There’s nothing nicer than sitting out on your decking on a hot summer’s day, right? Designing your own deck is one of those satisfying jobs that can be achieved with a little know how. But, get the design wrong and deck might lack the good looks and functionality you envisaged – and safety can even be compromised.
So, we have spoken to the experts to find out what not to do.
See: Deck ideas – creative decking ideas for your garden, patio or terrace
1. Getting the deck size wrong
Decking too much of your backyard can rob it of its natural appeal – vast expanses of wood can be difficult to furnish and may even contravene planning rules. However, get the deck size too small and it will be impractical.
See: Small garden decking ideas – design ideas to inspire you with yours
In an average-sized backyard, the deck should ideally not fill more than 25% of the space for balance – or around 300 to 400 sq feet. How small is too small? Ask yourself: what is a good size deck for entertaining? That way, you'll know that if guests can fit around it, then it will certainly be large enough for you when it's just you in the backyard.
As a general rule, a deck should measure no less than 145 square feet.
2. Using softwood decking
Health and safety is paramount when it comes to choosing the right type of decking, as explained by Tom Howard from Tom Howard Gardens:
‘I strongly recommend to never use softwood decking as it just doesn’t last. The grooved decking is advertised as being non-slip, however the grooves collect water and then turn green and slippery making it far more slippery than an actual smooth decking.
'In recent years, composite decking has become popular and is actually really rather good. If you’re going for composite or even hardwood, it’s a false economy to not build a very strong subframe. And even better is to build it using composite joists so that it never rots and will never need to be replaced. A softwood subframe would only typically last about eight years.’
3. Not installing a handrail if you have steps
Having no handrail is a decking design mistake that's actually rather dangerous – and which contravenes planning rules, too.
However, there's a subtlety here: interrupting the flow of a decking handrail with a post is also a design error to avoid. It’s often done as a design aesthetic, but a handrail on steps should be free-flowing for those walking up and down.
Not only do railings or a balustrade create a safe space, especially if you have children, it also helps to create a sense of the deck being enclosed and as a result, a place slightly hidden away and more secluded.
See: Deck railing ideas – materials and styles for every garden
4. Placing decking boards too close together
Wood expands and contracts depending on the weather and temperature – you sometimes notice this with traditional wooden doors, one day they're suddenly harder to open.
This is why when you look at decking, you’ll see a gap of between 5 and 8mm. This is intentional and allows that movement. If the boards are fitted without this gap the timber will buckle and twist, it also inhibits air circulation to the underside of the decking which can cause the wood to deteriorate more quickly.
5. Forgetting to seal decking
It can be tempting to get straight out on your decking with friends and family so you can make the most of it, however, the weather can change quickly depending on where you are and with that comes the peril. As soon as your decking is laid, the wood will start to change, so it’s essential that you seal it as soon as possible for both protection and longevity.
See: Deck color ideas – how to choose the color to paint your deck
6. Not investing in quality fixtures and fittings
Always make sure that the fixtures and fittings you choose are fit for purpose. Not all are treated for outside use in all weathers and if they’re not, they will rust, weaken and start to decay the wood. It’s not just wet weather that can affect them either – hot weather can too. The best finishes are stainless steel and specifically for decking, some galvanized screws can leave black streaks in the wood.
7. Making your deck a haven for rats
Rats love decking (the horror!) and the space underneath your decking makes them a lovely warm and cozy home that’s sheltered and ideal for them to breed in. Your food scraps fall between the gaps in the planks... anyway, you get the picture!
Make sure there are no gaps that they can get through by using chicken wire, wood or mesh along the entire edge. You do need to allow an access point so you can place vermin traps if needs be, use a section of deck board that can easily be lifted.
8. Attaching ledger boards badly
If you want to attach a free-standing deck to a structure then you need a ledger. It’s the part that is attached to the studs of the main structure and mistakes are made when it’s attached to a superficial material instead. Usually made from pressure treated lumber, it’s a vital part of the deck’s strength as it creates the frame and supports the joists.
9. Inheriting a deck and not checking it before use
If you’ve recently moved and your backyard has decking, do get it checked out properly. We tend to look at things on the surface but forget that it’s on a structure that could be rotting underneath. Even if you had your decking installed within the last five years, it still needs checking to make sure it’s safe. There could be damp boards, rusty fittings and corrosion around the deck fasteners.
See: Deck planting ideas – using beds, planters and living walls
10. Not calling in professional help
It looks easy right – simply laying a few planks on top of a frame in a few hours one weekend?
There’s more to deck laying than meets the eye and unless you do have previous knowledge or are a whizz with wood then it can be worth asking a decking professional for advice or paying for them to do it. Some decking jobs can suddenly become tricky when it comes to issues like cantilever designs, attaching ledgers and unlevel ground.
Michael Rapaport’s house has sold for $3.57 million – look inside this modern property
The stylish Hancock Park haven was one of the highest-priced new construction sales in the neighborhood
By Megan Slack •
Rattan decor is making a comeback – here's 10 ways to use it in your home
Rattan, wicker and woven materials are no longer considered dull, dated or dreary, and we at H&G very much welcome its highly-anticipated revival
By Sophie Warren-Smith •
Rose garden ideas – for a colorful and sweetly scented outdoor space
Inspiration for a romantic rose garden full of color and fragrance
By Pippa Blenkinsop •
Raised bed garden ideas – build raised planters now for productive, low- maintenance gardening
Versatile, decorative and practical, built-in raised bed garden planters widen the range of plants you can grow, and add a sculptural element to your outdoor space
By Jennifer Ebert •
Immunity gardens – everything you need to know about the new trend taking over our outdoor spaces
There is a blooming interest in growing immunity-boosting plants – here's how to get involved
By Megan Slack •
Sun mapping a garden is essential for planting success – Gardener Scott tips will help you get it right
Sun map your garden to see a dramatic difference in the health of your plants; follow Gardener Scott's easy tips for creating your own sun map
By Anna Cottrell •
Onion companion planting – the best plants to grow alongside onions
Use our guide to onion companion planting for a bigger, healthier and tastier crop of homegrown onions
By Holly Reaney •
This beautiful 18th century walled garden is filled with glorious cottage garden planting
The walled gardens to this 18th century laundry have been created over the past 13 years
By Rachel Crow •
5 ways to use coffee grounds in the garden – extraordinary ways to boost your blooms
Used coffee grounds are the sustainable ingredient your garden plants need – recycle yours for beautiful blooms
By Lucy Searle •
Monty Don's surprising greenhouse tips will make you rethink garden design – and how you use yours
The celebrity gardener has revealed how to design the perfect greenhouse – will you follow his bold tips?
By Megan Slack •