Outdoor decks are platform structures usually made from wood or composite decking materials that offer a place for outdoor activities. Decks and patios share several similarities, but unlike patios, most decks are raised above the ground. They can include seating areas, lounge chairs, overhead protective structures, screening walls, and other accessories. There are several different types of decks to consider before building your own at home. Many designs are attached to the house, but others may stand alone in the yard, surround a pool, or even feature multiple levels.
There are many ways to categorize deck types, including basic structural design, location within the landscape, or intended use. All three methods are used in the following presentation of nine different types of deck. We'll break down the ins and outs of each type of deck and the factors you should consider when choosing which is best for you and your home.
01 of 09
- Best for: Extending indoor spaces into the outdoors.
Perhaps the most common type of deck is one that is structurally anchored to the home. It usually is designed as an extension to an existing room, such as a dining room, kitchen, or family room, and is accessed by doors that allow free passage between the indoor and outdoor spaces.
This is a broad category that can include both simple ground-level platforms or multi-level structures complete with stairways and landings. What is common to this type of deck is that it is structurally attached to the house by means of a ledger board that is firmly anchored to the home's framing. This type of engineering means such decks are very solid and strong, but it also means that they are subject to building code requirements since they are seen as structural additions to the home.
When elevated above the ground, these decks must be supported by posts and footings according to building code requirements. Such decks will require construction permits and inspections by city officials.Pros
Helps enlarge and extend key indoor spaces, such as kitchens
Good multi-use area
Adds real estate value if well-maintained
As attached structure, will require extensive permitting and building inspection
Heavy use may require frequent maintenance
Will require code-approved railings and stairway if elevated
02 of 09
- Best for: Providing comfortable seating areas in the yard.
Structurally, a detached deck is exactly the opposite of an attached deck. It is not attached to a permanent structure at all, but is built freestanding somewhere in the yard, often linked to the house via a pathway. Sometimes called "floating decks" or "platform decks," these structures can often be built without the elaborate footing-post-beam structure required by an attached deck, so they are a very good choice for DIYers. And in many communities, no building permit is required to construct one.
On a relatively level building site, detached island decks can be literally floating—resting on concrete blocks or simply on the ground itself. Or, if the building site is not flat and level, they can be constructed with traditional footings and short posts that support beams and structural members.Pros
A good alternative to a patio for uneven ground
Easiest type of deck to build for DIYers
Often cheaper to build than attached decks
Requires periodic maintenance
More subject to moisture damage than elevated decks
Usually needs additional walkway or patio for access
03 of 09
- Best for: Large outdoor living spaces that connect multiple sides of the home.
A wraparound deck is best regarded as a large attached deck. It is usually a slightly elevated structure that continues around two or more sides of the home to connect various areas. These decks are sometimes covered by roofing (called wraparound porches) and feature railings in addition to openings for steps.
Your wraparound deck can be narrow or spacious depending on your budget and the available space around your home. If the deck is covered, expenses will be significantly higher to add new roofing and reroute your gutter system. Composite decking materials will also require a higher budget than wood, but they may last up to twice as long.Pros
Lets you follow the sun or shade throughout the day
Extends the living space of your home
Assists with indoor air circulation when access doors are open
Typically narrower than standard attached decks
If covered, roofing materials increase construction costs
May require more time and money due to lengthy size
04 of 09
- Best for: Large properties with changes in elevation.
A multilevel deck is a series of several separate decks on individual levels that are connected by stairways. The terrain often dictates the need for a multilevel deck: Hills, slopes, and rocky landscaping may not be able to accommodate any outdoor living spaces except by constructing a series of decks offset at different heights. It's easier and more budget-friendly to build a deck over a sloped or rocky area than to level the land for a patio.
A multilevel deck can include segments that are anchored to the house as attached decks, as well as detached areas that are linked with stairways.
Multi-level decks are significantly more expensive than standard square or rectangular decks because of the additional materials and labor they require to construct. Like other types of decks, wood or composite wood can be used depending on your budget and needs.Pros
Creates horizontal living space on uneven yards
Can incorporate both attached and detached design styles.
Can be built in phases to accommodate budget
Continue to 5 of 9 below.
