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Are Decks Really Functional?

When it comes to backyard gathering areas, our choices are decks or patios. The term deck usually refers to a wooden structure raised off of the ground, and the term patio more often refers to a flat masonry surface installed in the ground.

There are definitely those who feel very strongly one way or the other, but many homeowners prefer to install a deck over a patio. We will explore this choice a bit further and try to figure out exactly why some people have such great admiration for their deck.

A well-built deck can transform your backyard into a cozy spot where you can host parties or private gatherings. It can also serve as an area where a family can relax after a stressful day at work.

Despite their popularity, many homeowners are still undecided and overwhelmed by the idea of planning and building a deck on their property. There are so many options to consider and decisions to make that it can seem like a daunting process.

If you’re one of these people that could use a backyard gathering space but are still on the fence when it comes to decks, let me help you decide whether a deck is the thing for you or not. I’ve listed every deck’s function and answered some frequently asked questions about this popular landscape feature.

Table of Contents

What is a Deck?

A deck is a raised platform built from wood or a wood-like product that can be freestanding or attached to a house. Its primary purpose is to give you a comfortable and convenient place to sit and relax with your family. Decks can have many options, but most will have railings and stairs.

One of the most common materials used in building decks is natural wood. Pine, cedar, and redwood are popular choices, but composite wood materials and vinyl have gained popularity recently.

One nice aspect of decks is that you can easily add additional structure for some privacy or shade. If you’re not a fan of roofs, you can add a pergola that can make it look more natural and provide some shade while helping it blend with the surrounding landscape.

Similar to a patio, you have the option to add extra features to your deck, such as an outdoor kitchen and a firepit. However, this is a raised wooden platform, so it does have some inherent limitations to consider.

The Good Things About Owning a Deck

You may be thinking about decks and wondering if they are a good fit for you, your family, and your home. Here are some of the good things that come along with deck ownership.

Decks increase the value of your home

According to most experts, relative to their cost, decks can boost the value of your home more than adding other outdoor living spaces. Data suggests that you can expect a 100% return in value for your deck if you decide to sell your property in the future.

Apart from this, decks have a certain appeal to people, so you might be able to sell your house more quickly.

The increase in home value and desire to purchase a home with a deck only applies to homes with well-built and maintained decks.

A poorly built or worn-down deck can definitely lower your home value and make it a less appealing purchase because the potential buyer will see it as something that needs to be fixed.

The moral of the story is if you are going to install a deck, make it a nice one and plan to keep it well maintained.

Decks offer more functionality to your property

Outdoor living has become a popular trend, and decks make this possible. Adding chairs or a sofa on your deck can give you a space to relax and unwind when you feel like a bit of relaxation in the great outdoors.

What’s more, if you decide to add an outdoor kitchen or maybe a roof to your deck, you’ll be able to enjoy sumptuous meals with your family regardless of the weather.

The addition of a well-built, sizeable deck can allow you to do more in your outdoor living space than ever before.

Decks increase your living space.

Having an additional sitting or gathering area gives you more entertaining flexibility and more space for the family to spread out a bit.

When the weather is good, decks are a great family and friends gathering space unlike anything inside your home.

Decks can be gardening space.

Some homeowners also decide to use their deck for their container garden. They set out some decorative pots and grow some select veggies and herbs to use for cooking.

Decks enhance social gatherings

Decks are perfect if you like to stage parties and gatherings. It offers a less claustrophobic atmosphere, and your guests won’t need to worry about being in close quarters or needing to take off their shoes. Decks are also great gathering places for those who like to enjoy a good cigar from time to time. Now your cigar smoking guests don’t need to stand in the driveway to enjoy a smoke.

Your deck can be like a second kitchen

If you are having a party and the inside kitchen is full of cooks and food, your outdoor cooking area can be put into action to help take some of the load off the indoor oven. Fire up that grill, and let’s see what we can do.

If your deck is big enough to house an outdoor kitchen, it would be even better. Having all the features of a secondary kitchen out on your deck could be a very cool way to interact with your guests while cooking an excellent meal.

Your deck can have fire.

Another cool thing you can do on your deck is to gather your visitors around a fire pit for some effortless, cozy late-night chats. Of course, if you will be burning wood up on a wooden deck, you will need to be sure to have a high-quality fire mat below your portable fire pit. If you plan to use your deck in this way, be sure that there aren’t piles of leaves or woodchips below your deck that could catch fire should a hot ember drop down between the boards.

