When it comes to outdoor renovations and extensions, adding a deck is a great way to enhance your outdoor space without spending massive amounts of money. A quality timber or composite decking project is also an appealing addition that will enhance the desirability of your home and can even add value to your property if done well.
Despite a deck being one of the more inexpensive home improvement options, a serious decking project can still end up costing you real money. So if you want to get the outdoor deck of your dreams without breaking the bank, we have a few expert tips.
Keep deck design simple
Your deck’s design will have a significant effect on the eventual cost. If you’re looking to save money on your decking project, then the first step is keeping the design as simple as possible. Avoid anything that will add complexity to the construction such as levels or stairs. Aim for a square or rectangular shaped deck, as any curves or corners mean additional labour for construction and installation.
When measuring out the size of your deck, first do some research into the standard decking board lengths. If you can build your deck using standard decking board dimensions you will save money on wastage and time spent measuring and cutting.
You should also be aware of the costs associated with any add-ons like railings, balustrades or canopies. While they may be appealing, they may not be necessary and can add a significant cost component onto the project.
Think about ground preparation
All decks need to be built on a raised support structure. Installing the support structure and the foundation footings is easiest on pre-prepared flat ground. However, if you’re building a deck on uneven or sloping ground then you will need to factor in the costs for ground preparation. This may include excavation, back-filling or building retaining walls and can be extremely costly.
Additionally, be aware of any obstructions that need to be removed, like trees or stumps, or anything that needs to be relocated, such as garden taps or electrical outlets. Tree removal or plumbing or wiring relocation means bringing in additional contractors and can add additional expense to the project
To save money, you’re always best off building a deck on flat land that doesn’t require much preparation.
As with any renovation or extension project, the larger the area the greater the cost. And decking is no exception. A smaller deck will require less material and labour and will therefore cost less to build.
When considering the size of a new deck, you should seriously think about how much space you actually need. Your deck should be large enough to be practical for your intended use, but not so big that it wastes space.
It can be useful to stake out your proposed deck size on the ground so you can get a sense of the actual physical dimensions to see if the space is practical and will comfortably fit your outdoor furniture, barbeque and anything else you will want on your deck.
Resist the urge to go bigger than necessary as any increase in size means a proportional increase in the cost of materials, labour and maintenance.
Carefully consider materials
For any decking project, the primary cost component will be the materials like decking boards and fixings. In general, the best quality materials, like premium composite decking boards and hardwoods, will cost the most, but they will also last the longest.
If you’re looking for the cheap up-front option, treated pine and other softwoods are generally the most cost effective. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that these materials require a lot of maintenance, including regular oiling and staining. They are also less durable and more prone to pest and moisture damage. This means that over the life of the deck, you will need to continue spending money on repairs and maintenance.
While composite decking and premium hardwoods have the greater up-front price tags, they have much lower maintenance requirements and they tend to be more durable and much longer lasting than cheaper decking materials. That means less money spent on repairs and maintenance over the life of the deck, which will save you money in the long run.
Besides your choice of decking boards, your choice of fixings will also affect the cost of your deck. When it comes to fixings, nails will often be the cheapest option. However, whether you’re using timber or composite decking boards, they will naturally expand and contract due to the shifting water content in the timber. Over time, this natural movement can work nails loose, giving the boards more room to move and ultimately causing damage that will require repairs. Proper decking screws or purpose-designed decking clips will be more costly but they will better secure the decking boards and save you money on ongoing repairs.
Compare decking contractors
Besides materials, the other major cost component will be labour. When looking for a decking contractor you should get at least three written quotes from local contractors. Ask each contractor to give you two separate quotes: one for labour and materials and one just for labour (in case you want to source the materials yourself; more on that below).
When selecting a contractor, remember that price isn’t everything. If you get a quote that is significantly lower than the others, it may seem like a bargain but it could lead to subpar materials and poor workmanship that will end up costing you in terms of repairs and ongoing maintenance.
Before selecting your contractor, do a little research. Read up on credible and independent reviews and customer testimonials. Ask your contractor for references and pictures of previous decking work they have done. Any contactor that isn’t eager to show off their references and previous work should be avoided, even if their quote seems like a bargain.
When selecting a contractor, you might also want to think about the time of year. Some contractors may have slow periods during the winter months, so you may be able to negotiate a lower price if you’re willing to wait until the off-season to build.
Source your own decking materials
Once you have quotes for materials from your contractors, you might want to look into sourcing your own materials. You may be able to save some money by purchasing the materials yourself. Where possible, try to purchase materials (boards and fixings) in bulk from trade suppliers to take advantage of any bulk discounts.
If you decide to source your own materials, it’s vital that you make a comprehensive list of materials you need. Most good decking suppliers will have online decking material calculators to help you work out exactly how much material you will need.
When sourcing your own decking materials, make sure you take the time to do your research and shop around for the best deal.
A deck build is not beyond the realms of an experienced DIY enthusiast. By handling some or all of the construction yourself you can save some serious money on labour costs. Just make sure you have the necessary equipment and expertise. If not, you could find yourself paying a professional to fix your mistakes.
Bear in mind that if you decide to do it yourself, you may need to organise building permits, install foundation supports, handle waterproofing and pest-proofing and other complex tasks beyond the general carpentry requirements of simply installing the decking boards.
If you want to save some money by doing some of the work yourself, you could get a decking contractor to handle the complex jobs, like design, permits, foundations and waterproofing. You could then do the decking carpentry work yourself.
Once the deck is built, the ongoing maintenance requirements can end up being a major cost component. Depending on your choice of decking materials, maintenance costs can end up adding many thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the deck. Using premium materials like quality composite decking or premium hardwoods will lower the maintenance requirements and save you money over the long term.
Adding an outdoor deck to your home can be a major project. But with some careful planning and research there are plenty of ways you can save money without sacrificing quality and design.
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.