Looking at this composite deck construction job, you might have noticed a bit of a theme. The property owner loves that good old nautical flair. If the anchor decor and lovely blue trim didn’t clue you in, the fact that this deck is right on the water should have!
Some of the jobs we take on are less technically complex than others — but looks can be deceiving. This project was a case in point.
Although the low level of the deck meant that we wouldn’t have to use any extreme construction techniques, the proximity to the water, aesthetic, and other factors came together to make this job one that demanded its fair share of due diligence. Here’s a walkthrough of what we accomplished, how we did it, and what was going through our heads — apart from how nice it would have been to go for a little boat ride out on the water instead of working.
These images give you a pretty good idea of some of the issues around this build. When building a deck near a lake, harbor, or other body of water, there are several construction factors we like to consider, and it’s better to think about them early.
During the design phase, we placed a strong focus on safety, and we don’t just mean trying not to fall over the edge ourselves! Even though Gig Harbor isn’t exactly known for its raging tides, the Maritime City is still founded on a natural body of water. In other words, you have to build in anticipation of evolving, unpredictable natural conditions.
Laying the Groundwork
To get the process rolling, we started with a thorough inspection of the conditions. We wanted to make sure the deck was properly anchored to withstand not only strong winds, high waves, and potential runoff but also subsidence.
Despite the concrete barrier between the water and the property, the land here is still subject to gradual shifting — and the homeowner wanted a deck, not a boat ramp! Before tackling anything else, we worked extremely hard to build a base that would last using the best in proven deck construction techniques.
Shoring up the foundation below ground wasn’t the only issue. For this project to last, the decking needed to be able to resist moisture and potential exposure to salt water. This is why we typically recommend using materials that are resistant to rot and corrosion.
In this case, we worked from the ground up using a combined material approach. After building the foundational supports and framework from durable weather-resistant lumber, we created a composite upper body to finish the job in style.
Adding an Apron
One thing you’ll notice about this project is that we included an apron extending from the deck floor all the way to the ground. This helped us accomplish a few critical goals:
- Moisture protection: Even though we used moisture-resistant lumber, it’s important to remember that water-resistant doesn’t mean waterproof. Over time, splashing and spray from the waves would wear down the underlying support structure — a particularly pressing concern thanks to the seasonal salinity gradients common to this area. Adding the apron extended the lifetime of this deck without increasing the upkeep requirements.
- Improved aesthetics: Hiding a support structure is a nice way to create a complete, finished look. As much as our team loves the sight of raw lumber, we really appreciated how the apron produced a clean and seamless transition from the deck to the ground.
- Heightened functionality: If you look at the first photo closely, you’ll also see that we included a cool hidden storage compartment by the paved path — making it easy to keep stuff out of the way. This was a smart way to effectively increase the usable area of the yard, not to mention, reducing the likelihood that animals might want to take up residence underneath!
- Erosion mitigation: One drawback of creating a low-to-the-ground deck is that it darkens the ground below. While this is nice if you’re looking for ways to get out of the sun, the shade has an unintended effect in overcast places like the Pacific Northwest: Grass won’t grow too well beneath tightly fitted decking. In other words, it makes the perfect conditions for wind erosion that would ultimately weaken the structure. We didn’t want this to happen, so the apron was an obvious choice.
Preserving the Natural Feel
Another important consideration was access to the lake — it would be a shame to waste those views out across the sound, wouldn’t it?
We took a few different steps to ensure the homeowners didn’t have to give up their awesome backdrop to enjoy their deck. Our key goal was to maximize the scenic views while allowing easy access to the water.
Room to Kick Back
Our designers agreed with the homeowner that it’d be smart to incorporate steps along the side. Deck stairs naturally tend to be gathering points for people, outdoor gear, and other things, so we thought it best to keep them from limiting the nice perspective. With the stairs leading off to the side this way, we preserved not only the view looking outward but also created an unbroken railing to draw less attention away from the main event: the scenery.
Our side-stair layout also resulted in the formation of a comfortable, organic lounge zone. We added bench seating so that the occupants and their guests could chill out and relax at leisure. This was the ideal complement to the dual-stair layout because it made use of the protruding deck area without interfering with passage through the gates.
Unlike many deck builders, we chose not to back the seating up against the exterior wall of the home. This both prevented the layout from blocking the sliding doors and resulted in a spot that was all the more scenic. The property owner may someday fill their remaining space with tables, chairs, grills, and other furniture — so why place the benches where they’d eventually be obstructed?
Adding latched safety gates was our way of ensuring that pets and kids could enjoy time outdoors without getting too close to the water. We weren’t just looking out for the property owner, however; we were also thinking about the local building codes.
The law is still clear about safety — you need guard rails for anything that exceeds a certain minimum height, and we tend to err on the side of caution. Fortunately, our team is extremely knowledgeable about the local requirements, so we were able to advise the homeowner on the best design options.
Tying It All Together
Finally, we get to the centerpiece of this fun project. No, it’s not the symmetrical layout, the nice little side path that ties everything together, or even how the cool metallic grey tones make the perfect visual break between the competing blues of the water and the house. To be honest, you might not have even noticed one of this deck’s most exciting features — and that was the point.
We’re talking about the cable railing. If you’ve seen any of our other jobs, you know that steel cable is one of our favorite railing materials. This job truly showcases why.
By using cable railing, we created a unique deck that both resists sea spray and keeps the view unblocked. It’s easy to overlook the fact that there’s railing at all, and yet it’s an aesthetic force to be reckoned with. It sits there passively, and it’s a great match for the nautical theme thanks to its understated modern charm.
Cable railing deck construction also minimizes strain forces to reduce wear under tough conditions like these. Unlike timber uprights, the railing’s thinner metal support posts require minimal hole drilling and fixtures. Using this proven style of deck construction let us mitigate strain on common failure points for results that are sure to last longer.
Build a Better Deck With 3 Brothers Decking
We were super pleased with how this job turned out, and so was the property owner. Want to discover how our expert deck builders can transform your balcony or deck ideas into a stunning design — and even more impressive execution? Chat with one of our team members to get your Gig Harbor, Seattle, or Bellevue deck project rolling.