I've built a reputation for creating high-quality, high-end decks
and porches. To compete in this market, you have to impress the
clientele - and that's what I set out to do, by incorporating what
I call "wow" factors on every deck I build. These are the features
that, quite simply, make people stop, look, and say, "Wow." Once
you've built a few of them, they start to sell themselves;
prospective clients will often specifically ask me about a wow
factor they've seen on one of my completed projects. And these
extra features don't only sell jobs, they're profitable as well. In
many cases, a rich-looking feature doesn't cost much more to
deliver than a simpler one, but because of its appearance, it
brings top dollar.
A wow factor on a deck can be a transitional area, a special
treatment of the railing, or an extra such as an arbor. It can
include inlaid octagons, routed trim pieces, or aprons. It can also
be as simple as a functional space that adds overall interest. On a
porch, a wow factor could be a trim detail, an upgraded floor or
ceiling, lighting, or a fireplace.
Simple Wow Factors
Not all attention-getting features are difficult or expensive to
build. One of my goals for the projects I design and build is that
they appear to be extensions of the house. An easy, low-cost way to
dress up a deck and visually tie it to the house is to install an
apron made of PVC and paint it to match the house trim or siding.
PVC holds up well, and since moisture doesn't penetrate it, the
paint doesn't bubble or peel.
Working with yard angles and offsets on the house is another way to
add wow to a deck. Incorporating small bump-outs not only avoids
long, boring, straight lines but also assures function where bay
windows, offsets, or a fireplace would otherwise reduce the deck's
area (Figure 1). Even on ordinary decks, bump-outs add a surprising
amount of appeal for a relatively minor investment in labor and
materials (Figure 2).
Figure 1. A deck that follows a house's
contours is more memorable than a budget, rectangular deck and
doesn't cost a lot more to build.
Figure 2. Even a simple bump-out adds interest
to a deck.
Finally, you can add interest to an otherwise plain deck just by
running the decking diagonally.
Rounded features look impressive and draw attention. They can be
simple projections or they can encompass larger areas (Figure 3).
The former require fewer framing changes and less labor than the
latter and therefore cost less; still, any time radii are involved,
pricing allowances must be made. Experience with this type of work
is really the only way to know how much time to allow and what to
charge the customer.
Figure 3. The cozy spaces created by round
decks are a major wow factor.
That said, a radius is not as hard to build as some might think.
The understructure for a bump-out radius is formed by simply
cantilevering the joists past a beam. Establishing the pivot point,
marking and cutting the joists, and blocking will take extra time,
but aren't particularly difficult. And in most cases, wrapping a
5/8-inch PVC fascia will cap the ends of the joists quickly and
To create a railing on a curved deck, straight sections can be
arranged in a polygon, or a true radius rail can be made in the
field or ordered. Bending plastic for a curved railing requires
some pricey equipment, like Trex's CustomCurve (877/552-8783,
Heatcon's Heat Forming Kits (800/556-1990, heatcon.com). If you're not interested
in making that kind of investment, you may want to look at a
company that will custom-bend decking products to your
specifications, like Bugh (888/752-8783, bughinc.com). Or use a local
fabricator that can create curved metal rails. Avoiding radii
tighter than 4 feet makes the process easier.
A single deck can be host to many activities, such as dining,
relaxing, cooking, or soaking in a hot tub. Defining an area for
each offers design possibilities that will improve the function of
the deck while giving it more visual impact.
Popular with customers, inlaid octagons make great dining or
sitting areas (Figure 4). They can be as small as 12 feet across
and still be usable, so they are an excellent wow factor on even
small to midsized decks. In addition to the obvious extra time to
install the decking, more framing labor is necessary for octagons
because the decking requires additional support. Overall, however,
the cost is a small percentage of the value of the result.
Figure 4. Octagons are a little simpler to
build than round areas but have a similar impact.
Transitions between levels offer lots of opportunities to be
creative (Figure 5). By building deeper steps, for example, you can
add interest and function to level changes. Using three boards per
tread instead of the normal two boards keeps the main function of a
step and makes the step deep enough to serve as overflow seating
Figure 5. Extending a walkway through a garden
ties the deck to the landscape.
Figure 6. Building transitional steps one
board wider makes them more noticeable and provides ample space for
An arbor or a pergola can also set off an area of the deck for
relaxing or dining, while providing shade. It's a more expensive
upgrade and a significant wow factor (Figure 7).
Figure 7. Not only does a pergola provide
shade, it also jazzes up any deck.
With so many options on the market for railings, they can provide a
ready-made wow factor. Centerpiece accents or decorative connectors
or balusters are simple ways to amplify the look of a finished
project. Material costs, of course, vary widely. Bar tops or eating
surfaces can be added to a railing with minimal effort (Figure 8).
Routed edges and trim create a finished look, again without a lot
of extra labor.
Figure 8. Cap the top of a railing with a PVC
board and you have an eye-catching bar top.
Porches With Panache
A basic screen porch adds function and interest to a deck and can
definitely be a wow factor (Figure 9). However, extra details like
custom-wrapped columns, beams, and routed horizontal trim - which
may require a day or two of work and hundreds or even thousands of
dollars in material - will drive the wow factor through the roof
Figure 9. A simple porch adds a wow factor to
Figure 10. Building up the trim and columns on
a porch can tie it to interior finish details.
Putting thought into flooring, ceilings, and trim features makes a
huge difference in a finished project (Figure 11). I offer several
flooring types: Hardwoods, capstocks, and slate or tile are common
selections. Any of these add a wow factor beyond a typical
Figure 11. Stone flooring and a stained wood
ceiling give this porch a level of finish that the homeowners will
appreciate daily and visitors will remember.
Ceilings can include cedar with exposed rafters, painted beadboard
with crown and trim, or cypress. Planing rough-sawn cedar rafters
smooth changes the look from rustic to refined. Incorporating a few
simple details into a beadboard ceiling can change the look
dramatically. Dividing the ceiling up into equal panels and
trimming the joints with 1 1/2-inch mullion center, then trimming
the corners with crown creates an elegant effect.
Fireplaces may be used only seasonally, but they provide a wow
factor all year round (Figure 12). The cost of adding fireplaces is
significant, but coordination and delivery is not difficult (see
"Fireplaces in Porches," July/August 2009).
Figure 12. Even in the summer, a fireplace is
this porch's focal point.
These added features cost varying amounts to deliver, but they all
raise your finished product to a higher plane. They separate you
from those builders who focus on production and simple projects,
and they allow you to sell more jobs, at higher margins.
Bobby Parks is a deck builder in Alpharetta,