Regardless of where your deck design comes from, it's important to create one that's friendly to and consistent with your environment, both in the local and global sense.

Historically, woods such as pine, cedar, redwood, mahogany, and ipe have been among the most popular for deck construction. Each has its advantages and its advocates. Ipe, for example, has a fantastic reputation for its resistance to bugs and weather rot, but much of it is harvested from South American rainforests, which is not a good thing. Pine is relatively inexpensive at about $15 per square foot—about half what the considerably more elegant redwood and cedar cost.

But traditional woods certainly are not your only decking options. Composite materials, which as the name implies are created from multiple materials, are gaining popularity. Most are made from some combination of recycled ground–up wood and plastic resins.

Plastic lumber, on the other hand, contains no wood whatsoever. Aluminum decking is another option. To most eyes, composites and plastic lumber lack the beauty and authenticity of natural woods. Their selling point, of course is that they require less maintenance than traditional woods and don't splinter, rot, or taste good to termites. The quality and selection of nontraditional materials has improved sharply in recent years.

Information about both traditional woods and alternative decking is available from the nonprofit Deck Industry Association.

Material choice, like most elements of deck design, is a highly personal decision. There is no right material for every application, just as there is no one correct shape or size for each deck. There is no question, however, that non-wood decks are gaining both in popularity and quality.

Decks should be designed and built of materials that complement your home and those in your neighborhood. To that end, it's not unusual for homeowner associations to include covenants that specify acceptable materials and maximum sizes for any home modifications, including decks. Before committing to a new project, make sure it conforms to applicable homeowner covenants and zoning restrictions, if any.

To maximize the environmental appeal of your deck, let it harmonize with your backyard. Decorative plantings in the form of flowerbeds or a small vegetable garden can serve as colorful enhancements to set the deck off and increase its natural attractiveness.

Especially with low–elevation decks, shrubs can be planted around the perimeter to partially obscure the lines of the deck. Strategically placed trees are an excellent source of shade for decks.

And while you are going through the effort and expense of adding a first–rate deck to the rear of your home, now is the time to prep your backyard for spring so you get maximum enjoyment out of the new structure.

That means the yard should get the basics: Clean up the yard and compost dead leaves and branches, which later can be used in flower beds and around plants and trees. Prune trees and plants so they will grow more healthily and quickly. Depending on location and soil, core aeration and application of slow–release fertilizer can help your lawn look its best.

After all, with a new custom deck, you'll be spending a lot more time outdoors, and you'll want your yard to measure up to the deck—both things of beauty, both in harmony with the environment and, most importantly, both looking great.
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