I have a friend who is the life of the party, and he never saw the need for a house, never wanted one, and never planned to do anything but rent. That changed pretty quickly when he got married to a woman who’d been dreaming of owning her own home. They ended up with a nice little bungalow close to the heart of the city on a narrow lot. It has everything they need, save for space to entertain. The last party they hosted ended up with everyone standing in the garage.
This led them to consider building a deck in their small backyard. They’d previously discounted building a deck, since because of their lot size they thought a deck would be too small to be worth it. However, their garage is tiny and it still worked as a gathering space. This led them to consider some deck ideas for a backyard entertaining area. Unlike their garage, a backyard deck wouldn’t smell like gasoline, and it would spare my friend some comments on how long the restoration of his 1966 Chevy is taking.
The Legalities of a Backyard Deck
When designing a small deck, it’s obviously important to make the best use your space. That means knowing exactly how much space you have. Most cities won’t let you build too close to the property line. All structures will need to be a certain distance away from the line, a measurement called the setback. You can usually look at your property survey to find out where your property line is, but you can also call to your local zoning and permitting office. If there isn’t enough space to accommodate your plans, you’ll either have to modify them or apply for something called a variance. If you can build a deck without crossing the setback line, then one of the great advantages of a small, ground-level deck (30 inches or fewer above grade) is that you don’t have to get permits to build it. Decks that are higher, such as a deck for a two story home, don’t have this luxury.
Not needing a permit saves money and frees you from needing to seek approval if your plans change before or during construction. This is especially helpful if, like my friends, you have a small yard or one with an odd layout which may require a flexibility and changes during construction.
Locating a Deck in a Backyard With an Unusual Layout
Once you’ve established the legal side of building your deck, then you can take a look at how your yard is laid out, and decide on a plan that works with that layout. My friend’s house is one of those houses that faces an intersection where two curved roads come together. The result is a backyard with a triangular shape. This means that a deck with a perimeter parallel to the rear walls of the house will cross the required setback, leaving the choice between getting a variance, reducing the size of the deck, or building something oddly-shaped. Many people with small or oddly-shaped backyards will have to make a similar choice when it comes to designing their decks. In many instances, though, these issues can be solved with a little bit of creativity.
Clever use of space with a small deck can give it much of the functionality of a larger deck. An important part of this is the flow from the inside of the house. Ideally, the path out of the house onto the deck will fall in line with the home’s pre-existing walkways, creating a natural flow between the two and turning the deck into an extension of the living space. This means that the most natural location for your deck might be in a different location than you expect. The side door you find yourself using all of the time might mark a better place to put a deck than that sliding glass door you never open.
Considerations for Backyard Deck Designs
So how do you decide on a deck shape, location, and design? Think about what you plan to do with your deck and whether some extra details and additions might help you get more use out of a small space.
- Consider the Function of Your Deck
Do you intend your deck to be a place to drink your morning cup of coffee while checking your newsfeed? Then there will need to be a smooth transition from the indoors out onto the deck, otherwise you’re unlikely to use it. However, if your deck is specifically intended as a social space for guests then flow will matter less since in this case you’re more likely to go out of your way to use it.
- Additions Can Make Your Deck More Usable
A deck that you intend to use privately and daily may benefit from a roof or pergola for shade. If you intend to use your deck for summer barbecuing, a shade structure is a nice addition, too. On the other hand, if you’re like my friends and the deck is a place for extra people during a late night party, shade may not be a priority. In this case, seating may be a bigger concern and built-in seats may be a more useful addition. Simple wooden benches are easy to build yourself, or foldable outdoor furniture can be stored under the deck. The location of built-in seating can affect traffic onto the deck, so it works best against the walls of the house or along the outer perimeter of the deck.
- Building in Details
Finally, with a small deck there are ornamental options that can be built right into the surface of the deck in order to add interest without taking up any space. Decking can be laid diagonally or in two different directions to create a basket weave shape. Since this requires more closely spaced cross-bracing, and hence more materials, this look is more economical to achieve with a small deck.
Bringing Together Deck Ideas for a Backyard
What my friend eventually decided on was a ground level deck that extended his rear patio slab and was accessible by a step up. Due to the property lines, it would have a distinctly pointed shape. To turn this shape into a feature, the deck boards would be laid in a pattern that suggested a leaf. Since it was meant primarily for social gatherings, the flow was less of a factor and the extra step up to get out onto the deck wasn’t an issue.
My friend did have concerns about ventilation, though. He lives on the humid gulf coast, and he worried about a low wooden deck rotting from underneath. His solution was a composite deck with a full resin capping that would make the decking boards more moisture-resistant than wood. Since composite deck boards come in different shades, it made it easier to create the leaf pattern my friend was after without the need to stain. But when he and I did some research on composite deck boards, it was apparent that not all composites are equally durable or well-engineered. Some composite makers only cap the surface of their boards leaving the bottom side vulnerable to swelling, warping, and rot.
One high-quality line of boards that is fully capped is the Infinity decking by Fortress Deck. Infinity has a layer of slip- and moisture-resistant resin around the core of the board to keep it from rotting, molding, or swelling. This capping is co-extruded with the board so it will never crack or peel up. Infinity decking also comes with different wood grains on either side of each board, so users can create a deck with an exotic hardwood or distressed lumber look. To find a deck builder or an Infinity decking dealer, visit our locator page. Fortress Building Products makes other, equally durable and well-designed products, such as aluminum and steel deck railings from Fortress Railing and steel fences from Fortress Fence.