juliab51

Building a deck - what do you think?

juliab51
April 22, 2018

We want to add a low maintenance deck to our rectangular Minnesota rambler. The house is on a sloped lot with a same size lower level, and has no easy access to the backyard from the main floor for us or our small dog.

We are thinking of a 16x16 foot ipe structure with black metal railings and a Marvin sliding door to replace the picture window in the dining room. The idea is to have a rectangular table for six, plus a gas grill and two additional comfortable chairs for reading and conversation. The rendering shows more steps than will be necessary.

Is this a good plan, or are there other options we should be considering? Thanks for your help.



Comments (60)

  • ladma
    Ninigret’s suggestion of templating furniture arrangements is a good one. My deck is 15’ square, and is the pathway to the back yard, and we don’t have room for a table of that size on the deck. We have a grill, and some seating.
    juliab51 thanked ladma
  • shivece
    Make sure it is made so you don’t have to shovel it for any reason (material wear, snow/house interface, snow or snow + rain load or whatever). Shoveling a deck gets old fast. Even if you can push snow off under a railing.
    juliab51 thanked shivece
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  • juliab51

    It is Minnesota; there is no way to avoid shoveling.

  • rredpenn

    Sure there is. You just go somewhere else for the winter! ;)

    juliab51 thanked rredpenn
  • juliab51

    LOL! That is always an option!

  • Heather

    Classic rambler. I’d do an extension and step down so you can get the deck to the corner. I’d do composite. I have both. Ipe needs to be sanded and restained periodically. I’m in CA so don’t shovel snow, but do you really want to spend your beautiful weather days enjoying your deck or maintaining it? Me either.

    juliab51 thanked Heather
  • juliab51

    We are thinking of letting the deck age naturally. Is that what you are doing, stryker?

    What kind of composite would you suggest, Heather?

  • groveraxle

    I'm a little bothered by the fact that your proposed deck makes your house "left heavy." I would consider building out to the right. The deck as you've drawn it.

    A longer deck:
    More deck than anyone could possibly use unless you have huge parties...


    juliab51 thanked groveraxle
  • juliab51

    Thanks for the mock-ups, Grover. It probably does look better to have a longer, more centered narrow deck, but I don't want to darken the downstairs or to see it any more than necessary from the living room. No one really sees the view from the photo, anyway, since we back up to a wooded buffer zone.

  • rredpenn

    Grover is onto something. If you could plan to connect the deck, with a lower level landing that turns and leads to the patio area below, between the existing arborvitaes...that would draw the eye out into the yard, and look less one-sided. A tall element, like a snazzy umbrella on the patio table, would also draw the eye to that side.


    I love MCM decks that use a bench, or planter boxes, as a railing. Just a couple inspiration pics... :)

    juliab51 thanked rredpenn
  • kjoy1

    juliab51...may I ask what did you use to do your proposed deck rendering?

  • juliab51

    kjoy - The rendering was done by a designer, so I don't know.

    rred - Those are great looking decks. I'm actually not too concerned about how it is going to look from the yard, which is very private. How it lives and looks from inside the house is a bigger concern. I hate to lose the view of the perennial border just to look at a table and grill and an expanse of wood.

  • stryker

    Yes, I'm letting the ipe turn gray.

    You are right about the effect of the deck darkening the downstairs and how it will change the view from the inside. Of course, the bigger the deck, the bigger the cost, especially with ipe. Build only as much as you really want and will use. Do you have enough space for a grill and seating and everything?

    juliab51 thanked stryker
  • juliab51

    It looks as if we have room for everything, though I'm not sure how the stairs will work with the slope of the yard. And, people seem to have strong feelings about letting ipe weather. Could you show me what your gray wood looks like, stryker?

