Best decks: All decked out for family fun

All decked out for family fun

If you hate the long drive to the cottage, a spacious deck can create an oasis right in your backyard—and it can be affordable, too

(Photo by Ryann Ford)

(Backyard decks now include fountains, fire pits and all-weather TVs/Photo by Ryann Ford)

Imagine walking out your patio doors as the sun peeks through the morning clouds while the sky is brilliantly lit up with streaks of orange, red and yellow. A mug of coffee in your hand, you survey your masterpiece: a 5,000 square-foot, multi-tiered deck that surrounds your in-ground pool. Now this is the ultimate in backyard retreats.

Sound a bit over the top? Believe it or not this exists—and not in the foothills of Beverly Hills, but right in Southern Ontario. It was a project Steven Willis, assistant director of design for HGTV Star’s Paul Lafrance Design team, was tasked to complete last year. A retired couple had downsized their home and their one grand splurge was to create the ultimate backyard deck. The retreat boasted sun-drenched cabanas, a three-season outdoor games room and a magazine-inspired outdoor kitchen that seated 20 comfortably. “It actually dwarfed the home that was on the property,” says Willis with a laugh. It also came with a hefty six-figure price tag.

While most of us don’t have the room—let alone the money—for a 5,000 square-foot composite and cedar-trimmed deck, that doesn’t mean the ultimate garden retreat is out of reach. So how much will it cost? For a spacious, custom-built 1,500 square-foot deck, $40,000 is typical. “But even with large price tags, homeowners are lining up to get ideas,” says Willis. “They especially hate the long drive to the cottage. With a backyard retreat you take just two steps before you start enjoying your space.”

Photo gallery: A dream deck for every budget »

Still, to go from dream, to drawing, to signing on your designer’s dotted line, you’ll need to do some research. “A number of facets impact the price,” explains Willis. These include the size of the deck, type of landscaping, materials used and features included. “The key is to focus on quality—not quantity.”

When Willis was approached by a client with a $20,000 budget who wanted a garden oasis with a self-contained dining space island, the challenge was simplified with just one step—creating a design. “Paying for a proper design will cost 10% of your building budget,” says Willis, “but it could save you thousands in building costs.” In this case, the design identified do-it-yourself areas that helped the client save $10,000 in labour costs.

“A plan can also help identify what areas need to be completed this year and what areas can wait until another year and another budget,” says Willis. For instance, consider adding levels, transitions (such as stone), and features (such as water) at a later stage.

“But the biggest way to cut costs is to cut size,” explains Willis. You’ll pay $35,000 to have a builder construct a 1,000 square-foot deck out of bug and decay-resistant Ipe (also known as Brazilian walnut), but you can cut that cost down to $17,500 with a 500 square-foot deck. If you have a more modest budget of $10,000 or less, consider using more cost-efficient materials. For instance, you’ll pay $1.85 per square foot for a pressure-treated deck that will last 10 or more years, while composite decking—a mixture of plastic and wood—starts at $3.65 per square foot and should last 25 years. Ipe or red cedar will set you back $4.85 a square foot and lasts 10 years.

The key, says Willis, is to focus on getting the best material possible for your decking—the actual floor of your deck. Why? Because the decking takes a beating from foot traffic, the sun’s UV rays, rain and snow. “Buy the best decking material your budget will allow,” says Willis, “and upgrade everything else later.”

Of course if you really want to save a bundle, you can build your deck yourself, says Jonathan Robert, an Ottawa-based landscape designer. A 1,000 square-foot deck built out of pressure treated wood will set you back about $6,000 for materials, and by doing it yourself, you can save $7,000 on the labour.

Then reward yourself for your efforts with some fun features. “Water and fire are big right now,” says Robert, such as a stand-alone fire pit or a water wall complete with bubbling pond basin. Water features help urban homes feel more secluded, while fire features allow homeowners to enjoy their outdoor retreat on spring and fall evenings, too.

Just be sure to tailor your features to reflect your primary reason for creating your backyard retreat. So if you plan on cooking and entertaining, spend on an outdoor kitchen and dining area ($2,500 and up); if you want to have friends over for games night, splurge on an all-weather home entertainment system ($4,000 and up). Other options include living walls or cabana rooms that allow you to enjoy your garden rain or shine.

Finally, outdoor fabric sails can be used to shelter the deck from the sun and add a splash of colour. Stone or metal walls can add texture, while lighting adds depth. “Built-in LED lights along stairs or in railings are popular as they create depth and mood,” adds Willis, while enabling homeowners to continue to use their space even when the sun has gone down.