Taking Decks From Functional to Fantastic

With more space and the capacity to entertain, outdoor decks are being transformed from ho-hum rectangles into backyard retreats.

The great outdoors is quickly becoming the "room" homeowners want to renovate, as they eschew the simple deck of decades past in favor of one that functions every bit like an interior space. Because people primarily spend their time at home and work, they want a third place to relax, unwind and socialize. Increasingly, the backyard is becoming that third place and that translates to more sales and more complex projects for professionals involved in deck building.

Trend 1: Larger Decks
The biggest trend in decks right now is the increase in square footage. It used to be that homeowners were satisfied with a 20 X 10-foot deck for a grill and some patio furniture; now it's not unusual to have deck design that rivals a home's indoor square footage and includes multiple levels for different functions, pergolas and walls that define "rooms" and provide privacy, built-ins that offer additional seating, and storage and planters that beautify the space.

"People are thinking of the (function of) space a lot more than ever before," says Mike Beaudry, executive vice president of the North American Deck and Railing Association.

Trend 2: More Time Outdoors
Outdoor enthusiasts don't have to abide by Mother Nature's seasons. "Now with lighting and fire pits, they're using their decks 30 percent more than they ever did," Beaudry says.

In temperate and tropical climates, it's not unusual for people to use their decks year round. These days, even in colder areas of the United States such as the East Coast, Midwest and Mountain regions, homeowners can begin using their decks earlier in the year – often as early as February and March – and continue through October or November, thanks to the warmth provided by outdoor fireplaces, which are safer and easier to use than freestanding fire pits.
Lighting has lengthened the amount of time people spend using their decks on a daily basis. Forget kitschy tiki torches; they're a relic of the past. Today's lighting is much more sophisticated: Low-voltage lighting wired into the deck's steps and posts provides illumination enough for conversation and safe walking. Add a dimmer and "you literally can create a mood outdoors," Beaudry says.

Trend 3: Fully Functional Kitchens
After baseball, grilling might be considered the next Great American Pastime. The outdoor kitchen trend is taking grilling to a whole new level. Beaudry completed a $42,000 deck; almost half of the budget went to an outdoor kitchen (a full outdoor kitchen contains a grill or cooktop surface, cabinets/storage, countertop, refrigerator and sink).

Trend 4: Add Water
Many homeowners feel it's important to include a water feature in a deck's design, Beaudry says. The soothing sounds of a fountain, for example, can add to the relaxing atmosphere of a deck, while a hot tub or a pool provides a bit of a backyard escape. The sound of running water also helps mask any noise from nearby streets, adding to the illusion of a getaway destination.

With all the deck options available to builders today, they may feel like they're creating a house outside the house. In fact, that's not too far from the truth. The deck as outdoor room — kitchen, dining room, living room and even media room with the new outdoor televisions — has come a long way from a platform with some patio furniture. There's no indication it's going back inside any time soon.

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