Without fail, decks, patios and balconies conjure up a romantic notion of relaxation and serenity… and for good reason. There is no finer way to start the day than with a cup of coffee on a deck as the sun rises or ending the day with a cool beverage as the sun lowers.
But, there’s lots of work that goes into making a beautiful deck. It’s important to start by picking out wood for your deck that works for you; weather, bugs, molds & fungi, and other factors should be discussed before choosing the right wood for you.
Choosing the best deck design for you
I think the best approach is to look at pictures of decks… which is why this photo gallery on our site is so popular. We offer a huge variety of deck types and styles and features. You’ll see simple, inexpensive decks as well as extravagant, luxurious deck designs. Because you literally have unlimited options, be sure to spend time looking at many photos carefully.
Also, you want to balance budget, practicality, intended use, design, aesthetic, space and the style of your home. Just because one deck looks amazing in one setting doesn’t mean it’s right for your home. Do your best to compare apples to apples.
Find more backyard ideas in our definitive guide to backyards!
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Free Deck Plans and Blueprints
If you’re looking for deck blueprints, check out our free deck plans and blueprints here, and specifically a 12 foot by 16 foot deck blueprint here (PDF document included).
Read our ultimate guide to building decks here.
Main Types of Decks
There are a good number of deck types. Type is dictated by placement, shape, material, levels and to a lesser degree, features. Those are the categorizations we’re setting out.
1. Placement Options
When you scan through our epic gallery of deck designs above, you’ll notice that there deck placements of all types. Deck placement is largely dictated by your house design. If the rear entrance is elevated, the deck will be elevated. If the house exit is ground-level, you’ll get a ground-level deck. 2 other types of decks include a floating deck and island deck (which can also be floating).
2. Elevated “Sun” Deck
This is a common deck. It’s built on posts. The deck surface is elevated above the ground. This type of deck is built when the home’s main living area is above the ground, which is common. Some of these types of decks can be 8 feet or higher above the ground. Others only a foot or two above the ground.
Elevated decks can be supported by posts or built on top of a lower level of the home such as a car port or garage.
Stairs are common with these decks, which lead from the deck to the yard. It’s a good feature to have for easy access to the backyard.
Another important feature for elevated decks are railings for obvious safety reasons.
3. Ground-Level Flush Decks
Ground level flush decks are built on the ground and the surface is flush to the ground.
This type of deck can also be referred to as a patio… although when built of wood, I call it a deck.
These decks may or may not have railings. Both can look good.
4. Floating Decks
Floating decks are slightly elevated. They appear to be floating on the ground.. often rising about one step riser. They can be attached to the home or placed in the middle of the yard (becoming a floating island deck).
5. Island Decks
Island decks are an aptly named type of deck that is not attached to the home. They’re built in the middle of the yard. They can be slightly elevated or floating. They serve as a nice retreat and are excellent for view properties when perched near the edge.
There’s not much to say about deck shape. I think it’s better to illustrate shape with pictures. Decks can be any shape you want them to be… but for simplicity, they’re usually square, rectangle, hexagon or some random shape with straight edges. However, if you want to build something more complex, you can add rounded sides to it resulting in pretty much any shape you like.
One shape that’s not common for a deck is a triangle. Triangles are tricky in that you end up with unusable space at the corners. You can’t sit in the narrowing points or put anything there so it’s a waste.
The 3 main deck materials are:
- Composite decking; and
- Deck tiles.
The most common, by far is wood; although composite decking is gaining in popularity because it’s durable and doesn’t require as much maintenance. The main types of wood for decks include:
- Ipé (pronounced ee-pay) is an almost magical South American hardwood. Although the use of this wood is controversial as it comes from the rain forest, the USDA Forest Service Products Laboratory recommends Ipé because it’s virtually bug and weather resistant. The wood is so hard and solid that it is almost as hard to burn as concrete.
- Western Red Cedar starts as a red-brown and ages to the silvery gray you often see on older decks. The wood is soft, so it splinters pretty easily. This kind of wood holds up well in rain, sun, heat, and cold. A penetrating deck stain works well with this type of wood.
- Redwood is a very soft wood that ages to a gorgeous gray. If exposed to an overabundance of rain, this wood will turn a blackish color. This kind of wood is ideal and will not rot.
- Mahogany is a tight-grained tropical hardwood that won’t rot and won’t attract pests. This is another wood that turns silvery in it’s old age. Whichever type mahogany you select, make sure it has the “FSC” trademark to assure that rainforests have not been harvested irresponsibly.
- Modern alternatives for outdoor decking include plastic polymer and wood-polymer composites. Synthetic materials won’t attract bugs and will not rot, but even the most realistic imitation will always be just that – an imitation.
(Source – architecture.com)
2. Composite Decking
Composite decking is a huge topic unto itself. There are many options and brands. The base material in composite decking is polyethylene plastic or polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Most composite deck products are made to look like wood.
3. Deck Tiles
Deck tiles are a composite material designed to look like wood (generally). They come in squares and you piece them together.
Some decks are one level while others are tiered with 2 or more levels. There are advantages to both types.
A multi-level deck can look amazing adding depth and a dynamic element to the design that enhances the overall backyard. However, levels result in space restrictions. You’re more limited where furniture can go due to stairs and steps. I think you want to think very carefully about your deck layout before adding complicated levels to the deck.
A single level deck is the most practical, but doesn’t pop like a multi-level deck. Having one large, flat deck makes it possible to put whatever you want wherever you wish.
The levels can rise in any direction. You may layer it downward in a sloping backyard. Or, you may rise it upward from one side to the other parallel to the house. Or you may rise it up leading away from the home, although this configuration makes the least sense because when seated close to the house, the rising levels obscure the view.
Often size is dictated by space and budget, but not always. Even if you have unlimited funds and space, at some point the deck is just too big. There’s a point at which you hit diminishing returns.
Other than budget and space, consider what you’ll be using the deck for. Will you eat there? Add a full size outdoor kitchen? Hot tub? Lounge area? The more features you want and the more often you’ll use it, the bigger it should be.
At a minimum, assuming you have the space, you want to be able to accommodate a good sized grill and dining table. This is at least an 8′ by 12′ deck.
Avoid a crammed deck. Err on the side of too big. It’s no fun being squeezed when dining.
This is the fun stuff. What features do you want to include? The sky really is the limit, but here’s a good list of various deck features you can add:
- Fire pit / fireplace
- Patio dining table
- Outdoor lounge seating – outdoor sectionals, chairs, Adirondacks, etc.
- Full outdoor kitchen
- Covering: Pavilion, awning, pergola or roof extension
- Hot tub
- Flower planters / potted plants
- Privacy screen
- Gazebo / pavilion
- TV / Entertainment system
- Tikki torches/heaters
This by no means is a complete list. Your deck can be as simple or elaborate as you wish. It can be treated as a true extension of your home… which is easier to do in warmer climates. Cold, wet climates obviously aren’t as conducive to a decked out deck.