  • Heather

    I wouldn’t let Ipe age naturally. You’ll end up replacing the deck pretty quickly. Ipe is harder than the redwood decks I have, but all of them require maintenance. For the record, I have way too many and much sq ft of decking. It’s in the thousands of sq ft. I don’t live in an area with harsh winters like MN, but I would strongly recommend composite. There are a bunch of different types. You may want to buy a sample and see how hot it gets in the sun, etc. to find one you like. We’re all about redwood decking here, but everyone’s switching to composite due to the maintenance and replacement schedule.

    juliab51 thanked Heather
  • juliab51

    Heather, why do you say untreated ipe would need to be replaced quickly? It is my understanding that cities use it for boardwalks and that it lasts decades.

  • stryker

    Here you go.

    juliab51 thanked stryker
  • stryker

    I'm not sure what sort of maintenance you recommend, Heather. They call this Iron Wood. You can't hammer a nail into it and it won't burn. The holes have to be drilled. The rest of the house will fall apart before the deck will.

  • stryker

    The ipe deck at the old house was put in in 2002. I moved in 2015 and it was solid as ever. The treated cedar railing was falling apart, though.

  • Heather

    I have an Ipe deck. Not impressed. It’s rough, still requires sanding (even if you don’t stain or paint it) and it’s expensive. I’m not saying it’s not solid - I have 30 year old redwood decks that are solid. Wood decks need maintenance- more so in harsh climates. I personally like my composite deck much more, but then again all I have to do is hose it off.

  • stryker

    It is expensive. No question about that. Probably less than replacing deck materials every few years, though.

    It puzzles me that your deck is rough. Where do you live and how bad is your weather?

  • Heather

    I’ve seen Ipe wood decks fail - in Brazil. They don’t last any longer than a well-maintained redwood deck. The previous owners replaced the front porch deck with Ipe because they thought it was premium. They used the cheaper composite off the kitchen. The composite deck doesn’t get hot enough to burn your feet in the summer and just requires hosing off. My Ipe wood deck this year needs sanding and re-staining. Weathered Gray isn’t a good look for a front porch..... but that’s just me. It’s a great wood product, very expensive - I just don’t feel it’s worth the money over composite options (I realize not all composite materials may be great products, but I’m not an expert). My Ipe deck will last like all my other decks - and I have way too many decks.

    juliab51 thanked Heather
  • PRO
    juliab51 thanked BeverlyFLADeziner
  • juliab51

    I'm somewhat adverse to composite because my sister and BIL had to replace two Trex decks due to the material failing and also had mold or mildew spots. They received some compensation from the company but it cost them a fortune. Also, I prefer the idea of wood over plastic and rather like the weathered gray color, especially with my charcoal colored house.

  • juliab51

    Thanks for the visual, Beverly.

  • juliab51

    It has been a few months, but our deck and landscaping are finished. We did use ipe with a bi-level design and are very happy with the way it turned out. Thanks to all of you who commented.

  • Heather

    It came out beautiful! I’m saving this picture as I want to update our 30 year old decks. I love the railings.

    juliab51 thanked Heather
  • chiflipper

    Wow, that's a beautiful deck! I'm very familiar with Ipe (ee-pay) having spent time in South America. Maintaining the current color will require some work but, Ipe is as close as you're going to get to a "forever" product.

    juliab51 thanked chiflipper
  • Aurora Tee (Zone 6a)

    Wow! That looks great. Really transformed the house. Goes perfect with your home.

    I am about to get my old deck replanked with Timbertech composite and am really scared about the issues you mentioned above. The IPE does require some maintenance from what I read and unfortunately I don't want to deal with it.

    Congrats on a beautiful space.

    ETA: Did you change the window to a slider? I am thinking of doing something similar as well.

    juliab51 thanked Aurora Tee (Zone 6a)
  • Super Lumen

    I will say one thing: for Minnesota make 100% sure the deck builder flashes the top of the structural members. It is not required by code, and you don't see it much outside of high end installations, but every single deck in your climate should be done this way IMO. The flashing will add about $100 in materials and maybe 30 mins of installation time. Even with treated lumber it will insure that even if your decking wears out, the structural integrity of the deck will last significantly longer. There is really no financial reason for deck builders to not be doing this.

    juliab51 thanked Super Lumen
  • ladma
    Gorgeous! It’s beautiful!
    juliab51 thanked ladma
  • latifolia

    Very nice, indeed.

    juliab51 thanked latifolia
  • Sammy

    That is absolutely STUNNING! Saving this one! ;)

    juliab51 thanked Sammy
  • carladr

    The deck and the landscaping turned out so beautiful - great job!


    juliab51 thanked carladr
  • stryker

    Very nice!

