See some beautiful examples of various deck styles to help you decide what style best fits your home, yard and interests.
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Platform decks are the simplest form. They're usually built on level lots and are attached to single-level dwellings. The platform deck is so low to the ground that railings often are unnecessary. Most building codes require railings and balusters if the deck is 24 inches or more from the ground-be sure to check your local building codes before proceeding.
On gently sloped lots, you can build a series of platform decks that step down gradually to follow the contour of the land. Even though railings might not be required, you can give substance and mass to platform decks by including built-in planters and bench seating around the perimeter.
Because platform decks are close to the ground, it's especially important for the materials used to be impervious to moisture. Structural materials for any deck should be pressure-treated or rated for direct contact with the ground. For decking and other parts, make sure all materials receive two coats of protective sealer before they're installed so that undersides are well preserved. In humid areas, install a vapor barrier of plastic sheeting before construction begins. Cover the vapor barrier with 2 or 3 inches of soil or a layer of gravel to conceal it from view.
Raised decks are common because most houses sit on foundation walls that position the first-level floor several feet above grade. Raised decks require railing systems for safety and stairs to make the deck accessible to the yard. Designing good-looking railing systems and locating stairs so they establish practical traffic patterns are keys to successful deck planning.
Raised decks have foundation posts that are exposed to view when the structure is complete. The structural members can be concealed with foundation plantings-such as shrubs-or with skirting. Skirting usually consists of lath or lattice panels that are cut to fit between the deck surface and the ground. The cut paneling is attached to perimeter posts. This type of skirting hides the structural system yet permits air to circulate underneath the deck, discouraging problems such as rot or mold that are associated with excessive moisture. Lattice panels also prevent certain animals, such as raccoons or skunks, from taking a liking to the protected area under your deck.
Multilevel decks provide outdoor access to upper-level areas of your home. The structural posts and bracing required to support a multilevel deck can be quite tall and present an aesthetic challenge. Posts can be made thicker than codes require or can be faced with decorative boards so they don't appear spindly. Partial skirting or decorative pieces spanning exterior posts help create a balanced design.
Multilevel decks are a series of decks connected by stairways or walkways. They're usually designed for yards with sloped lots so the deck areas follow the contours of the land. A tall main deck that otherwise might gain access to the surrounding yard through a long stairway can be built as a series of smaller, unique deck spaces, each joined by a short run of stairs. This arrangement prevents the lowest deck-the one farthest from the house-from interfering with views from decks higher up.
Use a multilevel deck to take advantage of microclimates within your yard. Have one level close to the house for entertaining, another one in the cool shade of nearby trees, and yet another placed to take in the sun.
Freestanding decks are not attached to the house. These separate landscaping features are usually located some distance from the main living areas where they can provide the best views or be positioned in a shady glade or beautiful garden. Freestanding decks are built with the same methods and techniques as attached decks.
Many factors will affect the design of your deck. These can include the architectural style of your house, contours of your property, restrictions imposed by setbacks and codes, and location of major landscaping features, such as large trees and outbuildings. In basic terms, a single-level, ranch-style house would probably look best with a low, platform-style deck. Such a simple deck would probably look out of place on a larger, more elaborate home. There, a multilevel deck with interesting overheads-such as a pergola or arbor-would help keep the design in proportion.
Deck designs are so diverse that it's difficult to pinpoint a particular style. However, identifying the five basic configurations is a good place to begin designing your deck.