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Ask the Architect

Planning a second-floor deck


Q. We’re planning a deck for our second floor so we have a better view of the water from our house. Part of the deck will be over our roof, and part will extend into our backyard and give shade to our patio. A contractor we called said we need plans first, and said he would make the deck attach to the back of the house with something he called a “ledger.” We looked it up, and were wondering if there was another way, since we’ll have to remove the gutters we just paid a lot of money to install. We wanted the deck to be above the gutter so we could use the gutter for our roof to drain into; otherwise the water will just pour onto our patio from underneath. What do you suggest?

A. You could save a lot of money with a screensaver picture of the ocean but since you want the deck, you have many issues to consider, water being one of them. I commend your contractor for advising that you need a plan, since I get calls consistently from people who forged ahead without solving all of the issues before building.
You have the design issues with water and movement prevention, considering wind, rain, sun and fire. You have zoning and building code issues to resolve, and you have the cost issue, which is tied to everything else. Imagine building the entire deck and then being told to remove it. Imagine finding out that the attachment has caused a leak that’s hard to get to without dismantling materials. A good design of anything, whether it’s a car, a paperweight or a deck, requires understanding the goals, the obstacles, the science and the engineering to get you nearest to the best solution.
In your case, you want to keep the gutters running underneath, so that becomes a given in defining the scope of work. You want views, coverage for the patio, no damage to the roof — that’s where you start. I look at where attachments are essential, how to avoid water intrusion at the attachments, the strength of materials and the placement to accomplish the most with the least amount of damage, either during construction or in the performance of the materials.
For example, wood looks great for the first season, and then begins to age by twisting, warping and splitting along the grain. Obstacle one is now identified, so you select synthetic decking that’s more stable and requires less maintenance. The deck needs support, so you want to understand all the factors of wind twisting, uplift and collapse resistance. Attachment and water flow are also important, so you need to know the various methods of preventing water from getting into even the smallest places, like around bolts, under shingles and across door or window openings.
A ledger is the board attached to the house for the deck structure to connect to, and even that requires consideration . . . in my next column.

© 2021 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.