Protect your deck or patio from the heat of a fire pit.

Planning a New Deck

The first part of planning could be called dreaming. Go to Google images or Pinterest and browse hundreds of photos to get ideas. Imagine the good times you will have with friends and family and general outdoor living. Make a list of the things you want to do on your deck. 1.) Sit in a comfortable chair, protected from the wind or harsh sunlight while reading a book. 2.) Host a dinner party with an outdoor table set for six people. 3.) Cook great dinners on a grill. 4.) Sit around a fire pit. Etc. Plan a deck that will accommodate the particular forms of outdoor living you have in mind. You may need to extend the deck a couple more feet than you originally thought in order to provide ample space for a table surrounded by chairs and room for people to move around. Then you get down to the real planning to figure out construction details, materials, and costs. Even if you plan to have a contractor build your deck, you should go through a number of steps as if you were going to build it yourself. Then when you talk to the contractor, you’ll know what questions to ask, and you will be a much better judge of how qualified he is or how much attention he will give to your project.


A contractor generally takes responsibility for knowing what local ordinances are and for getting the building permit. However, you should look into this yourself and perhaps even discuss it with your local building inspector. In many communities there are zoning laws that limit the size of a structure relative to the size of your lot or how close your deck will be to the property line. Look into how deep the footings should be in your part of the country and for the particular nature of the terrain. The more you know beforehand the better. The contractor should know that he is dealing with a savvy customer.

Materials and Construction Techniques
A contractor may have a limited set of ideas when it comes to materials. He may have built a dozen decks in more or less the same way with the same kind of decking or the same style of wooden railings. There are so many other ideas and options that he may not have researched. Just a couple of hours at your computer will expose you to a vast array of options. The big question is whether to go with natural wood or with composite decking. That is a question worth researching. Even if you have already decided on a composite deck, there are different types of composite decking with different advantages and disadvantages. A great web site for planning and researching is You should also spend time visiting the web sites of manufacturers of decking, rail systems and other components.

Working with a Contractor
There are articles on line with tips for finding a good contractor. I would avoid using a referral service or web site that lists contractors who paid to be listed. It is always comforting to have a recommendation from a friend, but even then there are things to look out for. Even if your friend was happy with a contractor, that contractor might not be the best choice for your particular project. Good contractors are booked months or even years in advance. One thing to be particularly watchful for is scheduling. Deck contractors have a reputation for lining up a lot of jobs in the spring, knowing, but not being completely honest with you, that they wont’t get to some of the projects for months. Sometimes a contractor will take a cash deposit to seal the deal, then have materials delivered to your lawn where they will sit for four or five months before he starts the work. In the meantime, he has the deal locked up. Ask a lot of hard questions about scheduling and get the answers in writing.