Deck Shape Ideas

A deck can be almost any shape. Once you've determined how you will use your deck, turn your attention to the other factors that can affect its shape -- the terrain and landscaping of your property and your proximity to neighbors.

Deck designs can be imaginative, but the overall form generally falls into one of these categories:

Ground-level decks are the least complicated deck forms. They are typically found on flat yards, but they'll work on sloped ground too. The ground-hugging architecture fits perfectly with single-level homes and may not require railings (check your local codes to make sure). Ground-level decks make pleasant entryways, breakfast spots, and outdoor mud rooms. On sloped ground, two or more ground-level decks with different shapes or decking patterns can create a pleasing effect. Ground-level decks can be supported by post-and-pier foundations, continuous footings, or sleepers over an existing concrete slab. For a deck that appears to float, extend the edges beyond the posts.

Raised decks are the most common form, usually built at the first- or second-floor level. A second-story deck provides access to upper-level rooms not otherwise open to the outdoors. A high deck also can solve landscape problems caused by steep terrain. Posts for a tall deck can be faced with trim or skirted to make them appear more graceful.
Raised decks usually have one level attached to the house with a ledger and supported by piers and posts along the perimeter. The area underneath the deck can be easily hidden with plantings or skirting, either lath or solid panels. Safety concerns increase with elevated decks, which must have railings.

Multilevel designs overcome difficulties presented by rolling or terraced landscapes. Sections can be different sizes and shapes, built at different heights to follow the landscape. They can step down a hill in stages, providing different views along the way. Multilevel decks naturally establish separate areas for different uses.
Construction is complex and requires precise planning. Posts usually support each level, and stairs and railings require careful layout.

Wraparound decks are built along more than one side of a house and often used where a household wants multiple entries to different rooms in the home. They provide an easy answer for families that need spots for private gathering and parties on the same structure. Usually L-shape, wraparound decks are the perfect solution for locations that receive varying amounts of strong sunlight at different times of the day.

Multiple decks may be the best way to tie together uneven backyard terrain and provide spaces for a variety of activities. Several small decks linked together make good use of the site and, because of their varying sizes and shapes, add interest to what otherwise might have been an uneventful pathway. Multiple small structures often cost less to build than a complex single deck and make less impact on the landscape.

Building codes

Your budget and intended uses for a deck are not the only factors that affect design. Building codes, zoning ordinances, deed restrictions, and easements -- things you don't have any control over -- are also major considerations in determining how and where you can build your deck.

  • Building codes. Almost all communities enact building codes to ensure the safety of construction. Some cities may treat decks as permanent structures, with regulations for footing depths, materials, and fence heights. Check with your building department before you build, and submit your plans for approval.
  • Zoning ordinances. These provisions govern the use of property and the placement of structures. They can establish minimum setbacks from property lines and the maximum size of your deck. In recent years many cities have become strict about deck surfaces because large areas of hardscape interfere with the natural flow of runoff.
  • Deed restrictions. Some communities have deed restrictions to control architectural style. You may find restraints on the style of deck you can build and the materials you can build it with.
  • Easements and rights-of-way. These rules guarantee access by utilities to their service lines and may affect where you build your deck. If, for example, a utility company has a line running through your yard you might not be able to build any part of a deck above it. It is possible, however, that a sand-set deck, which allows quick access to utilities below, might be allowed.

    Ask your utilities to mark the path of lines through your property. Most will do this for free; you usually can make just one call to a central agency for all utilities.


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