In previous blogs, we’ve covered the design factors involved with outdoor living spaces located at or near ground level.
This month, we take our exploration of outdoor living space design and construction one step further and discuss the essential elements required for a deck – an outdoor living space attached to a house and located a half-storey (i.e. 1.5 metres) or more above the ground. Read on!
#1. What deck size is the right size?
When designing a new deck, one of the first elements you need to determine is the space required for the deck. Usually, the size of the deck is determined by the space available on the site, the use of the deck, and its location in relation to the internal living spaces.
As the deck is at first-floor level, the Council setbacks to the side, rear and front boundaries must be considered. These factors will influence the shape and size of the deck.
Next, you need to consider what the deck will primarily be used for. Decks have a wide range of uses including outdoor living and dining, outdoor cooking and kitchens, barbeques, entertainment and more. These uses, together with the furniture to be accommodated, will influence the size of the deck as well as its shape, e.g. rectangular, square, or curved.
A deck can also be accessed via internal living spaces, bedrooms or a study. Sometimes an external stair can give direct access to the yard or pool at ground level. Normally, when deck access is from a bedroom or study, it is a more private area to be used by only one or two people, whereas decks accessed from living spaces are generally intended for use by the entire family, friends, and guests.
With a deck, it is not necessarily the larger the better; it is important to also consider the impact a deck may have on internal spaces. A large deck can limit the natural light that penetrates inside the house and depending on the elevation and slope of the topography, a large deck can sometimes obscure important parts of a view.
#2. Deck flooring options
The floor for the deck can be constructed in various ways using different materials.
The floor types fall into two main categories:
- A waterproof deck i.e. any rainwater runs off the deck at the outside edges or is captured in drains.
- An open deck where rainwater can pass through the deck to the ground below.
A waterproof deck is usually finished with a sheet substrate with waterproofing and ceramic tiles as the final finish. These decks are built with fall to one or more sides to drain any water during rain periods or for cleaning.
An advantage of a waterproof deck is the additional covered area provided below the deck i.e. a terrace or porch at ground level. In terms of cost, the waterproof deck is generally more expensive than an open deck due to the additional materials and labour required to achieve the waterproof finish.
With an open deck, the construction is normally timber or synthetic decking which is laid with small gaps between each of the decking boards to allow water to drain away.
One of the disadvantages of an open deck is that the area beneath the deck is generally not useful in all weathers due to the water that falls through the gaps in the decking boards unless the deck itself includes roof cover which then offers some protection to the space under the deck.
In many situations, it may be decided that the deck floor should match the internal floor finish e.g. tiles inside and outside for a consistent visual presentation.
In choosing the flooring for your deck, a major consideration is the maintenance required. Ceramic tiles, for example, are low maintenance, requiring occasional cleaning and washing off.
A natural timber deck involves higher maintenance with either staining or oiling and more care required in the selection of fixings and structure to avoid corrosion. The timber species would also need careful selection for durability and also to avoid unsightly staining as the timber leeches the natural oils and tannins over a period of time onto adjacent surfaces.
#3. Deck balustrades
The selection of the balustrade for the deck will have a major impact on the views achieved, the safety of the deck, and also the external appearance.
When choosing the balustrade, the owner must consider the orientation (morning sun, afternoon sun, mostly shaded), the views that may be possible from the deck and internal living spaces, and the need for protection from prevailing winds.
For those decks fronting streets or neighbours, privacy will also be important.
The common materials used to form a balustrade include clear or obscure glass, stainless steel wires, aluminium or stainless steel horizontal or vertical rails or galvanized steel. There are advantages and disadvantages to all of these materials and there is no single correct choice – much depends on the other factors to be taken into consideration.
Clear glass provides unobstructed views but also requires more attention to cleaning for the inevitable salt spray and dust that will collect over time.
Horizontal rails or verticals provide an open deck while still maintaining the required degree of safety and require less maintenance and cleaning. Stainless steel and aluminium are corrosion-resistant materials and require less attention to the surface finish when compared to galvanized steel which does require some form of high-quality corrosion protection paint system. Galvanised steel can allow more individual, custom design.
Where privacy or traffic noise is a concern, a solid balustrade may be preferable. This type of balustrade may be timber framed with cladding or masonry which is then rendered and painted.
Another option is to construct a solid balustrade to a certain height, usually mid-height (500mm above the deck floor) with a more open material above. This 50/50 arrangement provides the advantage of greater privacy from the street or neighbours with the ability to see over the solid portion of the balustrade to the views.
#4. Roof and weather protection
Usually, the deck is provided with a roof or pergola to provide some protection from the heat of the summer sun. Again, there are numerous options with the correct solution based around consideration of the orientation, the level of weather protection required and external appearance.
If only shade is required, a pergola can be constructed in various ways using timber or steel framing with louvres or closely spaced battens to provide shade. However, in most cases, owners are looking for year round use of the deck, so a high level of weather protection is required.
The main roof of a house may be extended out to provide cover to the deck or a separate deck roof may be constructed. The aesthetic expression of the house will determine which one of these two strategies is most appropriate for a particular situation.
When the deck is roofed the underside is normally lined (soffit lining). This ceiling can be formed with flat sheeting, timber boarding or a range of other materials depending on the desired appearance. The ceiling provides a finished appearance and more closely duplicates the interior of a house. The introduction of the ceiling allows the positioning of lights, sound speakers and possibly a ceiling fan.
There is a general tendency for the deck including the floor, the roof and the balustrade to be finished to a high standard so that the owners enjoy the same level of amenity externally as they do within the house itself.
The deck normally extends from the exterior of the house and is an opportunity to create an interesting three-dimensional element.
Projecting from the main wall plane, the deck steps out from the house and can break up long, uninterrupted walls creating an opportunity for a unique expression and a critical element in the overall composition of the house.
A well-designed deck can add substantial visual appeal and value to a house and conversely a deck that has been poorly considered will detract enormously from the street appeal of a house.
As decks are normally located a storey above the ground, safety is an important issue, particularly for families with young children who have a habit of trying to climb any obstacle.
The Building Code of Australia provides rules on the height of balustrades and non-climbable construction to a certain height. The safety rules change for decks that are 4.0 metres or more above the ground, providing enhanced safety with this higher fall distance.
The safety requirements of the deck should be considered at the outset particularly with the decision on the balustrade to be employed.
As noted earlier, a deck is generally intended for year-round use and for outdoor dining. The services to be provided for the deck need to be considered before construction commences.
The services that will normally be given consideration include external power points, a gas outlet for the barbeque (town gas), a hose tap for cleaning, an outdoor kitchen complete with a sink, an external refrigerator, and perhaps storage for chair covers.
The inclusion of the services and their position needs to be given thought before the construction of the deck or in some cases the house, commences so that service lines can be incorporated within floors, walls or roofs as necessary.
With these key considerations in mind, you can build an outdoor living space to last a lifetime!
In the benign climate we enjoy in Australia, the use of external living areas makes perfect sense.
There is a recognition that a deck or outdoor living area can provide more living space, particularly on those occasions when the house is full with extended family and guests.
While a house may offer much comfort, there is no substitute on a pleasant day to sitting outside in the natural environment with a pleasant breeze with the closer contact with nature and peace of mind this can bring.