Everything you need to know from inspiration, style and permits, to budget, preparation and maintenance. Here’s your go-to guide to building a new deck
Is there anything more Kiwi than a bloody good deck? We love our outdoor living here in New Zealand and a deck represents the ultimate in indoor-outdoor flow that so many of us aspire to. If you’re considering adding a deck at your place this year, the first thing you should ask yourself is: would a paved area or patio do the trick instead?
This solution is generally cheaper and easier than deck construction, and is better suited to low sites where moisture is likely to quickly degrade a deck built too close to the ground. However, boggy or uneven sites with good clearance are ideal for a deck, which would create a flat, dry space for relaxing and entertaining. If a deck is definitely your heart’s desire, read on for our 10-step guide to planning and building your dream.
Jeremy Wyn-Harris has helped us come up with the ultimate guide to planning your perfect deck. Jeremy is the co-founder and CEO of builderscrack.co.nz, an online service which connects tradespeople with property owners.
Jeremy’s top tip: “Multi-level decks are perfect for hillsides and where the ground is uneven or sloping. It’s easier and more cost-effective to achieve a decent-sized deck by spreading it out over a few levels and connecting them with stairs”
1. Get inspired
Seek out some inspiration from magazines and on Pinterest, and either find an image that sums up what you’re looking for or put together a clear diagram. It helps to be able to show a picture of what you envision to your builder, when you get to that stage.
Look at your site and think creatively about how best to utilise its shape to create an inviting and enjoyable deck. Jeremy Wyn-Harris, co-founder and CEO of builderscrack.co.nz, recommends creating a few different levels if your site is anything but pancake-flat.
2. Choose your style
Look at the style of your home and think about how to make your new deck seem like it was there from the beginning. A deck for a villa will look great with some ornate detailing, an art deco house will suit some curvy corners and a more modern build will look best with sharp edges and hi-tech lighting.
Also think about how you want to use your deck. Do you need enough room for both outdoor living and dining? Will you incorporate planter boxes to create a herb garden? Are you creating a link between your house and pool area? Do you need to add anchors for a shade sail? These considerations will feed back into your style choices.
3. Investigate permits
Depending on the work you want done, you may need the assistance of a planner to apply for the necessary permits. Any deck over 1.5 metres high will need a permit, which can add a significant cost. Check with your local council, even if you feel sure of the outcome, as you may need additional safety measures in place. “For example, if there are more than a set number of steps, a handrail may be required,” advises Jeremy.
4. Research your materials
From hardwood to pine to composite, each decking type has pros and cons. You’ll want to weigh up cost, appearance and environmental impact when you make your choice. Be sure to think about how you want your deck to look in five or 10 years’ time.
Composite decking, made from a mix of recycled timber and plastic, is a sleek and attractive option, but questions have been raised about its long-term eco-friendliness. The use of hidden fixings can create a high-end finish but you’ll pay for the seamless look.
Hardwood timbers, such as kwila and vitex, are very popular choices. “Hardwood is the most desirable type of wooden decking, but deforestation of rainforests in places like Indonesia make popular kwila a controversial choice,” says Jeremy.
Pine timber is a simple, cost-effective option which will require frequent staining and maintenance. “Wooden decks do require maintenance, but if done regularly, your deck can last for years,” says Jeremy.
5. DIY or professional?
If your main goal is to get an awesome deck for minimum spend, keep in mind that if you tackle a DIY job without the right skills and tools, you could end up spending thousands for a deck that is missing the professional finish. Be frank with yourself about your level of DIY ability and whether you have the know-how to design a deck as well as build it.
“The design of your deck should be carefully planned,” says Jeremy. “This includes specific measurements of various sides and height, as well as any special features such as steps, handrails or balustrades.” You’ll also need to have all the required tools, be able to follow guidelines about the required spacing of posts and bearers, and be sure you can complete the work safely.
If you want the experience of building your own deck, consider hiring a capable builder to work alongside you or to take care of the trickier parts of the job.
Jeremy’s top tip:“Decking comes with a grooved side and a smooth side. Despite what many people think, the ridges are designed to face down. They can channel moisture into the decking when facing up, leading to premature deterioration and mould growth. When facing down, they encourage the deck to shed moisture, leading to a drier, longer-lasting desk”
Work out how much you’re willing to spend, then discuss your ideas and budget with a builder. When looking for a builder, it’s best to look at reviews and examples of their previous work and, if possible, get a couple of quotes. Seek out a builder who specialises in decks to ensure yours will be in good hands.
7. Streamline your budget
Decks that include seating, steps, handrails and unusual shapes will be costly. Keep things simple if you’re on a budget.
Hiring a professional to build your deck will be more costly in terms of labour but may save you money elsewhere. Experienced tradies will know exactly how much timber to buy, for example. “Overbuying materials is a common mistake when DIY-ing a deck,” says Jeremy.
Another way to stay under-budget is to keep your deck small enough to avoid applying for – and paying for – a building consent. “Keep the deck under the minimum height and other requirements determined by your local council to avoid needing a building consent,” Jeremy says.
8. Prepare your site and stay safe
“The cleaner and clearer your build site is, the better,” says Jeremy. Doing as much as you can before your tradie arrives will save them time and you money. Ensure a convenient power source is available, the grass is mowed and measures are in place to keep children, pets and visitors off the site.
If using a builder, leave safety measures to them as they’re experts in running a safe site. But if you’re going the DIY route, identify hazards and prepare an awareness and management plan for each one.
Can I come into contact with an energy source?
Can I come into contact with any hazardous substances?
Can I be struck by or strike against anything?
Can I be caught in, on or between anything?
Can I slip, trip or fall on the same or lower level?
Can I be injured by poor site management?
Can I strain or sprain a muscle?
9. Stain and maintain
Once your deck is built, it’s important to protect it against the elements as thoroughly as possible. Composite decking won’t require staining but timber decking will. Talk to your builder or staff at your local hardware store about colours, finishes and how often you’ll need to reapply protective coatings. You may also need to apply a pre-stain to remove any dust, dirt or residues.
The easiest thing you can do to keep your deck looking good is to sweep it regularly – leaves and rubbish can quickly break down and start degrading the timber. Giving the boards a good scrub once a year will also keep your deck looking fresh for longer.
Congratulations – your new deck is ready for year-round enjoyment. Now for the fun bit – the furnishings. A cool outdoor rug will make your deck look more like an extra living area, and some versatile cushions or squabs will help the space feel welcoming and comfortable. Before you buy, think about where you’ll store all of it – for example, stacking chairs are easier to pack away. And if you’ll be placing pots or planters on your deck, make sure they have trays underneath to protect your deck from excess water.
Check with your local council. Depending on the type of deck you are planning, you may need building consent, resource consent or both. It never hurts to ask!
Create an outdoor kitchen with space for a barbecue.
Use glass for balustrades instead of timber or other solid materials that can block views.
Add built-in seating with storage inside.
Words by: Sally Conor. Photography by: Bauer Syndication and Abodo Wood.