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Deck Planning and Materials Guide

Learn about decking materials and get helpful advice when developing your deck building plans.

deck planning buying guide, deck building materials

Things to Consider When Planning a Deck

A beautifully planned deck is an extension of your home's living space. Before you begin planning, gather inspirational photos, learn your local codes, requirements and restrictions, including those of your HOA, and set a reasonable budget. 

Consider whether or not your deck will include features like outdoor seating and dining areas, an outdoor kitchen, outdoor heaters or a gas fireplace / firepit.

Shade and privacy should also factor in your decision for deck placement. If you address privacy and shade in the planning phase, you'll save yourself work later.

Finally, consider family members, pets and children and the associated safety and accessibility concerns of each. Your deck may be a wonderful place to practice universal design.


It’s important to consider whether or not this is a viable DIY project or one best left to the pros. Some hidden costs may surprise you, as will some of the construction challenges. (For instance, PVC is more difficult to handle than composites or wood and could be costlier.)

If you do decide to build the deck yourself, consider a digital deck planning tool to help create the layout. When drafting your plan, check your work with a building inspector to ensure you have enough supports for the size of your deck and that your railings are up to code.

In the planning phase, consider enlisting the help of an electrician to run electricity to your new deck for use of ambient nighttime lighting.

Decking Material Options

Some materials enable customizable design options from curves to multiple colors and wood-grain patterns, while others are more limited in scope. When choosing a material for your project, keep your priorities in mind: Are you looking for great design options, the best value or maybe a product that offers a balance of both?

Composite Decking: The ultimate in backyard decking. Part wood, part plastic, this wood-alternative board is easy to maintain, resists scratching, is impervious to termites and decay and will not warp or splinter. It weathers lighter, so consider a deeper-hued initial purchase. Capped composite is wrapped in a tough-as-nails finish that keeps the beauty in. Clean with a water hose and cleaner made for composite decking as pressure washing is not recommended. Painting, staining and sealing are not required.

PVC Decking: Polyvinyl chloride is an all-plastic material with no organic content that resists scratching, splintering and cracking. It will not warp or splinter, does not require sanding, staining or sealing and is not affected by termites or decay. Clean with soap and water; do not pressure wash.

Wood Decking: For the purist, a wood deck is real and natural with a pleasing heft. This includes pressure-treated lumber, cedar and redwood decking. Any wood component that touches the ground must be pressure treated. Cut ends must be treated with a preservative. Regular staining and sealing are required. You may use a special cleaner and water hose or a pressure washer to clean.

Railing Materials: Railing is typically the same material as the decking. However, you can mix and match to reflect your personal style.

Deck Maintenance

Yearly deck maintenance is necessary. Check for loose, split or damaged areas and repair as needed. Depending on your decking material, hose clean or pressure wash to remove grime and mildew growth. Re-stain and seal as recommended by your product's manufacturer.


Before beginning any excavation, check for underground utilities. Call the North America One Call Referral System at 1-888-258-0808 (or just dial 811) for a national directory of utility companies.

Good to Know

Follow all local building codes when planning and building a deck.

Ready to get started? Design and Build a Deck shows the way.