Decks improve the aesthetic appeal of your yard.

While adding flower beds, privacy fencing, and outdoor living rooms can dress up your yard, building a high quality, creatively designed deck can add some height and structure to your yard at a reasonable price.

With the wide variety of materials that you can use in your deck construction, you can really be creative and make this deck an integral part of your landscape design.

The height of the deck can add to the intrigue by offering multiple levels and differing viewpoints of the yard.

Decks can give you more privacy

If you want to enjoy your outside space without worrying about the prying eyes of your neighbors, then build a deck. The rails of the deck will already increase your feeling of privacy. Add to that the height difference, and your deck can be much more private than a patio in the same spot.

Many other privacy features can also be added to decks, such as latticework, pergolas, gazebos, seat walls,  curtains, and privacy panels.

By having a deck, you can increase the private space in your yard in a comfortable way.

Decks can double as additional storage

Since decks are often elevated, the space below it can be used as dry or wet storage.

Dry deck storage requires a waterproof barrier between the space below and the decking board, and this would require an under-the-deck drainage system to keep your stuff dry and protected.

On the other hand, Wet deck storage doesn’t need protection from the elements. All the items you’re going to store here are weatherproof, and some great examples are kayaks, pipes, plastic toys, etc.

If you enclose the underside of your deck with latticework or privacy walls, you are essentially creating a storage shed on your property.

Decks can serve as a stage for kids

Consider the excitement of your children when they realize that they can perform a play up on stage in their own yard. I’ll be that you’ll have some fun and impressive performances if you have a well-built deck to use as a stage.

You can gather some blankets and lay them on the grass, so you have a seating space while your children are up on your deck performing whatever it is they want to perform.

Decks can be great play areas.

I know several people who have gates on their decks and can close them and use them as contained and controlled play areas for their toddlers. Now they have a space where the little tike isn’t going to wander off and will not come back into the house covered in mud since the deck is high and dry—no muddy mess to be found here.

Even when the kids get a bit older, the deck can be a great palace to play when the grass is wet. Because it is elevated and well-drained, the deck will be the first surface to dry off after a storm.

Decks can be a fun outdoor office

It can be difficult to stare at your computer monitor or your office wall for days on end. This is where decks become extremely helpful. By moving to your deck from time to time to work, your mind becomes more refreshed. The change of scenery encourages the production of serotonin in your brain, which makes you happier, and therefore, more productive. The deck can also be an excellent place for your teenager to get some homework done in an area away from the younger kids.

Decks are relatively inexpensive.

Compared to other similarly functioning features of your home, decks are relatively cheap. Building a deck can be much more economical than building a patio due to the materials’ ease of construction and economy.

Decks may be safer than patios.

No matter what you build on your property, there will always be codes to follow to ensure safety. Compared to patios, decks can be seen as safer because handrails are all around the deck. These rails can make walking sitting, and standing easier for the elderly and provide a barrier to the surrounding gardens for the young children.

Decks can be fairly low maintenance

There are a lot of landscape features that are high maintenance (fountains, ponds, outdoor kitchen, etc.) Luckily, decks aren’t one of them. Sure, you will need to clean it every once in a while to remove dry leaves and other air-born debris just like you would with a patio, but you won’t need to worry about pulling weeds and adding mortar or sand as you might with a patio.

Decks might require power washing, sealing, and staining every so often, depending on the type of wood and finish that you’ve chosen.  

Decks provide peace and quiet

Living in a fast-paced world means we experience constant stress. The good thing about having a deck is that we have an area outside our home where we can have some peace and quiet when everything seems overwhelming. Just a few minutes spent lounging on your deck can significantly change your mood.

Decks allow you to be creative

Decks are among the most customizable home features. That being said, you can use your creativity to design one that fits your home. There are so many deck styles that one can choose from, such as single-step designs, multi-tiered, or those which have extra amenities like planters, seats, bars, fire pits, and hot tubs. Your options are practically limitless, and you can customize them according to your taste.

Decks are relatively fast and easy to install

Many homeowners delay the installation of their outdoor gathering space because they fear that it will be a long and drawn-out project. Compared to patios that can take weeks with heavy equipment and stone or brick dust, decks can be constructed in a shorter time period with less yard disruption.

