Planning Your Patio, Porch and Deck

Low-maintenace decking

It’s time to come out of winter hibernation—finally!

After a rough cold-weather season, we’re all more than ready to soak up the sunshine and fresh air from a patio, porch or deck. But first, that outdoor living space has to be built to suit your family’s needs. So we’ve tapped into the minds of local pros to outline planning tips and design trends. (We even threw in some grilling tips and drink recipes to properly celebrate when you’re done!)

First things first

Before beginning any project, you should learn about your limitations. “Common oversights for porch or deck projects are zoning laws and building setbacks,” says Rick Goldstein of MOSAIC Group [Architects and Remodelers]. “How close can you build to your property lines? What are the codes? Do you need a railing? There is even a new code that says deck stairs need to be lighted at night.” When researching, also remember to factor in your neighborhood’s HOA restrictions.

Once you know your limitations, think realistically about how you will use the outdoor space. “A more active homeowner may want to include a pool or designate space for games,” say Kelly M. Burgess and Richi Morgan, showroom design consultants at AuthenTEAK Outdoor Furniture in Atlanta. “Families will want to plan their outdoor living space with furniture and fixtures suitable for their children. Homeowners who enjoy entertaining often will want a space that comfortably accommodates a larger number of people.” 

And don’t just think about the summertime. To ensure you’ll get the most out of your outdoor space, consider how it will function in spring, fall and even winter. “It’s important for homeowners to think about how they will use their spaces through the seasons,” says Des Williams, president of Outdoor Advantage in Dacula. “You may want to think about adding a covering to an outdoor space such as a cabana or pergola to shade or cover from rain.” Speaking of shade, the area’s sun exposure is another major factor. “Whether it’s protection from direct sun or the inclusion of sun into the space, the space should be designed to at least take into account the sun’s movements,” Goldstein advises.

Design time

You have an idea of what you want, now it’s time to call in the pros to get a master plan designed for the space. “This is going to be imperative for the contractor to see what infrastructure may need to be built in for future additions,” Williams says. Master plans also aid in space planning, accounting for overall size and placement of features, but also for the view.

“The ability to relax and entertain completely surrounded by nature’s beauty makes outdoor living unique,” Burgess and Morgan say. “Homeowners can capitalize on this unique attribute by planning their space to maximize the best views from their property.”

In regards to size, bigger is nearly always better. “A bigger space just gives you more options,” says Joel Harper, owner and project manager with Leisure Time Decks in Lilburn, noting that homeowners sometimes forget to leave enough room to walk around the furniture. “I have never heard someone say ‘I wish I’d made it smaller.’”

That said, proximity to the home is a consideration on the other side of the coin. Though you want a large outdoor living space, if you position certain features too far from the home, it’s less likely you’ll use them. This sometimes happens with fire pits, Williams notes.

Technical details

As with any indoor space, the plumbing, electrical and gas lines need to be planned for and installed prior to construction of the patio, porch or deck, advises Maureen Recchia, director of merchandising and principal buyer for  American Casual Living in Buford. “These are examples of items that are often difficult and costly to retrofit.”

Jeff Butler, partner of RainAway Deck Drain Systems and Georgia Awnings in Marietta, agrees, noting that pre-wiring your deck’s roof for ceiling fans and/or recessed can lights is less expensive than wiring after or during the installation. If you’re installing an awning, Butler recommends prewiring a junction box where the awning will be installed, as it will greatly improve the aesthetics of the new awning. “There will not be wires hanging down the side of your home,” he says.

Drainage is another technical consideration. “Drainage is really important to keep in mind when completing an outdoor living project,” Williams explains. “Making sure proper drains are built 
into patios, fireplaces and fire pits is vital. A mistake here can be very costly and frustrating for a homeowner.”  Drainage is also a serious consideration for decks. “Homeowners tend to not think about where the water is going to go after it has gone through the deck boards and into the under-deck system,” Butler says, advising to have drainpipes installed.

And it’s always best to prepare for future additions and enhancements, as well. “If homeowners don’t think about how they may want to upgrade their space in the future with features like outdoor lighting, adding a gas grill or a fire pit, then the contractor may not install conduits into beds, stub for power or gas or pre-run outdoor lighting wires,” Williams says.

Furnish it

“With the outdoor furniture available today, your outdoor living space can be just as comfy as your family room,” Harper says. 

Comfy, indeed. Trends in outdoor furnishings have leaned away from outdoor dining sets and towards more relaxed, casual environments with deep seating and tables featuring built-in fire pits. But deep seating means larger-than-average furnishings, so be sure your space can accommodate it. “We have  seen a number of homeowners try to assign too many functions to a finite amount of space, and they wind up overcrowding the floor plan or being disappointed when they can’t make everything fit,” Burgess and Morgan say. 

“Outdoor lighting is also something we are seeing a lot of,” Goldstein notes, adding that LED lighting in particular is something he’s excited about, since it has a long lifespan. And he’s not the only one: Harper also recommends LEDs, particularly new yellow LED lighting, which casts a more natural color than the traditional bluish-white LEDs.

