Aussies love an outdoor deck. Whether it’s firing up the barbecue with friends and family, relaxing by the pool or having a quiet moment and taking in the views, a deck is a great addition to any backyard. However, adding a timber or composite deck is a major project. There’s a lot to consider to ensure you end up with a deck that looks great and will last. If designed and installed properly, a quality deck will enhance your outdoor area and add value to your home. If done poorly, you could be looking at costly ongoing repairs and maybe even a full decking replacement in a few years.
So, let’s have a look at 6 important things to consider before starting a decking project.
1. What’s the purpose of the deck?
The first thing you should think about is what the deck will be used for. How you plan to use it will affect your choice of materials, method of construction and the ease of maintenance.
Some different decking uses include:
- Home verandah or balcony
- Outdoor entertaining area
- Outdoor kitchen/barbecue area
- Surrounding a swimming pool or spa
- Commercial decking for a restaurant or cafe
- Outdoor area for an entertainment venue
Depending on the deck’s intended purpose you may have different priorities or requirements. For example, for a deck around a swimming pool or spa you will need to prioritise water resistance. That means you’ll want to look at dense hardwoods, like ironbark, or a quality composite decking material.
A commercial decking area for a restaurant, cafe or entertainment venue will have to cope with much more foot traffic than a home deck. That means durability will be a priority. It may also be impractical to have to clear off a commercial decking area for several days at a stretch for maintenance (like sanding, oiling and staining). In this case, composite decking might be the better option given its durability and minimal maintenance requirements.
If you’re building a home deck for an outdoor entertaining area, then aesthetics might be the most important consideration. Chances are you want a deck that looks great, suits your home design and decor, and creates a seamless transition from your indoor to outdoor areas. In this case, you may want to consider premium decking hardwoods like jarrah, teak or merbau.
2. Do you need a permit?
Before you start building your deck (or even start planning), it’s important to look into whether you will require a building permit. Different states and council areas have different regulations, so you should contact your council directly before getting started. Permit requirements can also change depending on whether you’re replacing an old deck or building a new one, and regulations may set out rules regarding the size, height, material and method of construction.
In Victoria, you require a permit for building or replacing an attached or detached deck, regardless of size. In New South Wales, on the other hand, you may not require permit approval provided that the deck is smaller than 25m² and meets the relevant building standards.
A professional builder can tell you if you require a permit for your decking project and will also be able to organise the permit on your behalf. If you’re planning a DIY project, then the best thing to do is talk to your local council directly. There’s no point wasting time applying for a permit you don’t need. On the other hand, you could face fines and potential lawsuits if you go ahead and build without the necessary approvals.
3. What’s your budget?
Like any building project, budgetary constraints will have a significant effect on the scope of your decking project.
Some major cost considerations include:
Obviously, a larger deck is going to cost more. You will require more decking material, installation will take longer and the design will likely be more complex.
Your choice of decking material will obviously have an effect on your immediate budget, with more durable and higher quality decking boards generally costing more. However, over the life of the deck any savings you make on cheaper materials will likely be spent on repairs and ongoing maintenance.While cheaper materials, such as treated pine, may be attractive when budgeting for your decking project, more costly materials, such as premium hardwoods or composite decking, will be more durable and require less maintenance and fewer repairs, saving you money over the life of the deck.
Complexity of design
The complexity of design will affect the cost of materials and installation. Some factors that will increase the design complexity include elevation, stairs, levels, irregular shape, lighting, balustrades and attached canopies, shades or shelters.
Installation and labour costs
If you’re having your deck professionally built, then labour and installation costs can vary between tradespeople. It’s important to get detailed quotes in writing from a number of different builders and tradies for comparison.
The condition of the building site can have a significant effect on construction and installation costs. For example, on a sloping site a more complex elevated support structure may need to be built. Uneven or soft ground may need to be levelled or stabilised. Obstructions like trees or water tanks may need to be moved or built around. And site access should also be considered. Any site complexities can end up significantly adding to the cost of construction.
If budget is a factor, you should also consider the expected lifespan of the materials, as well as the ongoing costs associated with maintenance. For example, treated pine will be among the cheapest options. However, it will require a high level of maintenance and have a shorter lifespan than higher quality hardwoods or composite decking materials, so it may end up costing more in the long run.
4. Consider the decking materials
The most common decking materials include treated pine, various hardwoods and composite decking. Your choice of decking material can be influenced by a range of factors including maintenance, durability, lifespan, aesthetics, environmental considerations and cost.
Depending on your priorities, different materials may be more or less suitable. For example, if you want to minimise the maintenance requirements, then composite decking might be the best choice. If you’re thinking about aesthetics, then nothing beats premium hardwoods like jarrah or merbau. Whereas if cost is your primary concern, then you might go for treated pine.
If you’re worried about the environmental impact of different decking materials, it’s worth doing a little more research. Both timber decking and composite decking have their environmental pros and cons.
5. Who’s building it?
Building your own deck is not beyond the capabilities of an experienced home DIY enthusiast. However, there are a few things you should consider before tackling the job yourself.
It’s important to be aware of the different tools required and installation methods for different decking materials. For example, for composite decking installation you may require specific saw blades designed to cut composite boards.
Additionally, building the deck yourself will save you money on installation, but it will be a greater time investment. Plus you will need to source the materials and calculate the quantities yourself.
Professional decking installation carried out by a registered builder or qualified carpenter will cost you more, but the job will get done quicker and in most cases the builder will source the materials and handle the building permits. And, of course, with professional installation you can expect the best quality workmanship.
6. What about maintenance?
No matter what type of deck you decide on, or who builds it, it’s worth thinking about the ongoing maintenance requirements. Timber decking will require regular oiling or sealing to protect it from the elements and to revitalise and replenish the wood. It will also require regular cleaning, which can mean using specialist timber decking cleaning solutions. Over its lifetime, a timber deck will require a significant and costly input of chemical cleaning and sealing products.
Composite decking, on the other hand, never requires oiling, staining or sealing and can be cleaned with soapy water. If you don’t have the time, money or inclination to deal with ongoing seasonal maintenance, then you might want to avoid timber decking, especially the cheaper options, like treated pine.
Seriously thinking about each of these factors will help to ensure that you end up with an outdoor deck that perfectly suits your home or business, your lifestyle and your pocket.
Julian is an editor and content creator with a background in industry journalism and technical writing. He’s an enthusiastic home handyman and gardener and collector of vintage books.