Decks can be built where patios cannot

A patio requires excavation to hardpan and the installation of a base below the patio surface. We still need to excavate with deck construction to set the support posts, but there are only a few of them, and we can design the deck to place those support posts wherever we would like. We can design a deck to avoid buried utilities, tree roots or any other objects that may interfere. If you’ve got a prize tree in the area where you would like to have your living space, you can build the deck around it or right up close to it to take advantage of its shade without the fear of damaging its root structure.

Decks can be installed on uneven terrain

This is where the flexibility of deck design and construction can really shine! Decks are quite literally designed to be installed on uneven terrain. Decks can be installed practically anywhere as long as there is a suitable and durable foundation.

On a steeply sloped backyard where you would need to do a great deal of excavating and create multiple very expensive retaining walls to build a patio, a deck can be built with no problem at all.

In fact, decks become much more interesting in an interestingly sloped backyard. The deck and its potential for multiple levels and stairways can be your access to some areas of your property that might be otherwise inaccessible.

Decks make your place a little cooler during summer

Decks can literally make your yard cooler. Unlike brick and stone, which absorb the heat and then release it back into the yard as the night air cools, the deck boards do not take in as much heat, and they actually shade the ground to keep the overall yard temperatures cooler. The lighter the color of your deck, the more heat it will reflect rather than absorb.

Decks help improve health

Fresh air and sunshine will indeed do a body good, and more time outside will get you more of both of these vital elements. Especially if you have a deck that provides you with some shade, you will be able to spend long days out on the deck, which will lower stress levels as well as provide fresh air and sunshine.

The Bad Things About Owning a Deck

To be fair in our analysis, I need to let you know about some of the negative aspects of owning a deck.

Decks are made of wood or wood-like materials

The fact that the entire structure is made out of wood comes with some disadvantages.

  • Wood needs to be maintained – no matter the type; eventually, wood will need some maintenance.
  • Wood changes over time – Wood will move, crack, twist, and generally change over time.
  • Wood is flammable – The fact that your deck is flammable can limit how you are able to use it.
  • Wood can give you nasty splinters – If you’ve ever gotten a sliver of wood stuck into your foot, you know what I am talking about.
  • Wood can deteriorate over time, especially in wet areas or areas with termites and carpenter ants.
  • Squirrels and chipmunks can chew on wood.
  • Composite, wood-like materials tend to be really hot in the sun and tend to sag and fade over time.

Decks are raised off of the ground

The fact that your deck is off of the ground will come with some disadvantages

  • Because they are off of the ground, this will limit the type of products that you can use if considering building an outdoor kitchen. Most outdoor kitchens are constructed of masonry materials, which will not work on top of a deck. Large masonry structures need a solid footing on the ground, which means that masonry fireplaces would not work on a deck either.
  • Because they are raised off of the ground, a deck will usually need to have stairways and railings by code.
  • Because they are off of the ground, decks might increase falls – I know that this contradicts some of the safety aspects listed above, but the fact that a deck is raised off the ground means that it is possible to fall off the deck or down the stairs.

Decks can be cooler

Being raised off of the ground and allowing the wind to whip up underneath them can make a deck colder during the windy and cold times of the year. Decks can also be cooler simply because they may catch more wind being up higher in the yard.

Decks are constructed with metal fasteners

These metal fasteners, will loosen, crack and corrode over time, so one day, your deck may not be as strong as it once was.

Decks can be slippery

Depending on the wood that they are constructed of, and depending on whether or not they are finish coated, decks can be very slippery when wet. Also remember that a deck in the shade may grow some moss, which can be very slippery also.

Decks have space below

The fact that there is space below the deck means that you may need to close the area off using lattice or privacy walls. This space can be helpful for storage but can also be a place where animals make nests and leaves and debris can pile up. This area can be very difficult to clean out. If the underside of the deck is left open, it can look a bit messy. How can you landscape an area below the deck?

Most decks are mounted to the house

Most of these structures are connected to the house with a ledger board. This sometimes requires removing siding to mount it properly. The real struggle comes twenty years later when you decide to remove the deck and then need to find a piece of siding to match the house.

 Frequently Asked Questions About Decks

What is the cheapest way to build a deck?

