A backyard deck can make home a 'vacation lodge'

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

You don't need to own a ski lodge in Aspen, Colo., or a vacation retreat at the seashore to enjoy the cool shadow or warm sun that bathe a deck outside your home.

An outside deck can mean added value to your house and pleasure for you.

In an earlier day houses had porches, and people sat outdoors and watched the world go by. Today, we've turned to the backyard instead.

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That's where a deck comes in.

A deck on the house is an entry-level job for the homeowner or hobbyist who has never attacked a remodeling project in the past.

Indeed, a successful design depends on a good relationship between the house and the deck. Before tackling such a job, however, ask your local library for books on decks and patios or visit a local bookstore. Even the lumberyard may have a choice of designs and guidance on how to go ahead with the job.

Study the plans before you go any further. If you decide to draw your own plans, ask for advice at the lumberyard. A knowledgeable salesman should be willing to check your ideas, make suggestions, explain the quantity and grade selections of lumber, and tell you the tools you will need.

Sometimes you can order precut, preassembled wood decks at a lumberyard.

The first adventure is browsing around a lumberyard, selecting the kind and grade of lumber you will use.

Secondhand lumber or material from a house that is being torn down may also be considered. Don't pass up discarded kitchen cabinets, especially if they are wood, because they can be used for the storage of picnic and sports items. Such cabinets can be refinished to fit in with your deck plans.

Lumber is classified by use and size and is differentiated by the extent to which it has been manufactured; that is, rough sawn, dressed, or worked (tongued and grooved, shiplapped, or patterned).

Yard lumber consists of those grades, sizes, and patterns used in ordinary construction and is broken down into ''select'' and ''common'' grades. Inspect several pieces of lumber and ask the salesman for advice as to the best buy for your project.

Structural lumber is approximately 11/2 inches in thickness after it is dressed (referred to as 2-inch lumber) and widths vary upward. Thus, if you buy a 2x4, its actual surfaced size is approximately 11/2 by 31/2 inches. Structural lumber is sometimes called ''stress-graded'' because each grade is assigned working stress values.

Lumber is sold by the ''board foot,'' a volume unit that is one inch in thickness by one foot in length and one foot in width.

Lumber may be manufactured either ''rough'' or ''dressed and worked'' (matched, shiplapped, or patterned). Rough lumber is sawed, edged, and trimmed, but not surfaced. Dressed lumber is surfaced on one or more sides to remove saw marks and surface blemishes. The most common dressed lumber is surfaced on all sides. Worked lumber is tongued and grooved besides being surfaced.

You have a choice of wood in building a deck. You can buy pine, California redwood, western red cedar, and tidewater red cypress, all excellent for a deck.

Follow your order through the yard because this is part of the excitement of building your own deck. Lumber is expensive, so be prepared when the lumberyard mails you the bill.

If you can turn up a bargain on glazed ceramic tile, terra cotta, Mexican tile, or old brick, you can add a bit of color and splendor to the outdoor deck.

Investigate carefully the properties of any deck-building materials. Some materials are slippery when wet, for example.

Plan a safe traffic pattern between the house and deck as well as the house and the garage and/or garden. Provide good lighting at the steps.

You'll be more comfortable on a deck if you understand the climate and path of the sun over your house as well as the prevailing direction of the wind. You may, for example, want to screen the deck from the wind. Get in touch with the closest agricultural extension office for information about wind directions and advice about possible plantings.

An advantage of wood over flagstone, adobe blocks, tile, or brick is its resilience underfoot. Also, wood does not store heat as other surfacing materials do.

A wood deck is a good solution to damp or uneven backyards or if you have a concrete or aggregate patio or walk that has split, buckled, or broken.

Where uneven ground is a problem, a deck may be raised above it, saving the cost of having the area leveled or filled.

A well-designed deck successfully completed can be a creative experience for the whole family, so let everyone have a part in the planning.

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