So where’s the deck?

You already should have something in the works, since peak summer entertaining – July Fourth to Labor Day – is only a charcoal briquette away.

But it was a harsh winter and a chilly, damp spring. The economy isn’t great, and there was a war.

On top of that, talk about the possible health dangers to children of chromated copper arsenic (CCA), the pesticide long used as a preservative in much of the lumber used in decks, may have spooked you a bit.

Still, a deck’s advantages far outweigh all this. If you have the skills, the tools, a municipal permit, enough free time, and started today, you could be having a party deckside in five weeks.

If you let a professional build it – remember, this is high deck-building season, so they’re busy – it will take much less time.

A deck is not a project for first-timers. There’s more to it than buying a post-hole digger, a circular saw, and a truckload of lumber.

What kind of lumber?

CCA-treated wood, typically Southern yellow pine, is being phased out of residential use. Treated-lumber producers are beginning to offer less-suspect alternatives to CCA that are more costly, at least initially.

There are other kinds of wood that are naturally resistant to rot and insects, but they also are more expensive.

The typical retail price of a 16-foot, CCA-treated Southern pine 2-by-4 is about $6.

Western red cedar, naturally resistant except where it comes into contact with the ground, has been running almost $2 a board-foot, and so would be five times more expensive than CCA lumber.

But Western red cedar, which comes primarily from coastal forests in the Northwest, is a beautiful alternative that doesn’t chip and crack like pressure-treated yellow pine.

Engineered or composite lumber is making headway as decking, although no one has yet found a way to use it in structural applications. However, in combination with pressure-treated, redwood or cedar framing, it is a maintenance-free, though somewhat expensive alternative.

Eon produces decking of a polystyrene resin that retails for $50 for a 20-foot length of 11/2-by-51/2.

Best advice is to read and then shop. First, you’ve got to have a plan.

You can work one out with your deck builder or look around and try to find a deck you like, put the specs down on paper, and then tailor the specs to fit your situation.

Decks aren’t appropriate on every style of house, though, so don’t add one if a patio of brick pavers would be more appropriate.

And decks don’t always have to be part of the house, even though it’s usually more convenient to be near the kitchen. A free-standing deck in the yard often provides more design flexibility than is offered by stacking it alongside the house.

How large a deck?

Doug Walter, a Denver architect, said most people tend to build their decks too small for furniture and function.

“Add a couple more feet than you think you’ll need,” Walter said. “Every inch will be used.”

Every municipality has its own requirements for decks and their builders. In some, builders must be licensed; most are required to be insured. Other towns require that a scale drawing of the deck plan be reviewed by the building inspector.

Each contractor should provide a detailed estimate of the project, including a description of the materials, how they will be used, how much the project will cost, and about how long it will take.

The contractor handles all permit and inspection requirements and builds the cost of them into the price.

Whether you’re overseeing a contractor’s work or have time to do it yourself, here’s how building a deck proceeds:

• Post holes are dug, with a shovel or post-hole digger, according to the specifications established by the local building department, which will inspect them after they are done. Concrete is then poured for the footings. Footings can be built on 24 hours after they’ve been poured. A heavy “ledger board,” typically a 2-by-12, is attached to the house with galvanized bolts or 40d nails. Joists will be attached to the ledger board using metal joist hangers.

• Four-by-4 or 6-by-6 posts that support the deck are anchored to the footings. The 2-by-10 joists are attached from the ledger board to a crossbeam that has been attached to the posts.

• The flooring and 4-by-4 rail posts are attached.

• Railings are built in sections by attaching 2-by-2 balusters a few inches apart to 2-by-4 precut crossrails. The railings are attached to the rail posts, which are notched to accept the railings flush. Then the rail posts are cut to make them even with the railings. The railings are capped, often with a fairly wide board, often a 5/4-by-6.

• Stairs are built. Options such as benches or lattice work are built at this time.

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