofs always feel like part of the home. The ultimate goal of designing decks is to make them feel like an extension of the home rather than an afterthought. Many new homes are designed with a covered outdoor area.
Creating a roof extension on a typical home is an involved process that may involve permits and engineering, so it is not for everyone.
There are retractable canopies that are built into pergolas, and louvered canopies, (our favorite is Arcadia Roofs), that will effectively give you a dry area that you can adjust for shade or privacy. Often this is a better option than an addition.
Adding lights to any deck from just the perimeter to stairs, to up and down lights on privacy screens and roofed structures adds another dimension. When you roof a portion of a deck lighting can be added to really make it feel like part of the house.
10. Dry Frames
Decks deteriorate as the frame and decking rots and become unsafe. By sealing the frame of the deck with a membrane you are able to keep the frame absolutely dry. This enables ceiling fans and lighting to be installed below. It is a deluxe feature that actually has a practical aspect. You could potentially change the decking and utilize the same frame numerous times during the life of a deck. Obviously, this is a valuable option long term with the short term advantage of more deluxe finishings in the area below the deck.
11. Dressed Posts and Beams
Decks can be dressed up in trim that matches the home. Exterior suitable materials can be used to pair the deck finish to the trim on the exterior of the home. Caution not to trap moisture and rot beams and posts out prematurely should be exercised. Better to use blue skin above the beams and post tops, and leave small spaces to allow things to breath when the beams are built up.
12. Curves Done Right
Nearly every deck builder is attempting curved decks these days. Few actually do curves that will last. If you consult books in the library to learn how to do it, you may be led astray. Many of these books tell you to kerf cut dimensional lumber to create the curve and that will not work outside.
Some will attempt to use pressure treated plywood, and that will only last a few years. Pressure treated plywood is not made of exterior suitable lumber or adhesive. Laminating marine plywood will work much better, and will be much stronger and last many decades.
Normally we use solid layers of tight knot western red cedar and glue them up in one piece with marine adhesive. This offers a structurally secure and durable laminated rim joist, or beam. Curves are an exclusive thing to do right. Stick to the professionals when you want to add these features to a deck. Amateurs will nearly always make a mess.