Many homeowners with backyards in Austin Texas want to build a deck to enjoy year-round. Since temperatures in the area only see temps fall to as low as the 40’s 3 months out of the year, and in those same months the high temps are in the 60’s there are few better places in the country to enjoy an outdoor deck. A properly designed and built deck can also add value to your home. Many homeowners will use an outdoor deck more than almost any other home improvement. Homeowners report the only upgrades they use more are kitchen, bathroom, or home entertainment. So, decks being the 4th most popular upgrade long term it can be an excellent choice for any homeowner with space. Decks come in all different shapes and sizes. Finding what size and shape will work for you often involves using some software to mock up some designs first. One of my favorite design tools is the very easy-to-use free tool from Lowes. This free software tool can be found here and provides you with a simple tool as well as a great deal of advice and samples. On their website, you will find that the tool offers all of these features for free.
Everything You Need to Get Started
You’ve designed it. Now it’s time to plan and build it. When you’ve completed your design, Lowe’s Deck Designer will automatically provide everything you need to get started.
Professional 3D rendering
A great thing to do with this tool or many other free tools is to just jump in and start working with the design tool. You are not going to make your finished design in 15 minutes but you can have some fun and start to get some great ideas. One thing that you may want to do is use the tool to create an outline of the size of your backyard first. This will help you think of the size of your backyard and determine the size and scale you want your deck to be. The easiest way to get started in their free design tool is to use their deck shapes tool and then just choose the shape you want. Consider this first attempt to use the software just training. Your ultimate goal is not to choose the size of your deck, just the shape, and basic design. Right now as I write this, we are in an artificial lumber pricing bubble in 2021. Lumber yards of the largest lumber producers are holding on to inventory to raise prices. This has been confirmed by many investigators and it is not an unknown issue. So, if it is 2021 and you are reading this do consider that lumber prices are 3-4X what they were just 12 months ago and they should be coming back down--hang in there with the pricing this too shall pass. If you want to build, now consider other products when building your deck.
Alternatives to Wood Decking
Right now alternatives may provide much higher value for your deck, last longer, and require less maintenance. Since they were more expensive in the past many homeowners skipped the option to use these materials. Now they provide a great value when compared to the overpriced wood.
The most common substitutes are composite materials. These are various materials that are made (often from recycled materials) that are manufactured using advanced extrusion methods. Meaning that you take the raw ingredients, heat them up, then push them out under pressure into a mold for the decking planks. You will find composite decking made from many materials. Popular are bamboo, wood and plastic, peanut shell decking, and much more. There are many popular national brands like Trex on the market today.
Another option is PVC decking. It seems odd to imagine when we think of the common white or grey PVC. But this is PVC that is colored textured and treated to look like wood. PVC is also easy to cut and work with for the homeowner or do it yourself.
Vinyl decking can be used over older existing decks or in combination with other decking materials for a finished look and added protection.
Aluminum decking is one alternative that has not seen as much use as it should because of its higher costs. Now with lumber as expensive as it is, it may be time to give it a look as one of your lumber alternatives.
Not just for composite anymore. Manufacturers are making bamboo a realistic option now. Unlike the composite versions you will need to stain seal and maintain a true bamboo deck but the finished look and lower cost per square foot now may be attractive.
Rubber Paver Tiles
Using tiles to pave a ground-level deck may be an alternative you can consider in dry areas with great drainage. I have paved backyard deck areas with these and sand as the base with great results. Just be aware in most areas you will want to install French drainage systems that pull the water away from the paved deck area to maintain its strength and long-lasting result. That may be more work than you signed up for if your soil is hard and you have to dig deep. Or do a great deal of prep work to prepare your deck area. Traditional raised decks can use concrete piers or bases and require less site work for a simple raised deck. In essence with a raised deck, you prepare your footings making sure they are all level and lined up. You do not have to full grade and level the entire area. However paved decks may be much less costly since the soil, sand, and rock will be your foundation versus more expensive alternatives.
Back to the Design Tool
Once you have the shape of your design is time to take a tape measure to your backyard and determine the size of your deck, or deck elements. Then once you have the rough dimensions return to the free design tool and put them in the system.
I recommend switching to the Draw Deck option and drawing out your deck dimensions to scale. Once you have your design go into 3D mode and choose the look, materials, and other key elements of the design. Once you have a design you love you can click on the materials list and take that with you for an estimate of the costs, or to order your materials. It
will even give you an estimate of the costs right in the tool so you can start over and chose other materials if your first effort seems out of your budget. Other things to consider when designing a deck for Austin Texas Since you are designing a deck to use year-round in Austin Texas you need to think about what you are going to do for shade. Do you invest in your own Tiki-Bar complete with a thatch roof, or do you go with a shade sail or canopy with proper anchoring. Another popular option is sun shades that get mounted to your home and hang over the deck. These come with either manual cranks to put them up and bring them down, or small motors that do that work for you. A lasting shade option is best and I would consider anywhere from 10- 20% the cost of your project for a Texas deck to include your plan for shade. With Average highs, June-September in the 90’s shade and protection from the sun is critical to your deck’s success, and usefulness. Even if you use your deck mostly in the evenings you will be able to enjoy it sooner and for longer periods of time.
Hiring a Professional or Doing it Yourself
If this is your first home project it may be a good time to hire a professional. Or time to recruit a close friend who has built a great deck of their own. Right now, given the material costs, you do not want to be wasting materials or designing something that you will just have to replace in a few years. Installation matters not just for cost but for safety. If you are building your own deck that is at or very near ground level your risks of safety may be lower than a raised deck. Keep that in mind when you choose to try and build a deck yourself. For professional installation expect to pay anywhere from $12-15 per sq foot for installation by a reputable contractor. Working with $14 per sq ft for labor alone would mean my labor before any additional charges for a 10X12 deck would be over $1,680. When they also add in other typical fees that one deck section could easily be $2,000 or more for installation. It may be worth using a circular saw, table saw, tape measure, and a few cordless drills and or hammers for a weekend or two. If you take the project on watch more than a few episodes of HGTV. Always wear safety eyewear and never work alone. Also, remember to measure twice and cut once. Meaning it is more important to make sure your area measuring correctly than almost anything else. You also need to own and use a high-quality level, and some string lines that you can snap nice chalk lines with. There is a reason the professionals use them, make sure you do too. With the right plan, design, and construction you can have a deck that adds value to your home. Importantly you can have a safe deck that you and your loved ones can enjoy for years to come.