    While I love the color of the ipe now, I think it also will look nice when it ages gray and blends in with the stones.

    juliab51 thanked stryker
  • benjesbride_misses_sophie

    Thank you for posting these photos. It’s gorgeous! Saved for our future deck/backyard project.

    juliab51 thanked benjesbride_misses_sophie
  • Aurora Tee (Zone 6a)

    @Super Lumen, I can't see the structural member flashing. Can you please explain a little? I am about to re-do my deck and want to make sure all is the best it can be. Thanks.

    juliab51 thanked Aurora Tee (Zone 6a)
  • juliab51

    Thanks for all the positive comments. We did replace the window with a slider and are loving the easy access we now have to the outside. Our plan is to let the wood age naturally. It has already faded a lot since it went in in late June.

  • kootenaycapable
    That turned out beautifully. I like the terracing of the slope.
    juliab51 thanked kootenaycapable
  • greenfish1234

    Wow. Fantastic choices. I have a mahogany deck and wish we had let it age naturally. Penetrating stain needs to be refreshed annually to look good and letting it go after years of staining it is a patchy labor of love

    juliab51 thanked greenfish1234
  • Aurora Tee (Zone 6a)

    Julia, when you put the slider was there any residual affect to your inside floors? If I do something similar, I am hoping there is no problem with existing hardwood as I am not ready to sand or re-screen. I will most likely put the deck in first as we don't have the money quite yet for the slider. The installer said there should be no damage to my deck but I forgot to ask about inside issues.

    I think the painting the surrounding trim around the windows black helped tie it all together.

    Before the deck and new slider, how did you get from the kitchen to outside when grilling, etc.?

    juliab51 thanked Aurora Tee (Zone 6a)
  • juliab51

    Aurora, we had no problems whatsoever with the door installation. The contractors protected the hardwood during installation and placed a threshold that covers the gap where the wood meets the door. Our sixty year old floor has some marks where a carpet tack strip used to be, but it all looks pretty good, I think, and makes getting outdoors so easy compared to before. We used to have to go down a flight of stairs and through the family room to get to the grill and backyard, and had such an awkward little patio that we never ate or entertained outside.


  • PRO
    GN Builders L.L.C

    You need 10' min overhead wire clearance if the surface bellow used for walking.

    juliab51 thanked GN Builders L.L.C
  • juliab51

    Yes, we had to bury our lines.

  • smakcanada

    Heather: you say the composite DOES NOT get hot? I've heard if does get hot, that's why I'm reluctant to use it. I have 2 dogs with sensitive paws. Is IPE hot in summer?

    juliab51 thanked smakcanada
  • Heather

    Yes, the IPE gets hot - just like any wood does. The composites - it depends. The stuff that looks more like plastic definitely gets hot, just like wood. The stuff that looks like refined particle board doesn’t get hot enough to burn feet. I’m not that familiar with all the engineered decking available, but I suggest you go down to the lumber yard and get samples. The lighter the color, the ‘cooler’ as well.

    juliab51 thanked Heather
  • stryker

    Ipe gets very hot. I love it, but that is a drawback. Walking on it barefooted in the summer hurts. Maybe it stores up heat because of its density?

    juliab51 thanked stryker
  • Molly Crist

    @juliab51 beautiful deck! Do you know what railing kit you used? I want something with a similar look. Thanks!!!

  • juliab51

    Molly, the railing was custom made by a local fabricator.

  • juliab51

    smakcanada, I just saw your comment. We haven't noticed an issue with the ipe being too hot. I don't go barefoot very often, but our elderly little dog doesn't seem bothered by it. and will stand and lie on the deck in the middle of the day.

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