One of the first things I remember about our home when we first moved in was our backyard. It wasn’t much, maybe 350 sq feet and surrounded by a nice high white vinyl fence. The day we moved in, it was clear that this was not normal grass. High grass and weeds infested the backyard. Since it was a small area behind our townhouse, I didn’t see the value of purchasing a full scale lawn mower so I purchased a weed wacker and used that to cut the grass every two weeks in about two weeks. Once I tired of that, I decided to kill the grass to avoid mowing “the jungle” as wifey liked to call it.
It was always our plan to add a deck to the back of our property to take the place of our backyard. There are two windows in our kitchen that we realized immediately would be perfect candidates for a door to have a 10-foot or so deck out from it.
I soon found out that the community that we bought into was never zoned to have decks. So time passed, and the wife and I began to think that our dream of having an extra living extension out from our kitchen was unlikely. Instead of waiting for one of our neighbors to take the initiative to move forward on working with the city to get decks zoned for our property, after about a year living in the property, I decided to handle the task myself. Always check to make sure you have the proper zoning and paperwork before building anything.
I had a few meetings with the very patient and helpful staff in the zoning commission of the City of Alexandria. I quickly learned that it was going to be a time consuming and frequently confusing process to get our properties zoned to have decks and thus increase our living – and property values in the process.
I was told that the City requires a set amount of open space on each property and that getting decks on our property would require an exception from the City. As I explained to the City, we both wanted the same thing. If I was able to add a deck to my property, I would be able to increase the value of our small home, while the City would be able to charge more in property taxes each year as the value of our home increased.
After receiving the exemption, it was time to begin working with the site plans – something I had no experience in whatsoever. Hell, I work in PR for a living. It took a few times, but I marked the plans of all seven homes in our townhouse community to be zoned for decks. As I mentioned earlier, all of our properties have the same white vinyl fence, and city code limits the distance the end of the deck can be from the property line by no less than five feet. Fortunately, each property extended more than five feet from the end of where our vinyl fences sat, thus making it possible for our deck to be about the size of our existing fenced area or in our properties case about 27 feet x 9 feet. Adding about 300 sq feet was going to be great.
A few do-overs and learning what size and type of paper the city required revised plans to be drawn (24”x 36”), I had finally received approval to construct a deck on our property – nearly 18 months after we first moved in. Next came the fun part – getting quotes.
I decided that I would get quotes from a variety of companies – both large and small. Since we knew that it was cheaper to build in the winter, I thought that we could get a good deal. The larger companies were very knowledgeable but it was clear that their prices were going to be steep. Instead of going with one of the big boys, we used the advice given by the larger companies to go get what we wanted at the right price, from a smaller company.
It was cheaper to select an all wood option, but we knew that in the long run, it made sense to go with a composite decking.
The larger builder suggested that we not use Trex and instead go with a composite called Fiberon. He claimed that Trex tends to get spots after a few years. The smaller deck company was able to get Fiberon and we selected a color that closely matched the siding of our home. Next, we decided to use a vinyl railing instead of regular wood for maintenance and look reasons. Our rational was we had spent this much already on the deck, that we might as well go “all-in”.
Once we selected the company, and the builder pulled the permits, it took six days for construction to wrap up. The City inspected in three phases, from the support holes, to the structure to the final inspection. All three times, our construction passed.
Before we had the door installed we climbed out the window on the night it finished - as you can see someone was quite excited.
My father and I decided to save $1,500 that the builder offered to charge to remove the window and install a door and do it ourselves. It took about six hours, but we saved a good chunk of change and we got the door on sale for just $99 from Home Depot. At the beginning of the door installation, we were concerned that electrical wires would be running below the window and create a headache when trying to install the door. Luckily, that was not the case. Removing the window, cutting the new hole and installing the new door took the bulk of the time and we finished up just in time for our annual Super Bowl Party!
The deck is truly an extension of our home and we know while the investment was high, it will pay us back in the long run and provide us a great area to hangout. There isn’t much better than sitting on the deck, enjoying a beer after a long day. I am even thinking of throwing a flatscreen outside during football season in the fall to watch Redskins and college football games!