Think Through The Details Before Building A Deck


April 13, 1991|By Karol V. Menzieand Randy Johnson

Wonder if a particular house in an older neighborhood has been rehabbed? Look at the back -- and the roof. If there's a deck, it's a pretty good bet it has. You may even get a hint, from the elaborateness and construction, about the elaborateness and sensitivity of the work inside.

There are two good reasons why rehabs and decks go together. One is space: Yards in the center city, where houses are ripe for rehab, tend to be small and covered with concrete. A deck is a good way to turn a grim space into a useful and attractive outdoor living area, especially if you're not a gardener, or are content with container gardening.

The other reason is views. Some places it's a skyline, or magnificent cityscape. If you're lucky, as we are in Baltimore, it's that plus water, but sometimes you have to go clear to the roof to see it.

City decks are the stuff of fantasy, especially since there's no historically correct deck model to adhere to. (If you live in a designated historic district, however, you may have to be careful about the design of anything that is visible from the street.) You can have planter boxes, built-in seating, multiple levels, a cookout area, a hot tub . . When it comes to designing a deck, the late 20th century seems like a great place to be.

But before you start cruising the spa displays, you need to sit down and work out a few details. Here are some of the things you'll need to think about:

*How will the deck be used? Is it a sun space, or do you need screening or privacy? Do you need light? Hot tubs are astonishingly heavy, they need their own support system.

*What is the deck going to do to your neighbor's property? Will it block views or sunlight? Is that OK? The time to find out, and to find out if there's a compromise, is before you build, not from the ill will afterward.

*Is the building strong enough for support if the deck has to be attached to it? Roof decks need to have solid support. Most roofs weren't built to support so much weight. You may have to call in a structural engineer to determine how the load will be borne.

*What are the zoning requirements? Most zoning laws require certain setbacks from adjoining property, or from property boundaries. Make sure you'll have enough space for what you want to do.

*What do the building codes require? Codes cover such things as how deep the footings (foundation supports) must go (the bottom has to be below the frost line or they heave; the depth varies depending on location. In Baltimore it's 36 inches; in the South it's less deep, further north, it's deeper.)

*How are you going to fasten the deck to the structure? If the house is brick, you may have to bolt all the way through the brick; if it's frame, you may be able to nail into studs, or use lag-bolts. This is also a code issue; you need to check with local building inspectors.

*Does the deck need stairs to get down to ground level? Stairs are hard to build, though some prefab systems exist for short distances.

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