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Deck Design Considerations for Sloped Properties

Apr 30 2012 - Posted by
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Deck Design Considerations for Sloped Properties

Yards come in all different shapes and sizes, with slopes, hills and various grading issues complicating the layout of your outdoor living space. Whether your yard grades up or down, trust professional decking contractors to sketch out a deck design that works with sloped properties. Meet those challenges and create a backyard room that beckons the whole family outside.

Decks for Yards that Grade Down

Walkout lots grade down from the road, and often require a deck built off the second or third storey patio door. While this layout does limit your choice of railing, there are several benefits to installing a higher deck. Enjoy a better view, have more privacy and appreciate the convenience of an adjacent outdoor living space with a walkout deck off the kitchen, dining room or family room.

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Some homes are actually built onto a sloped surface, with extreme grading that's quite unlike the gentle, grassy slopes of a suburban walkout lot. If your home is perched on a rocky hill or extreme grade, deck design and installation can be even more challenging.

Consult with your local building department first to find out what kind of limitations are in place for your proposed deck. Railing style and height are often dictated to ensure optimum safety, and any deck stairs must be of the proper dimensions with a rise and run that's easy and safe to walk up and down. Railings must extend down the stairs, with a solid, flat landing space at the bottom.

Decks on a graded property have more posts by necessity. Although extra posts increase the cost (due to more materials and extra labor), they will also help to ensure your deck is stable, even in high winds and under a heavy load.

Deck framing for high level decks is often made from larger dimensional lumber - possibly 2x10 or 2x12 framing, as opposed to the standard 2x8 or 2x6 framing. This also increases the cost and improves stability, which is very important for this type of deck design. Remember that a property with extreme grading is basically unusable without a well built deck. You're investing in expanding your living space, so budget to meet and exceed the building code requirements and you'll be happier with the look and feel of your outdoor room.

Footings play a major role in this type of deck design. Most decks require concrete footings or deck piers for stability. Floating decks are not generally an option on graded properties, since erosion may cause the ground to give way gradually, ripping the deck from your home and resulting in injury and danger. Install concrete footings at least 42 to 48" into the ground, with a bell-shape at the bottom of the hole for greater resistance to frost heaving.

It's a good idea to use stainless steel fasteners and hardware on this type of deck design, since repairs and replacement could be timely and expensive given the working conditions.

Decks for Yards that Grade Up

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you may own a home built at the base of a large, steep hill. This location often has a limited yard, but with a little imagination and possibly some creative landscaping you can have your dream deck.

Take a look at the grading and curvature of the hill. Can you build the deck to hug those curves, using rounded edges or multiple levels to utilize all available space without sacrificing on room? Combining stone patios at the lowest point in your yard with wood decks connected together can maximize all of usable area in your yard. Building the deck on top of the hill can be daunting, and it's less likely that you'll actually use a deck that's not attached or close to your exterior doors.

Retaining walls can also be used to carve an area dedicated to decking near or at the base of the hill. Excavate your yard with heavy equipment and build a heavy-duty stone or wood retaining wall to hold the balance of the soil in place. This wall becomes the boundary of your deck or patio, which is then built flat with walls around it.

In many cases this solution creates a private, shady oasis, which may or may not suit your tastes. Located between your home and the hill, and nestled in an artificially created valley, this deck space tends to be quiet and solitary. You may find that sun-loving potted plants wither in this area, depending on the exposure and climate. Be aware of where the sun rises and sets in the warmer months, and pay attention to the shadows created by your home. This may help you to decide whether or not excavation is a viable option.

You should be able to avoid stairs and railings in this situation, making the deck more open and less expensive to build. Use awnings and shade structures or plant trees to generate shade and work with the natural beauty of the hill to create an attractive view from your deck.

Sloped properties present a number of design challenges, but also offer plenty of benefits in terms of natural beauty and landscape. For yards that slope down from the front of the house - commonly known as walkout lots - be sure to follow local building codes, sink deep concrete footings and focus on stability. For yards that slope up in the rear, consider whether excavation will create better space and work with the natural shape of the hill for the optimum deck design.

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