One of the most expensive deck designs
Requires a considerable amount of regular maintenance
Difficult for DIYers to construct
05 of 09
- Best for: Small seating areas and pathways.
Beyond the three basic structural designs, decks can be categorized by their location within the landscape. The next few examples define decks according to where they are located.
For example, a side yard deck offers a good way to turn an unused part of the yard into functional space. When this often overlooked space isn't being used for gardens, pets, or storage, building a side-yard deck can turn it into a livable area. These decks are smaller and cost considerably less than full-sized decks, but they can create extra room and improve the area's appearance. Side-yard decks can be made of wood or composite wood based on your durability needs.
A side-yard deck can also provide a secluded, peaceful getaway without leaving home. For example, a small deck with a hot tub outside an exterior bedroom door can turn your side yard into a relaxing and attractive space. Privacy screens can also be added for a sheltered ambiance.
Structurally, side-yard decks can be either attached or detached structures. Usually, they are at ground level, but it is also possible to elevate them on posts anchored in footings.Pros
Less expensive than full-sized deck
Relatively easy DIY project
Makes good use of underutilized space
Offers limited space
Requires more maintenance than a patio
Requires door access to be fully usable
06 of 09
Swimming Pool Deck
- Best for: Seating and walking areas around swimming pools.
Decking is a great choice around a pool because it's slip-resistant and doesn't get as hot as patio masonry materials like stone or concrete. Wood or composite decking is also a simple way to make an above-ground pool more easily accessible. Deck surrounds create more space for swimmers to lounge by the pool and offer a place for parents to keep a poolside watch on swimming children.
Since real wood can split and wear, it needs to be maintained with a deck sealant regularly so that swimmers don't get splinters in their feet. Composite decking is a great option, however, it's more expensive and some colors retain much more heat than others. Because pool decks are exposed to water regularly, a light-colored composite decking is the best choice for durability, splinter prevention, and minimal maintenance.
Structurally, a pool-side deck is often constructed so it simply rests on the existing concrete apron around the pool. But decks are sometimes constructed around above-ground pools to create the illusion of an in-ground installation. In this kind of application, the poolside deck can even be an attached deck that extends out from the house to surround an above-ground pool. Here, construction is much more complicated, requiring footings, posts, and a complicated understructure. On a smaller scale, this kind of design can also be used around a spa or hot tub.Pros
Cooler on bare feet than masonry surfaces
DIY installation possible
Requires frequent maintenance
Shorter life than paved surfaces
Splintering can be a hazard to bare feet
07 of 09
- Best for: Adding livable space to the front of the home.
Building an entryway deck is a good way to create a more welcoming entrance to your home, and can also provide functional space for visiting guests or just enjoying a pleasant evening with neighbors.
An entryway deck can be similar to a front porch but without the full enclosure. Or, it can be designed as a series of steps and platforms that add to your home's architecture. This type of deck also sometimes has built-in benches or planter boxes, and each element can be made of wood or durable composite materials.
Materials, shape, and design should complement the architecture of the house, making the deck and home look like they were built at the same time and not as an added-on afterthought.Pros
Adds to architectural appeal of the home
Less expensive than some luxury paving options
Adds social space to front landscape
Requires regular maintenance
Snow removal can be difficult
Shorter life than paved entryways
08 of 09
Rooftop or Over-Garage Deck
- Best for: Limited yard space.
Rooftop and over-garage decks allow homeowners to extend their outdoor living areas without taking up valuable space in the yard. However, it's important not to rush into this project before consulting a professional who can determine whether the structure is safe and suitable for a deck.
Like poolside decks and outdoor dining decks, it's smart to use composite decking when constructing a rooftop or over-garage deck for durability purposes. Additionally, costs can be considerably higher to prepare the existing structure for deck construction. These decks work best on flat roofs, and they're a great option to create outdoor space in urban dwellings.Pros
Provides better views than ground-level decks
Offers more privacy
Allows breeze to flow through easily during hot weather
Continue to 9 of 9 below.
Staircase must be built for access
Existing structure may requires structural alterations
Best with composite decking, which increases cost
09 of 09
- Best for: Providing space for favorite activities.
