Decks are Popular, Personal and Expensive
Everybody wants an expansive deck to enjoy our fleeting summer days. Almost all new home buyers ask to increase the size of the builder’s deck. And it is a popular remodeling request as well. Decks come in all sizes, shapes and materials because decks are one of the most personal features of any home. Decks are for BBQing, sitting in the sun (what sun?), entertaining, meditating over a sunset or telescoping wildlife. But they all have one thing in common—they’re expensive! The beginning of any deck is the MOA requirement that a 3 x 3 landing must be outside of any opening door. From there, decks grow beyond the standard builder deck of 4 x 8. Code requires decks that are more than 30 inches off the ground to have a railing system. That requires pilings. Pilings cost anywhere from $270 to $370 each and the number of pilings depends on the size and shape of the deck as well as soils conditions. Any deck over 30 inches in height must also have stairs. A set of three to four stairs generally costs between $400 and $500. Second story decks are particularly expensive because of the heavy timbers required to support them and the number of stairs to the ground if the buyer wants access to their backyard. One negative to a second story deck is the shadow it can create blocking sunlight to the windows on the first floor.
Some builders charge by the square foot for decks which includes pilings, rails and steps. Other builders will give you a square foot cost and then add on for the additional items. One reason why decks are so expensive is that they are labor intensive. Generally speaking, a builder will charge less for a deck if the buyers decision to expand the deck is built into the plans or made prior to framing. Then, the framer can build the deck and the sider can top it off. Otherwise, adding on to any landing or small deck requires a change order and a multitude of hands to manage the change.
Due to what seems like our never ending rainy season, covered decks are becoming increasingly popular in Alaska. The MOA does not have any code requirements for a roof over a deck—at least not yet but it is still expensive. Trex is the most expensive and theoretically the most durable material for a deck. Trex is made from 95% recycled materials, including reclaimed wood and sawdust as well as recycled plastic from plastic overwraps found on paper towels, toilet paper, dry cleaning bags, newspaper bags, grocery and shopping bags. It is considered more durable and maintenance free and in general a more consistent product than cedar or other wood species. It does, however, scratch, despite claiming to be scratch resistant. There are several types of trex but in general it costs $4 to $7 more per square foot than cedar. A popular deck amenity is a cable rail which is three to four times more expensive than a standard wood railing.
Finally, on a personal deck note, for over 20 years, I’ve had a small deck with pavers and a roof outside my kitchen. It has double garden doors. Occasionally, we’ve opened one of the doors. This summer when hosting a small group, I suddenly realized both doors could be opened! Sure enough, it has now become the most popular area in the home for family and guests! If only I had opened that second door twenty years ago.