Summertime Livin'

How to get the most out of your outdoor deck

Years ago, all summer entertaining was done in the front of the house. Later, the party moved to the backyard. We started with placing a charcoal grill out back to grill up a few hot dogs and have since moved on to full outdoor kitchens, expansive sitting areas and large grassy lawns on which to play cornhole or catch.

The first step to planning a backyard getaway is to design what type of floor you want in the great outdoors. A popular option is the deck — no matter how big or small, a deck can easily set the stage for a great barbeque or backyard bash. But once you decide you want one, how do you go about getting it?

Zach Anspach at Archadeck says you first have to talk to someone with experience.

“A good contractor will walk you through the design,” he says. “They’ll ask what you want to get out of it, what your entertainment needs are. Once you get the overall design, then you can start building it.”

As for popular decking materials, Anspach says, “It’s all about composites. I haven’t built a wood deck in two years.”

Two materials Anspach recommends are TimberTech and Fiberon Tropics. TimberTech is a local company based in Wilmington, Ohio, and one of the best products on the market today, he says. But he also warns against people who tell you these materials are maintenance-free. Instead, he calls these “maintenance-easy.”

“Treat these decks like the siding on your house,” he says. “Wash them down once a year with water and a citrus-based cleaner. Maybe twice if your deck is by the woods and you have a lot of debris on it.”

He mentions that in this economy resheeting a deck is also a good, cheaper alternative. If the deck is still structurally sound, his team can simply recover the existing deck with composite materials. And, if the structure is sound, Anspach says no permit is needed — if his team has to build a new structure, however, they’ll need to apply for a permit.

He says the average deck takes two to three months to design, a timeline that includes applying for and getting the permit. Once the design and permit are finalized and approved, it will take up to another three months to build the actual deck.

“That initial investment of time is really worth it,” he says. “The actual building is relatively easy after all the leg work.”

The same leg work — maybe even more — must be done when choosing an outdoor room or patio. Anspach says his clients often spend one to two years planning a project of this size.

He adds that three-season rooms are now becoming more popular than sunrooms; the former are cheaper because they may not include an air conditioning and heat connection to your house. Three-season rooms often have windows to allow a nice breeze, and Anspach says around here you can enjoy this room for eight to nine months out of the year.

Customers can even choose outdoor rooms that come as a kit, which makes it much easier for contractors to apply for and receive a permit to build the structure. This can streamline the process and make it slightly cheaper for people, although the price varies greatly depending on materials used and expanse of the project.

For a much less costly option, try placing patio pavers in an empty backyard to easily create a grilling, sitting and entertaining space. Using pavers will typically save you the cost of a permit, and perhaps even a contractor.

A word of caution: With a project this size, you might still want to use a contractor just to make sure the project is completed correctly. Before taking on this task yourself, there are a few key points to remember. Your first step is to choose the style of pavers that fit your backyard.

The pavers must also be made of materials that suit the purpose for which you’ll be using them. If you want to line an in-ground pool, for instance, make sure the style of pavers you choose will withstand a good drenching after hundreds of cannonballs.

Many pavers are made of solid clay brick or concrete. These materials ensure long-lasting durability and many also offer additional resistance to sunlight. You also want to choose paving options that are sold in an interlocking style so you can make sure they fit together easily.

If they don’t fit together or you have an odd-shaped area you’d like to pave, you might have to rent special tools to cut the pavers to fit your exact specifications. Also, removal of any existing materials in your backyard (an old concrete patio, weathered deck, etc.) might force you to rent a dumpster or pay someone to remove the material.

Lastly, ensure the ground on which you’re building is level and allows for accurate rainwater runoff so your guests don’t fall or trip over misplaced pavers. This will also help avoid creating a path for water to flow right into your basement.

Still, if you want to go the DIY route, your local hardware store might offer plenty of paving styles to choose from, or you can stop in any Home Depot or Lowe’s. Popular styles include basic stone-looking designs as a walkway or outdoor grilling area or intricate patterns to play up your poolside area.

If you’ve decided to hire a contractor, follow Anspach’s two rules for choosing a contractor: “Number one, trust your gut. If you’re not comfortable having the contractor in your house or working with him, don’t choose him.

“Number two, never trust your gut. Contractors should always be able to give you two references to speak to and even to go and see their project. Check (the contractor’s) Workman’s Compensation and insurance records. This will weed out 90 percent of all the guys who are out there just to take your money.”

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