And if you want an outdoor kitchen but are wary of the intensive planning and high costs,
Recchia points to a new,  affordable cast-aluminum outdoor kitchen island by Gensun. “In the past, building an outdoor kitchen was an involved process requiring construction, project management and much expense. Gensun kitchens are modular and fit virtually anywhere, thus eliminating costly site modification or additional construction,” she says, adding that the kitchens are highly customizable and are built for the outdoors, using high-grade cast aluminum.

Not just for furnishings, but for all outdoor living materials, local experts are unanimous on one piece of advice: “Buy quality and avoid disappointment,” as Recchia puts it. “I speak from experience. Your outdoor living space must withstand the elements year round, and should ideally be constructed with materials that deliver optimum performance in all conditions.”

New Building Code for Decks

The state of Georgia has released and begun enforcing new requirements for residential decks. “The new amendment to the Georgia building code is an effort to prevent future serious deck collapses like the ones that have occurred over the last 10-15 years,” says architect Rick Goldstein, co-owner of MOSAIC Group [Architects and Remodelers]. He notes that the deck-building section of the codebook now specifies beam sizes, footing spacing and connection and railing details. Also, new items addressed include lighting at exterior stairways and diagonal and lateral bracing for the deck structure. You can also no longer attach an independent deck to the brick veneer of a house.

Enjoy these libations from your beautifully designed patio, porch or deck.

Shake ingredients and serve in a martini glass
•  1 ½ oz iced tea-infused Gin
•  ½ oz Grand Marnier
•  ½ oz lemon juice
•  ½ oz simple
•  4 dashes Regan’s orange bitters

•  Combine ingredients with ice; briefly toss in cocktail shaker and serve with a lemon garnish
•  1 oz Wild Turkey American Honey
•  2 oz Allagash White beer
•  2 oz fresh lemonade

Royal Regatta
Combine ingredients with ice; briefly toss in cocktail shaker and serve with a cucumber garnish
•  1 oz Pimm’s No. 1
•  1 oz Square One Cucumber Vodka
•  2 oz fresh lemonade

—JCT. Kitchen and Bar, Atlanta

Looking for a non-alcoholic option?

Make a batch of this refreshing fruit water, and it’ll last for days (yields 6-8 cups).

Fruit Water
•  ½ cup basil leaves and stems, firmly packed
•  2 cups watermelon, cubed
•  2 oranges or 3 tangerines, sliced with peel on
•  32 ounces cold water
•  Ice, as needed

Place the watermelon in a large pitcher and crush into small pieces with a drink muddler or the handle of a wooden spoon. Add basil and crush to bruise leaves and release the flavor and aroma of the herb, being careful not to crush the basil into small bits. Add the orange slices and top with enough ice to fill up the pitcher. Fill the pitcher with water. Cover and refrigerate for up to three days. Stir well before serving over ice.—Chef Jennifer Booker, author, Your Resident Gourmet food website.

  Chef Ted LahleyChef Scott Serpas    
  Chef Jennifer BookerChef Kyle Schmidt    

Local chefs (photos clockwise from top left) offer their advice for cooking over an open flame.

“My philosophy is simplicity. There’s a tendency among my friends to overcomplicate things and put too many ingredients and spices in a dish. Take three simple ingredients, and make them taste like what they are. Bring out the natural flavors in the ingredients. Limiting your seasoning to salt, pepper and a little extra virgin olive oil can still make a fantastic meal from the grill.”
—Ted Lahey, executive chef, Table & Main and Osteria Mattone, Roswell

“When grilling steaks, you want to always pull your meat out 20 or 30 minutes prior to placing it on the grill. This will make your steaks cook quicker and more evenly. Also, if you are cooking them rare to medium-rare, they won’t be cold in the middle. For charcoal grills: always get your charcoal all white, where it will be at its hottest and most optimal temperature. Once you’ve done this, push the charcoal to one half of the grill. This way, once you have marked your steaks on the half with the coals underneath, you can move them to the other side of the grill to finish cooking.”
—Chef Scott Serpas, Serpas True Food, Atlanta

“Start with good natural charcoal or dry natural wood. Never buy ones that have starter in them, and never use a starter fluid—it leaves a distinct chemical flavor on the food. I prefer starting a small wood fire and build on top of that either charcoal or more wood. Brown paper bags or cardboard make great tinder, but avoid any dyes or plastic on the surface.”
—Kyle Schmidt, sous chef, King + Duke

“Most grilling newbies put their food on the grill and then immediately start moving it around. They think that this will prevent their food from sticking, but it actually encourages it, because the item hasn’t had a chance to sear on the outside. High heat sears the outside of the food, helps prevent sticking and gives food that delicious grilled flavor you’re looking for.”
—Chef Jennifer Booker, author, Your Resident Gourmet food website



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