A third way to categorize decks is by their function. These decks are built and accessorized to make them function best for a specific purpose. While all decks can be used in many ways, these decks are built with the idea that they will be used mostly for one purpose.
For example, many decks serve primarily as outdoor cooking and dining areas. When attached to the home, these decks serve as an extension of the kitchen or dining room, and they might include a built-in grill, counter, bar, food-prep space, and a table.
This type of deck can be as simple or elaborate as your budget, space, and imagination allow. It's best to cover the deck to keep your outdoor appliances and seating areas safe from changing weather. Because dining decks are usually expected to last for many years, composite wood is often best for durability.
Even if you plan on building a completely equipped outdoor kitchen, it's still a smart idea to locate it near your indoor kitchen. When planning an outdoor dining or kitchen deck, consider where to safely locate the grill in relation to the house and roof (city codes usually specify). It's also helpful to plan an area for the sink and ensure you have enough clearance for your outdoor table. Large seating areas and multiple appliances will require a larger deck, which also increases the overall cost.
There are other types of special-use decks, of course. If you enjoy sunbathing or relaxing in a spa, you might want a small, secluded deck with privacy screens. Avid gardeners might choose a deck with built-in planters, trellises, or overhead arbors suitable for climbing plants.Pros
Adds valuable space for dedicated purpose
Usually less expensive than luxury patios
Composite lumber offers easy maintenance
May be subject to code restrictions
May require plumbing, electrical, gas service
Overhead structure may be needed
Choosing an Outdoor Deck
When choosing the right deck for your property, keep in mind four elements:
- Structural design: Do you want a detached, island deck set well apart from the house? Or do you prefer an attached deck that becomes an extension of the home footprint? Another option is a wrap-around, which you can think of as a long, narrow attached deck that extends the house from two or more sides.
- Location: Choosing the right deck also requires that you give consideration to where you want it. Is the goal to create living space along the back of the house (the traditional location)? The side yard? The front entry? Or is your goal to create living space out in the yard, away from the house, or to surround a pool? Sometimes, your choice of a deck will be based solely on where there is available yard space to put it.
- Function: Give thought to what activities your deck will need to support. Most decks are, to some degree, multi-function structures that can support cooking, dining, entertaining, and a variety of family recreational activities, but you can also dedicate the deck to specific functions, such as cooking,
- Building code considerations: Local building code requirements might well dictate the type of deck you choose. Elevated decks will likely need stairways and always require protective railings, which can add substantially to the cost of a deck. If you prefer to avoid the complications of inspections and permitting, detached island decks sometimes do not require permits (in some communities, at least). But a deck that is attached to the home and supported by concrete frost footings is regarded as a home extension and will require permitting and detailed inspections.
No matter what general deck type you choose, there are many additional choices to make when you get down to choosing one specific deck design. Once you settle on a basic design, location, and function for your deck, consider the following:
- Building site: Flat yards are amenable to almost any deck design, but yards with steep slopes or uneven ground may restrict your choices somewhat.
- Materials: These days, any deck can be made from a variety of different materials, including natural wood (usually cedar or redwood), treated lumber (normally, pine with additives that give the wood longevity and resistance to decay), or composite lumber, which is made from different formulations of vinyl plastics and repurposed wood scraps. When choosing materials, also give thought to how much work it will be to maintain the deck. Natural wood inevitably requires regular cleaning and restaining/resealing. For less maintenance work, choose more expensive composite lumber.
- Budget: You can't ignore monetary considerations when choosing a deck. Even if you're building it yourself, a very large, multi-level, wrap-around, or kitchen deck can be a major home improvement. Before starting the selection process, take stock of the household budget and determine what you can afford to build.
- DIY considerations: Building a deck yourself can easily cut the cost of a deck in half, but it is very hard work, and you need a realistic sense of your skill level and stamina before taking it on. It's a rare homeowner who is really able to (or wants to) build a large attached kitchen deck with poured concrete footings, posts, beams, and ledgers anchoring the structure to the home. But if you are that type of homeowner, your cost savings will be substantial. If you like the satisfaction of DIY work but aren't an expert at it, a simple deck type, such as a detached island deck, might be a good choice.