Building and Designing your Deck


Whether you’re installing for the first time, renovating or adding onto an existing deck, Spring is the time to start planning. Thanks to an explosion of composite lumber, plastic decking and hardwood imports, there’s now a dizzying array of decking available, many of which are now eco-friendly.

Depending on your style, design, region and budget, here are some decking options to think about:

Pressure Treated Wood

Pressure-treated (PT) wood is the most common and most economical decking material. It also repels insects and water and has a tendency to crack, split and warp. You can paint or stain PT wood to complement your house. If you are worried about the chemicals used, today’s pressure-treated wood is treated with safer, less toxic chemicals, such as alkaline copper quaternary (ACQ) or copper azole.


Routine maintenance is necessary to prolong the life and look of your deck. PT wood will need to be refinished and resealed which may include an annual power washing and an application of stain or wood preservative every two or three years.

Pretend Wood

Composite Wood (Trex)

If you have a busy lifestyle and don’t want to be concerned with maintenance, composite (or pretend wood) is a good alternative to wood. Composite is made from wood fibers and recycled plastics. It is very durable, extremely weather- and stain-resistant and won’t splinter, warp, rot or split. While composites may be more expensive than wood, they require less maintenance.


Extremely low-maintenance, never needs to be sanded, refinished or stained. However, they are not maintenance-free. Mold and mildew can grow in shady, damp areas of the deck, and some composites can eventually show signs of decay, since they are partly wood.

Redwoods and Cedar

Composite Wood (Trex) with Cedar Rails

Redwoods and cedar are rich in color and natural beauty. They aren’t pumped full of chemicals or preservatives. Both species contain tannins and oils that make them naturally resistant to rot, decay and voracious insects. Cedar will actually change its moisture content to closely match the atmosphere. Moisture is what commonly causes wood to warp and crack, especially in colder climates during freeze-thaw cycles. However, cedar is a soft wood that gets easily dinged.


Cedar requires an annual power washing. To protect the wood’s surface from the weather, and to help reduce checking (fine splits), apply a clear, water-repellent wood preservative. To maintain the wood’s natural color, however, you’ll have to apply a stain. If you don’t apply a stain, both redwood and cedar will eventually weather to a soft silvery gray.

Tropical Hardwoods

Brazilian hardwood – Iron Wood and Ipé

Our favorite hardwood is Ipé (pronounced ee-pay). It is a South American hardwood. This exotic, rich-grained wood is extremely hard and very durable. The Forest Service Products Laboratory gives ipé top marks for bug and rot resistance, and the wood is so hard, it’s nearly as difficult to burn as concrete.

Using rain forest woods can be controversial. If you choose ipé for your deck, make sure that it carries the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) trademark, which certifies that the wood has been harvested responsibly.


Ipé comes with a 25 year warranty. Periodic cleaning with simple soap and water and a stiff brush will keep your deck looking new. Pressure washers are not recommended.


When choosing deck materials, it is important to keep in mind the climate in your region, how much maintenance you will have time and resources for and the desired look.

When designing your deck, think about your lifestyle and your deck’s main function. 

9 Questions to Answer Before Designing your Deck

  1. What will be the main function of your deck? Will you use it for intimate gatherings, large parties, dining, grilling, or as a pool or spa surround?
  2. How will your deck be connected to your yard — a bridge from your house, a walkway to a pool or garden area?
  3. Will it be a combo deck / patio?
  4. Are you considering using some of the decking material as furniture, i.e., built in benches, tables, planters, storage areas, etc.?
  5. Will your deck be multi-level or multi-story — or maybe even a rooftop deck? Who wouldn’t love a sunset or ocean view?
  6. Will your deck be multi-level or multi-story — or maybe even a rooftop deck? Who wouldn’t love a sunset or ocean view?
  7. Where will your deck be in relation to how much sun and shade it will receive? This will help determine if you need to add a shade structure such as a pergola.
  8. If you plan to add planters, where will they go — on railings, overhead structures or on the ground?
  9. Will you use your deck at night? If so, you may want to consider lighting options.

In Summary

It is important to remember that when designing your deck it should complement not compete with the design of your home, and also coordinate with the existing landscape. While answering the questions above may assist you with the size and shape of your deck, location, lot size and budget may also be a factor.

Next Steps

When you are ready to start building your deck, we will be happy to offer our opinion and help you make the right decision. We can also advise you concerning upkeep from year to year, from pressure washing to staining to repair, if necessary. To set up a one-hour in-home consultation, please email us.

Click here to see more of our deck projects.

Posted in Decks & Patios.

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