Q: I am planning to build a large deck on my house. I want it to be attractive and possibly help lower my air-conditioning and heating bills. Are there any special design characteristics to consider?
A: A well-designed deck can not only be an attractive and valuable addition to your house, it can reduce your utility bills both summer and winter. Although a deck can be designed for any side of your house, building it on the west side is most effective for year-round savings.
In the summer, a deck can shade your house from the afternoon sun. It also can reduce the indirect heat that is reflected from sidewalks, patios or driveways. In the winter, it becomes an effective windbreak to block the force of cold winds.
A good rule of thumb when sizing a deck is to plan on 20 square feet times the number of people that will typically be on the deck. Use pressure-treated redwood or cedar lumber for durability and weather resistance.
You should plan your deck so that the afternoon sun from the west is blocked. The summer sun is usually high enough in the sky near noon (when it's directly south) that it's blocked by the deck roof. When the sun is lower in the winter, you want it to shine through to warm your house.
A two-level, west-facing deck is attractive and effective for shade. Cover the west side of the higher section with 1-by-6 louvers. It is most effective to cover the entire west side of both the upper and lower levels, but you may feel somewhat closed in.
Mount the side louvers so they slant outward from top to bottom. Space the louvers to leave horizontal gaps between them. This lets you see through them for an open feel and lets gentle summer breezes pass through. In the winter, the louvers, even with gaps, slow the force of the cold winds.
With the sun lower in the winter sky, its rays can shine through the gaps to help heat your house. In the summer, the sun is higher and it won't shine far enough through to reach your house.
Cover the top of the deck with louvers and slant them at the opposite angle (inward from top to bottom) from the side louvers. This also allows the winter sun to shine through, but blocks the higher summer sun.
For a south-facing deck, it is not necessary to cover the side with louvers. The summer sun is high in the sky and the top louvers should provide shade for your house. Just install a few top louvers near the house. Too many louvers will block the winter sun, which is lower.
You can write to me for "Utility Bills Update No. 420" showing do-it-yourself instructions, diagrams and material lists for building an energy-saving, two-level deck for west, south or east exposures. Please include $1.50 and a self-addressed business-size envelope.
Q: I plan to caulk some inside angles around my windows. I hate to use my finger to smooth the bead and I'm not very good at it. Is there any sure-fire method to get a professional-looking job?
A: One method I use is to put masking tape along the sides of the joint I want to caulk. Lay a caulking bead wide enough so there is enough material to withstand thermal expansion.
Cut the corners off the end of a paint stirrer leaving the uncut flat edge the width of the bead you desire. After you lay the caulking, run the paint stirrer along the bead to smooth it. When dry, remove the tape.
Write to James Dulley, c/o Baltimore Sun, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, Ohio 45244.