Decked out to make a house worth more Investment: A multipurpose exterior addition, well designed and appointed, might bring back most of its cost when you sell your home.


Outdoor decks are being built at the rate of about 3 million a year, and, according to Remodeling magazine, on average they will return about 71 percent of what they cost when the homes are sold.

It's a big deal. Why should you be content with a 29 percent decline in value? True, you'll derive some functional value from just using the thing. But if your CD lost a third of its worth at $$ maturity, chances are you wouldn't celebrate.

Decks aren't better performers as investments because most are little more than featureless wooden platforms hastily appended to the back of the house. Bereft of shape, form and dimension, they're sorely lacking in amenities, devoid of style, less than accommodating in terms of function, and boring to behold.

As for all the blather about a deck being an outdoor room, well, the potential is there all right. But a floor of deck boards does not a room make. That's only the foundation, just the beginning.

If you only half try you can probably beat the national return-on-investment average. Put your mind to it and, down the line, the deck may be the single distinctive element that sells the house.

While the fundamental construction techniques of deck building can often be mastered by do-it-yourselfers, really effective and appealing deck design is an entirely different matter, often beyond the skills of novices. Turning to a pro will cost you in the short run. In the long run, though, you'll likely get a deck that can truly perform as an outdoor room and will probably pay back more of your investment dollars.

Interview several professional deck builders, landscape architects, interior designers or building architects. Look at their portfolios or visit other project sites to find a designer who seems most likely to understand what you want done.

And just what you want done depends on personal preference and finances. But if you want a deck that will hold its value and provide years of enjoyment, you may want to consider any or all of the following: Build a multi-balah blahv blah blah blah purpose deck with distinct zones for sunning, lounging, entertaining, dining, relaxing and child's play.

Define zones by means of decorative railings or multiple levels.

Build-in a shaded area with a canvas awning or an open overhead trellis.

Provide built-in seating. Benches with removable cushions can provide long-term comfort and help separate a large deck into several more intimate zones. Furnish with weather-resistant chairs, lounges and tables.

Build in a charcoal or gas grill, along with a bar sink and maybe even a mini-refrigerator to cater to outdoor entertaining.

Incorporate on-the-deck landscaping (with planter boxes) and off-the-deck landscaping (with trees, shrubs and flower beds that can smooth the transition between deck and yard). Install an automatic drip watering system while you're at it. If you're an avid gardener, think about a well-integrated potting table.

For use after sundown, plan on subtle decorative and functional lighting -- a down-light over the dining table, up-lights to illuminate trees, and patio lights to define walkways and light up flower beds.

Elements of enclosure. A railing, a vertical vine-covered trellis or a decorative wood privacy fence can make a deck feel like a safe and secure room without enclosing it totally. Tall evergreens and flowering shrubs can function in the same way.

For protection from bugs, combine an open deck with a screen-enclosed porch or gazebo.

Make room for a hot tub, also called a spa. For many people, a hot tub is far more practical than a swimming pool or an in-the-bath whirlpool tub. They're relatively easy to maintain, cost about a dollar a day to operate and -- ahhhh! -- will soothe your jangled nerves.

Hot tub not your style? Then how about a water feature of another sort -- a small fish pond, reflecting pool, gurgling fountain or a birdbath?

Mix your materials. A variety of materials -- redwood, pressure-treated wood, railroad ties, landscape timbers, brick, flagstone, gravel, shredded bark, boulders -- will give a deck pattern, shape, color, texture and visual interest. They are to outdoor rooms what wallpaper, paint and carpeting are to indoor rooms.

No, you need not deck over the entire back yard to have a good -- even a grand -- deck. The issue here is quality, not quantity. An important measure of a good deck is how well it meets multiple needs, how far it goes beyond merely providing a surface for the lawn furniture, how room-like it really is.

Regardless of size, to be worth the time, effort and expense of building it, a good deck needs to be an architectural asset, an attractive, well-appointed, accommodating, inviting and hospitable place that is comfortable and comforting.

Pub Date: 7/14/96

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