4 deck plan ideas
Innovative ideas for your all-important outdoor space
“Summer afternoon.” If they are the two most beautiful words in the English language, then surely “a cottage deck on a summer afternoon” ranks as the most beautiful phrase. It speaks of sunshine and shade, restful chairs, icy drinks in hand, soft whispers in pine trees and, within view, the diamond sparkles of a lake.But, as we know, not all decks are beautiful. In fact, some don’t work at all. They’re too cramped and everyone stubs toes on the chair legs. Or they’re too exposed and can only be used on windless days. Some are so narrow that chairs are lined up as if on a cruise ship. And some look like afterthoughts, grafted untidily to the cottage exterior. But things are changing. Today, decks are getting the attention formerly given to indoor living spaces. Much more is demanded of them than to be simply a place to put the barbecue.
The trend today is for decks to become outdoor rooms — large outdoor rooms, in many cases, to accommodate barbecues the size of grand pianos and picnic tables that seat 12 or more. Deck designs now venture outside the box, literally, with intriguing new shapes that curve around chunks of granite, hug trees, or wrap about the cottage. These rooms are separated into distinct living spaces – for eating, entertaining, game-playing, or just view-gazing. With so many options, it won’t matter where the sun shines or how the wind blows, there will always be a lovely place to sit.
Sometimes the outdoor room really is an enclosed room, because in bug season an open deck at twilight can be torturous. Which is why many decks are designed with a screened-in area. Ideally, this screened room will be attached to the cottage, but if this isn’t possible, or is too costly (especially if the roof needs modification to deal with snow load, drainage, and an extended slope), a screened gazebo can become part of the deck — a place to sit out the mosquito hour.
The more deck space, the more wood required. Cedar is still the preferred choice but costs almost twice as much as pressure-treated wood. Many builders use both: pressure-treated for framing and cedar for exposed decking.
However, some builders report pulling out cedar decks after only 10 years, perhaps because new-growth cedar trees may have less natural preservative in the wood. Composite products, most often made of wood fibre and plastic, are another option. About 50 manufacturers are now producing such wood alternatives, which last for years and have the virtue of being almost maintenance-free. They come in a variety of colours — some intended to resemble (not always successfully) wood. Expect to pay up to 40 per cent more than cedar for a deck made of composite planks.
According to designers, the most important visual consideration when planning a deck is whether to step it down or leave it high off the ground. Low decks, nestled into the landscape, are aesthetically more pleasing. If your land is steeply sloped, then consider staging the deck with terraces at different levels. Create distinct living areas at each level. This way you can also keep your view unobstructed by minimizing railings.
The railing issue is one you will confront when putting in a new deck. If the deck is between 60 cm and 180 cm off the ground, then the Ontario Building Code requires railings to be 90 cm high; if it’s more than 180 cm off the ground, the railings need to be 107 cm high. The space between vertical spindles for a deck at any height is just 10 cm. Visually, the effect is that of a large playpen — which, of course, is the idea. These regulations are for safety, meant to protect toddlers from catapulting over the side. The resulting problem is that the required railing height coincides exactly with the line of vision from a deck chair.
One way of getting around this is to build a double rail on top, with a gap of no more than 10 cm between the rails, and spindles below them. The space between the two horizontal rails provides an opening for a view. For an even clearer vista, invest in tempered-glass panels that run the length of your deck — these are better than acrylic, which scratches easily and may yellow over time. One builder advises alternating sections of glass and spindles so that you don’t completely block the breeze.
Another option is to raise the grade. If you can fill around the deck with earth and create a berm or a garden that comes within 60 cm of the deck platform, you can eliminate the need for high railings. Instead, you can use low horizontal rails or built-in benches and planter boxes — not permitted with higher decks but fine for ones close to the ground.
This article was originally published on March 7, 2007