Start Planning Your Outdoor Deck Today to Start Enjoying it this Spring

January 30, 2024
Couple Standing at Trex Deck

Four Things to Consider When Building, Repairing or Upgrading Your Outdoor Deck

By Brendan Norton, Decking Manager, Mans Lumber

Looking outside at your backyard in the dead of winter can make it difficult to envision warmer, sunny days spent outside relaxing with friends and family on the backyard deck.

But spring — not winter — is coming. And with it, come welcome opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors. While it may seem too far in the distance ahead while the snow piles up on the back patio, it is actually better to start planning your new-build or decking upgrade today, before contractors’ schedules fill up, appointments with designers take longer to schedule, and the competition for labor and materials really heats up.

In fact, many are already scheduling consultations with designers as early as January. To do the job exceptionally well, there is a considerable amount of planning and preparation that goes into the design and construction of outdoor decks. The sooner the following considerations get addressed and accounted for, the sooner design and construction can begin on your new or improved deck, so that you can waste no time getting the most out of what you plan to put into it this spring and all summer long!

FAC: Frequently Addressed Considerations for Homeowners Building or Upgrading Outdoor Decks

To start thinking about how you want to approach your decking project, address the following considerations now so that you can put your project into motion as soon as possible:

1 – Natural Wood or Composite?

There are multiple trade-offs to consider when choosing between a treated natural wood deck, such as cedar or pressure-treated, and a composite product, such as Trex. Some prefer the natural look and feel of authentic wood, while others prefer the longevity, durability, and lower maintenance that a product like Trex can offer. While natural wood can be the more affordable option in the near term, homeowners should consider the lifetime cost of wood versus composite, as well as the increase in home value that a composite deck can bring to the property. 

In fact, realtors will often mention a composite deck in a home listing when marketing a house. So if you plan to sell the home within the next five years or so, it is quite possible that the additional short-term cost of the composite deck will be paid for when the home goes to market and eventually sells for a higher asking price.

Of course, natural wood decks can be treated to protect it from the elements, to a point. But that protection will need to be reapplied every two to three years. Additionally, products like Trex will not splinter, crack, warp, or rot the way some wood decks can.

Home Deck

2 – Replace, Repair, or Redo?

For homeowners with existing decks, the question is often, Do we replace boards, make repairs, or completely tear down and replace the deck — either with new wood or a composite product? This can, again, largely be a matter of personal preference, as discussed above. Some will prefer to keep and maintain a wooden deck, while others (especially as they age) will want to move to a permanent, more maintenance-free product and lifestyle. We often counsel homeowners to consider the recurring cost and disruption that comes with regular maintenance of natural wood decking, versus doing the job once and for all, and allow the homeowner to weigh the options of cost, time and personal toil.

We can work individually with you if you would like assistance making your “pros and cons” list. Our experienced designers and decking professionals will provide the certainty that no part of the equation is being overlooked or omitted.

3 – Who Is Doing the Design?

Some homeowners have a very specific and clear vision for what they want their deck to look like, how it will be conceived in form and function, and what materials and accessories they would like to see. Others come to us with the notion that they “don’t know what they don’t know.”

At no additional cost, design professionals can work closely with homeowners to consider all of the various design details that some may overlook — and even source and price all of the materials and accessories — such as:

  • Colors: Composite decks come in various colors and “wood grains,” while the natural wood route can raise questions of what kind of wood. While pressure-treated or cedar is a common option for many, there are others to look at and consider. Whether opting for natural or composite, the best advice is to visit a showroom in person so that you can view actual samples in real lighting, as opposed to selecting from a catalog or website.
  • Materials: Sometimes, do-it-yourselfers can overlook nuanced but critical details that make all of the difference when the finished product is being used and enjoyed. Subtle but elegant details such as choice of railings, lighting, fixtures, benches, visible hardware and other accessories can make a big difference in the final analysis — both yours and your guests!
  • Usage and utility: Our designers like to get homeowners thinking specifically about how they and their guests plan and prefer to enjoy their outdoor living spaces. For example, if a family envisions entertaining guests for evening cocktail parties, perhaps extra consideration should be given to railings that feature built-in drink holders, or possibly to one of the many low-voltage lighting options. If the vision is to promote close and cozy conversation, perhaps the design should be envisioned to create natural gathering places where small groups of people can gather and connect.

4 – DIY or Trust the Professionals?

Even those with prior experience building a deck themselves can face the dilemma of whether they should repair, replace or build a new deck on their own or consider hiring a professional deck builder. Whether you consider yourself to be an experienced DIY deck builder or a novice, there are important considerations to be made before finalizing a decision to go it alone or trust the project to the pros:

  • Remember that, to do the job exceptionally well, deck building is truly a finish carpentry artisan trade and skillset. If you have the skills of an experienced trades professional, it’s certainly possible that you can handle the project yourself. But if there is any apprehension at all regarding your own skill level, it’s probably wise to bring in the contractor with the experience, licensing, and talents to do the job at the highest level. This team will also take care of the tedious details, such as permit pulling, material sourcing, jobsite delivery and haul away, etc., taking significant burdens off of the DIY-er’s shoulders.
  • If you’ve built a wooden deck in the past, but are now moving to a composite product, be aware that there are important differences between how the products are constructed and how you will work with them. For one, composite materials weigh significantly more than their wood counterparts. If physical toll is relevant for the DIY homeowner moving from wood to composite, it’s often wise to hire the job out to a professional contractor. There is “carpentry” expertise required of the composite deck installer that is different from traditional woodworking. Cutting, installing, and fastening are all different when using composite materials, so don’t assume that all of your prior wood deck building experience will translate directly.
  • Professionals are trained, certified and licensed to install the products they represent. That factor alone is enough to convince many erstwhile DIY-ers to reconsider the value of trusting the project to the professionals who know the product inside and out, rather than pursue trial-and-error on their own and learn the hard way of the importance of training and certification.

However you ultimately decide on these and other considerations, keep in mind that what you are essentially doing when adding a deck to your home or upgrading an existing deck is adding virtual living space to your home…and all of the added value that comes with that endeavor. 

Though it may be snowy and slushy outside your back window right at the moment, a deck is another “room” to the house that can be enjoyed for as many as three seasons out of the year. Even in Michigan!

Take the time and care now to weigh your options, consult with trusted advisors, and plan all of the details as soon as you can, so that the hard part will be behind you sooner than later. Do that, and you can start enjoying that new outdoor room once the snow melts, the birds are chirping, and the time is right for the great outdoors in the Great Lakes State!