Building an Outdoor Room: Tips for planning, building and maintaining decks and patios

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Creating a living space beyond the four walls of your home is gaining ground as one of the most popular home improvement projects of all. Wether your outdoor room will be start as a patio or deck, creating one is the least expensive way to extend your living space.
Not only does the building a deck or patio create new space for recreation and relaxation, but return on investment is also significant. According

Creating a living space beyond the four walls of your home is gaining ground as one of the most popular home improvement projects of all. Wether your outdoor room will be start as a patio or deck, creating one is the least expensive way to extend your living space.

Not only does the building a deck or patio create new space for recreation and relaxation, but return on investment is also significant. According to the 2006 Cost vs. Value Report produced by Remodeling Online, installing a deck will give you a 76.8 percent return on investment when it comes time to sell your home. Patios aren’t rated in the findings, but I’d expect the results to be similar.

All it takes to install your own deck or patio is evaluation of the space you have, proper selection of materials, and basic construction knowledge. Consider the following elements for an outdoor room with quality from the ground up.

PERFECT PAVER PATIOS -- In the realm of DIY patio possibilities, brick, natural stone and cement pavers are the main choices in materials. All three varieties are installed in sand, with irregularly shaped natural stone being the biggest challenge to work with as it’s like assembling a giant outdoor jigsaw puzzle. Start your patio project by carefully assessing the space slated for placement and planning for necessary drainage. Then take time to properly excavate, level and line the patio area for long-lasting, trip-proof results. The most common paver patio mistakes come from not properely prepping the base. Don’t rush through or the bricks will loosen and weeds will form just as quick!

DECKS THAT LAST -- The costs and looks of decks can vary widely due to the many choices of materials available. Wood decks are the least expensive but can be troublesome to maintain, so if your budget is healthy and tolerance for maintenance low, you might like to consider a high-tech alternative. One of the most popular is Trex, a composite decking material that’s been around for more than 10 years. Made of recycled plastic grocery bags, milk jugs and pallets, the resulting material is comfortable underfoot, easy to maintain, and virtually impervious to weather. Whatever the decking surface and railing material you choose, however, pressure-treated lumber is generally the standard for construction of the floor framing and support structure.

SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED -- Once you’ve made your choice in decking materials, deciding how to fasten the deck board to the frame involves a few tradeoffs. If you’re working with vinyl or fiberglass-plastic decks, the fasteners are usually a hidden feature not visible to the eye, but if you’re working with wood, you should think through your options. Nailing may be easy, but even galvanized nails can leave stains and rust bleeds on the wood. Plus, as the wood expands and contracts, nails pull out, resulting in loose boards that can be unsightly and even dangerous.

For a more permanent solution, select stainless steel screws. Using a power drill with the right tip, stainless steel screws can be driven to just below the deck’s surface where they’re difficult to spot. And since the screws are stainless, they can’t rust and stain the finished surface of the wood.

Also, one of the most critical areas of deck building is flashing. Pressure treated lumber can be very corrosive and cause fasteners and key deck hardware to fail. For a safe structure, use a high-tech flashing like Vycor® Deck Protector. Made by Grace Construction Products, Vycor prevents corrosion and joist rot by caused by water accumulation under deck boards.

SEAL THE DEAL -- Even wood that’s decay-resistant will warp and split, making the deck uncomfortable for bare feet and possibly unsafe. To minimize movement, make sure the deck is sealed within the first 3 to 6 months after it’s been constructed. Using a good quality sealer helps stabilize and protect the wood from the damaging effects of solar radiation as well as moisture.

KEEP IT CLEAN -- Annual cleaning of an otherwise tired-looking wood deck can do a lot to freshen it up. Mix a simple, effective cleaning solution in a five-gallon bucket by combining three quarts of water, one quart of bleach and a half cup of detergent (make sure the detergent is ammonia-free, as mixing ammonia and bleach can form a dangerous gas). Apply the mixture to the deck using a stiff floor brush and let it sit for a few minutes, then rinse thoroughly. When planning this cleaning project, schedule your work for the cooler hours of the early morning or late afternoon, as the cleaning solution may dry before it has a chance to work when applied to a hot deck.

PLAY BY THE RULES -- Whether you’re building a deck or patio by yourself or calling in a pro for assistance, be sure to get a building permit. If you’re planning to sell the home, your local zoning or code enforcement inspector may be contacted for an inspection and you’ll want to be sure that you’ve done everything properly.

Note: Tom Kraeutler is the Home Improvement Editor for AOL and host of The Money Pit, a nationally syndicated home improvement radio program. To find a local radio station, download the show’s podcast or sign-up for Tom’s free weekly e-newsletter, visit the program’s website.

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