The Ultimate Guide to Deck Design

From Ideas and Plans to Ready-to-Build

As summer lurks around the corner, a lot of homeowners stare longingly at their backyard thinking of DIY projects that could be done. Whether it’s looking to redo landscaping or install a pool, most will put off the project “until next year,” too afraid to tackle the work and expenses. But what if we told you that replacing an unsightly deck or installing a brand new one didn’t have to be one of those projects that has to wait?

At Elite Outdoor Expressions, we always want to improve homeowner convenience by installing maintenance-free products, but we also understand when someone wants to tackle a project themselves. If this sounds like you, keep reading for some of the best steps to take and questions to ask when you’re working on your deck design.

Planning Your Deck

Before you even buy materials, one of the first things you need to think about are your deck plans. Without having proper plans, designs, and layouts for your project, you’ll likely cause more work for yourself. From decking material to building codes, we’ve put together a comprehensive list of questions to ask and topics to consider before getting started on your new outdoor space.

How Will It Be Used?

Do you see you and your spouse sitting on the deck under a nice big umbrella and sipping iced tea in the heat of summer? Or maybe hosting big grill-outs for friends and family while the kids play in the yard? Whatever your vision is, it’s important to focus on how your deck is going to be used before you start your deck plans.

For example, if you’re planning on entertaining people, consider how much space you’ll need to accommodate everyone. Is there enough room for foot traffic, or will people be squeezing around the grill to find a seat? If you’re planning on creating a backyard oasis, maybe you want a large open view to the backyard instead of a railing obstructing your view. Once you have an overall purpose for your deck design, you’ll better be able to answer other questions in more detail.

What Permits Will You Need?

If you’re planning on building a deck, you or your contractor may need certain permits to adhere to building codes. Be prepared to have your deck plans ready (with measurements) to show your municipality to make sure everything is up to code. In addition, you should also contact your utility providers before you start digging so you avoid  accidents with cables or conduits. (In Pennsylvania, you can do this by contacting PAOneCall).

What is Your Budget?

You may have grand plans for your new backyard deck project, but will your wallet allow for it? First, determine how much you want to spend to give you a starting point. Next, create a list of things you want to include in your project and features you want to include in your deck design. From there, we suggest ranking your wants, as well as determining the size of your deck and what materials you want to use. You may be able to save a few dollars by switching up materials or reducing the deck size by a few feet.

Where Will You Put the Deck?

This may seem like a rhetorical question, but not all decks are for the backyard. No matter where you locate it though, you need to be aware of what other elements the deck might contend with (trees, property lines, etc.). If you value your privacy, remember that adding a deck may allow you to see over your fence and take away some of that privacy. Also remember to measure to make sure walkways are wide enough around your deck and that any lawn equipment can still fit through.

Deck Materials

Choosing the right material for your deck is a big decision. It can be a portion of your deck design that you splurge on, or where you cut costs depending on your needs. There are a few pros and cons with each type of decking material:

  • Treated Wood: If you’re on a tighter budget or want to spend money on another portion of your deck, pressure-treated wood is the way to good. Cheaper than the other types of wood, it can save you costs, but it is also less durable. You’ll need to stain it annually to protect it from the elements, and after some time it may start warping or cracking.
  • Composite Wood: Another popular decking material choice is composite wood, which is made out of recycled wood and plastic. It’s low-maintenance and will only need a good washing with water to keep it looking nice. While it is resistant to warping, rotting, and cracking, it is much more expensive.
  • Vinyl Decking: Vinyl decking is another popular alternative to wood. It’s long lasting, resistant to mold, scratches, and stains, and has a long life/high durability. While more expensive than wood, this easy-to-clean material will last you for years to come and is worth the investment.

Designing Your Deck

Now that planning is done, you’ll need to think about the actual design of your deck. You know where your deck is going and its approximate size, so now you can figure out some of the more fun details to make it feel more like home. No matter the shape or size, Elite Outdoor Expressions is here to help you every step of the way as you work through customization options and even purchasing of outdoor furniture.

Deck Design Principles

Earlier in this post, we mentioned that you should make sure that you know what you’re using your deck for. This holds true when you’re picking out the details of your deck design as well. If you’re using your outdoor space for entertaining or relaxing, you may want to consider a pergola or other type of shade structure. If you have a green thumb, planters are a good idea, or you may want to incorporate a pathway to your garden. If grilling is your passion, maybe consider creating a two-tiered deck so guests can be seated away from the smoke and fumes.

Work with Surrounding Architecture and Landscape

If you don’t want to cut down a tree that’s in your deck space, or perhaps don’t want to move a pool that you already have installed, considering building a pool deck or installing your deck around the existing structures. Decks can be made into virtually any shape, so talk to one of our experts at Elite Outdoor Expressions if you need help in your deck design.

Creating Separate Areas of the Deck

Another design element to take into consideration is creating separate areas of your deck. If you just bought a brand new grill, consider creating a small grilling “nook” so that it’s flush with the railings and doesn’t protrude into the walkway. Or if you have a hot tub, consider installing a pergola over one half of your deck to save costs and leave the other half open to soak up some sun.


When it comes to deck railings, there are endless design options. Luckily, our design experts can easily help you pick the right ones for your home and new project. If you’re looking for better views, make sure you pick one that has posts spaced farther apart so you can see through them. Also, if you have children or animals, you may consider having posts that are closer together for safety reasons.


Where you put your stairs is important for determining traffic flow. Typically traffic will flow from the exit of the house to the stairs, so think about where you want to place them, as well as how that will affect other design elements of your deck plans.


An often overlooked, but great detail for your backyard deck is lighting. Adding lighting to your railings or around your deck design will elevate your home’s aesthetics to the next level. Now you can entertain into the evenings without any hassle of candles or torches, but instead with just the flick of a switch.

Building Your Deck

Once you have all of the deck designing completed and have your deck plans ready to go, it’s time to move onto the final step—building!

Building Yourself

If your budget is tight, or you consider yourself handy, building the deck yourself may be the ideal option. Once all of the permits are in order and you’ve checked to make sure you’re following building codes, purchase your materials and get started. Make sure to double check your measurements and that everything is level—taking the extra time to do it right will save you any hassle down the road.

Having a Professional Build

Even if you are tight on your budget, we recommend hiring a professional to get the job done for you. Not only will this save you from frustration and stress, but it will also ensure you have the best looking deck possible. When you hire a professional like Elite Outdoor Expressions, you’ll rest easy knowing you’re in good hands.

With over 15 years of experience in building custom decks and railings, you can trust us to make your home look extraordinary. We’re focused on what we do best, so having us design and install your deck will ensure that you have the highest quality products in the industry. Contact us today to help you start your next project!

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