Decorating & Design - Outdoor Living

How to: Build the perfect deck

Scott McGillivray, host of HGTV's Income Property, helps you build the perfect deck for your home.

People used to hang out on their front porches and watch the world go by. Today, everyone seems to have moved on to their back decks, which can be integrated with a home's interior style but still complement the exterior, too. Here is some of the information you need to know before you build the perfect deck for your backyard.

Deck design
I’ve seen everything – from multi-level decks with built-in bars and fancy water features to more simplified spaces that still look amazing but haven’t cost a fortune to build. A deck maximizes your outdoor living space and can add value to your home – and if it’s planned and built properly, it can last for decades. Determine what type of structure will best suit your needs. If you have a smaller property, a simple graduated deck with a step down to grass level can lend your yard architectural interest. If your space is larger and you crave some shade, a custom feature like a vine-covered pergola can transform your deck into something out of the pages of a magazine.

Building code basics
Building codes are critical when you’re building a deck. Before you start your project, check with your municipality to see if you need a permit. A deck’s foundation needs to be built on concrete footings that are at the proper depth and correctly spaced and levelled. You also need to install railings if your deck sits 24 inches or more above the ground. A good decking contractor should know and follow all of the mandatory building codes.

New technology
There are some newer products on the market that are made from recycled materials and have the look of real wood. Composite and PVC are some of my favourite picks. Starting at $5 per square foot, they’re a little pricier than wood, but they offer tons of great colour choices and the option of adding custom features, such as decorative inlays. Composite boards are also available in longer lengths, which means fewer cuts, and they can be fastened with a system that won’t leave any visible nail or screw holes. They also won’t rot or get moldy and basically last forever. Companies like Solstice Decking ( offer amazing warranties on their PVC decking, and the materials won’t stain or fade in the sun, unlike other products on the market.

Materials matter
The majority of decks built in Canada are constructed with pressure-treated lumber because it’s the most affordable option. Look for wood that has not been treated with a chemical called CCA, or chromate copper arsenate, because it’s known to cause health issues. It’s also a good idea to handle all materials with gloves as a precaution. Pressure-treated woods require annual maintenance and sealing because they’re not moisture resistant and turn grey quickly. For the installation of a basic deck, expect to pay a professional anywhere from $1,800 to $2,500.

A more expensive option like cedar has natural properties that help prevent damage from the elements. Despite the price tag of up to $3 per square foot – almost twice as much as pressure-treated wood – it’s an investment that is not completely maintenance-free and will still need to be sealed every couple of years. Be sure that you don’t use cedar to create the foundation and framing under your deck because it’s a softer wood and will not offer the support needed.

It's all in the details
Railings, stairs, posts, caps and balusters are some of the elements you can use to customize your deck. Mixing and matching materials is always an option, too. Wrought-iron balusters with copper caps, for example, are very appealing. Add some low-voltage outdoor lights to highlight your stairs, or stain your deck in a rich tone to lend a more sophisticated, urban look. Include extra seating and storage for your outdoor cushions or kids’ toys and you can quickly create an outdoor room that is as relaxing as cottage country, all without the long drive.

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