If you are on a budget and you don’t want to break the bank, it is still possible for you to have a beautiful deck. One way to build a cheap deck is to choose an affordable but durable material. Using pressure-treated pine rather than some exotic species will definitely save you a few bucks. Choosing to build a square or rectangular deck rather than some unusual shape will cut costs. Planning your deck to take full advantage of nominal board lengths is important so that you don’t end up with a bunch of useless cutoffs at the end of the project. If you are a handy person, you could always build your own deck. If you are planning to hire a contractor, take your time. Talk to a bunch of contractors and choose the one that you think is trustworthy. Then, ask the contractor if you can get any sort of discount if your deck were installed in the offseason.

Will adding a deck increase my taxes?

Property tax laws vary, but generally speaking, your property tax will likely increase when you do renovations or improvements to your home. In the case of decks, your choice between freestanding and standard styles will directly affect your property tax. Standard decks attached to your home can be considered improvements that increase your home value, and therefore, they can raise your property tax. Freestanding or floating decks may not require a building permit since they aren’t connected to your house.

Does homeowner’s insurance cover a deck?

Like property taxes, whether or not your deck is attached to your house may affect whether or not your homeowner’s insurance covers it. However, if it is freestanding and situated near a pool or other areas of your landscape, its insurance coverage may be limited. Usually, insurers approve a claim if your deck is destroyed or damaged by unpreventable incidents such as theft, fire, storm damage, vandalism, etc.

Can an amateur build a deck?

Technically, an amateur can build a deck given enough information. If you are a handy person who has the patience and ability to measure and mark accurately, dig holes, use a level, operate a saw and power drill, and generally maintain accuracy in your work, then you should be able to handle the project. Most DIY projects that look unprofessional are due to a lack of quality control and accuracy of work rather than lack of knowledge.

How long do decks usually last?

Your deck’s life will greatly depend on the material you use to build it. On average, natural wood can last from 10 to 30 years if you maintain it properly. Meanwhile, some claims state that cedar, mahogany, and pressure-treated lumber can last 40+ years.

Do I need to power wash my deck?

Most people power wash their decks to prepare them for painting or staining. While this method is quick and efficient, this is not always suggested. A pressure washer can do significant damage if your deck is made from softer wood. If you need to refinish your deck, you may want to simply sand it down. For simple maintenance, deck cleaning solutions are recommended since you only have to wash it with water and a hose.

How do I clean my deck naturally?

There are many types of deck washers and cleaners, and a good number of them are all-natural. Two of the top choices are borax solution and the mixture of dish soap, baking soda, and vinegar. Borax is a versatile cleaner that you can buy at local stores. The correct ratio is one cup of borax for every one gallon of water. Scrub the areas of your deck where you sprayed some borax solution in order to remove that unwanted mildew and algae. Another inexpensive and natural cleaning solution is the combination of baking soda, vinegar, dish soap, and water. All you have to do is sprinkle baking soda on your deck, and then apply the mixture of water, dish soap, and vinegar before you scrub.

What is a good deck size?

If you are looking at creating a small deck that can hold a round dining table and four chairs, you are looking at around 144 square feet. However, on average, a deck should be about 300 to 400 square feet for you and your family to be more comfortable using it. Some of the things to keep in mind are your personal preference in shape and layout, the amount of furniture you need on the deck, and its location. To get a good feel for your future deck, just take a long rope or garden hose out in the yard and lay it out on the ground. This will give you the opportunity to place tables and chairs and really get a feel for the size and useability of the deck.

Are pallets strong enough for decking?

Pallets are often used by homeowners who want to DIY their deck. And this makes sense since pallets are versatile and can be cheap or free. Pallets are also very strong, and they come in different sizes, but their slats are often not close enough together to walk on comfortably. You can use them to build a deck, but they will still need support beams to tie them together.

Can you build a deck directly on the ground?

Yes, it is possible to build a deck directly on the ground, but always use wood rated for ground contact. Keep in mind that no matter what wood you use, prolonged exposure to moisture is its worst enemy, aside from maybe termites.

Final Thoughts

The popularity of decks has been longstanding. Whether or not a deck is the right choice for your home has more to do with your home’s layout and your personal preferences. I personally prefer a patio over a deck because I like having a solid, hard surface dug into the ground, and I really dislike sanding, staining, and painting, so a deck is not for me.

When considering how the deck will fit with your home, a big decision is whether or not you will or can connect it to the house. If your rear yard entrance to your house is a step or more higher than the backyard, then a deck might work well as it could be fastened to the house just below the door. But, if your door is at ground level, an attached deck might be out of the question, in which case a patio might be a better choice.