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Questions from the Market: Ground-level Decks

Last weekend the Farmers Market season opened and I’m back in the swing of things. Had several nice conversations with people – both new and old. That’s my favorite part of the market – making and maintaining relationships.

I got a good question at the Newark Natural Foods Market about how to build a deck close to the ground so I wanted to spend a little time exploring that. The person was looking for a way to have a deck in place of grass but didn’t have a lot of money to spend on building a deck. We went back and forth on ideas. The usual way is building a traditional deck very close to the ground. At it’s best you will get a deck to be about 8″-12″ off the ground. Which was too high for this person.

Second choice was to use Dek-Blocks – saves time in digging foundations, but still has the problem of height.

I suggested using a timber foundation as a way to get the foundation & structure lower, since you can set it into the gravel. If you set the timbers on 24″ centers you can deck right on top of them.

That led to suggesting that they build a mat of composite decking on the ground, like duck boards. The idea is that it is a self-supporting unit that floats on the ground. To be effective it needs to be a pretty level part of the lawn. First you remove the sod. Then lay down landscaping fabric and 2″-4″ of gravel extending beyond the edges of the deck area. Then lay 2×4 composite decking on 24″ centers on the gravel, running the short direction. Level those and then install 2×4 decking on top running cross-wise. I’d put a large gap between the decking to allow trapped moisture to escape. Much like building a roof deck.

Searching around I have found a few people who have tried this, but no results yet. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Popular Question from the Market: Screened Porches

It’s not surprising given the weather lately that I’ve been getting questions about screened porches. Ones that can be built on top of decks, and in place of decks, and as an alternative to decks. Now my experience with screened porches is limited mostly to the cabin on Squam Lake that my uncle owned. So this is a great opportunity for some research. And a chance to browse a collection of screened porch photos at Houzz.

So let’s look at the different ways to build a screened porch. The first way, on top of an existing deck, has the advantage of using the existing framing and foundation. But before you start, make sure that the deck structure will support the additional weight of the roof and wall framing. You may need to add additional framing or even posts. An insect barrier will need to be installed below the deck boards since they are spaced for drainage. Then you basically remove the existing posts and railing, and replace them with larger (typically 6×6) posts and bracing. The tricky part is building the roof and connecting it to the house. Whoever is building it must carefully flash the connection or else the potential for water damage is high. A good example of the process was in Handy magazine.

Building a new porch attached to the house is much like building a deck, but with the added challenge of the walls and roof. Before you start though, consider whether you will be want to convert it at some point to a sunroom/three-season/four-season room. If you think you will, you will need to provide a continuous foundation wall and footings instead of just piers for the posts. Here is an example of building a typical porch from Family Handyman.

The last option is a free-standing structure, typically built on the ground. Again, you can build it like a ground-level deck with a slab on grade and piers for the posts. Or you can explore the innumerable options for pre-fabricated gazebos and cabanas (traditional and modern) and free-standing enclosures.

In all cases, you ‘ll want to carefully consider how much space you will need. You really need to treat it like any other room, and look at how the traffic will move through and where you will put furniture. It would be very disappointing to build a porch that ends up being too small to use well. And you’ll want to look carefully at your house for design cues that you can incorporate into the new porch so that it will look appropriate.