A deck is one of the most cost-effective of all home improvement projects. In fact, according to Remodeling Magazine’s 2011-2012 Cost vs. Value Report, a wood deck project returns an average of about 70% of the investment cost — one of the highest values in the survey.
You can ensure you’re getting the most from this smart investment with low-cost add-ons and special features that increase your deck’s appeal, and that will make your deck one of your home’s most enjoyable living spaces.
Hidden fasteners for decking
For years now, deck screws have been the fastener of choice. (Nails, prone to popping out over time, are old news.) Deck screws come in a useful range of colors, won’t corrode, and hold exceptionally well. However, even when installed carefully, they cover the deck with rows of little pockmarks—tiny depressions that may have splintered edges and trap dirt.
Enter the hidden fastener. This clever innovation holds deck planks down while leaving the surface looking sleek and minimalist. There are scores of hidden fasteners on the market, each of a slightly different design. One category fastens with a screw to the framing and grips the side of each plank with barbs. Another fits into a groove in the side of the plank (some composite planks come with this groove) before being fastened to the joist. Yet another type fastens from underneath the deck, firmly snugging the decking onto the joists.
Hidden fasteners are labor intensive to install, which adds a premium of about $4 per square foot compared with the cost of an installation using deck screws. However, many deck owners find the investment worthwhile, especially if they have selected composite, vinyl, or premium wood decking and want to show off these materials to best advantage.
Adding style with planters
Planters give a deck character. The various shapes and sizes of planters add texture and color. Built-in versions, often made of the same material as the decking, can be positioned to separate seating areas from cooking areas. When planted with tall plants, such as ornamental grasses, they can act as living privacy screens.
Wood planters typically are lined with galvanized sheet metal, plastic containers, or are built to conceal standard pots that are easily removed for cleaning or planting. Planters made of pressure-treated wood sometimes forego the liner altogether.
With all built-ins, some means of drainage is necessary, which may mean you’ll have to bore holes in the bottom of the container. Because excess water will drain from the bottom of your planter, you’ll need to be mindful of where you position the planter. If you hire a pro to custom build your deck planters, assume a cost of $150 to $250 labor and materials for each lineal foot of a 2-foot deep and 2-foot high built-in planter.
Built-ins aren’t your only option. Home centers offer a wide variety of planters available at prices from $10 to $200. Ceramic or cement pots can be a decorative feature, running $50 and up for a 2-foot tall container. Hanging planters (about $25 each) are a great addition to a pergola or trellis. Planters that attach to the railing ($70 for a 40-inch-long terracotta planter with metal holder) all but disappear when filled with plants.
Railings are typically required on any deck when the decking surface is more than 2 feet above ground. Railings are the most visible part of the deck from ground level and offer a great opportunity to echo the colors and architectural details of your house. However, if you are lucky enough to a have a scenic vista (or just an awfully nice yard) you won’t want the railing in the way.
One solution is a cable railing—thin stainless steel cables strung tautly between wood or metal posts. This alternative looks great, preserves the view and, at a cost of about $70 per lineal foot for a pro installation, is about $1,200 more expensive than a standard wood railing for a 16×20-foot deck. To further spare the budget, consider using cable only where the view is important and use wood elsewhere. Or, if you are handy, do it yourself for a materials cost of about $25 a lineal foot.
Taming the sun with shade sails
Overhead structures like wood pergolas and trellises help shield a deck from the sun, adding a pleasantly dappled shade pattern. However, they can be costly to install and challenging to maintain over the years.
Shade sails are a cool, eye-catching alternative. Made of UV-resistant polyethylene knit fabric, sails are triangular, square, and rectangular, and come in a variety of colors. They produce a muted, diffuse light, cutting the glare of full sunlight while still permitting light into windows adjacent to the deck. Shade is not all the sails offer. Many homeowners consider shade sails a form of aerial sculpture and delight in watching them rise and fall gently in the evening breeze.
Shade sails for a 16 x 20-foot deck would cost about $5,500 when professionally installed. (Expect to pay at least 30% more for a custom-built pergola of comparable size.) If you have a smaller installation in mind, you can buy a 12-foot triangular shade at your home center for as little as $200. However, bear in mind that a sail can exert a mighty force on a windy day and must be attached to the framing of the house or to steel or wooden poles set in concrete. A professional installation is recommended.