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6 Questions to Ask When Building a Deck Around a Tree

Deck around a TreeThe Pacific Northwest is well-known for its abundance of trees. These trees help keep the air clean, provide plenty of shade and just plain look good. But even for Northwest natives, trees can sometimes pose real problems, especially when it comes to deck design.

If you have a heavily wooded property and are thinking of building a new deck or adding to an existing one, trees can certainly be a nuisance. The best way to approach a deck construction project that involves trees is to ask yourself six important questions. Once you have the answers to these questions, you should be adequately prepared to tackle the big project – or at least call a decking professional to do it for you.

1. Should I pursue a cutting permit?

Some homeowners would rather remove a tree if it is getting in the way of their new deck design. That process, however, is often easier said than done. Certain areas require a tree cutting or removal permit before any work can be done, so you should check with your local municipality to find out. Even if a permit isn’t required, you might not want to remove a tree – especially if it provides shade during the summer and protection against the elements during the winter.

2. What type of tree am I dealing with?

Regardless of whether you decide to remove the tree or not, you will need to find out what type of tree you are dealing with and approximately how old it is. This information will tell you what kind of behavior you can expect from the tree in the future – how much more it will grow, how well it will handle storms, what kind of root system it has, etc. It will also help you determine what kind of impact the tree might have on the decking material you choose.

Most trees found in the Pacific Northwest are evergreens, but you can call a landscaper if you are having trouble determining what kind of tree you have.

3. How big is the deck I am building? Where will it be located?

Determining the size and location of your new deck is an important part of the deck design process, especially if you are dealing with a troublesome tree. Depending on the size, age and species of tree, you may have to adjust the size and style of your deck. Contact a decking professional before making any concrete decisions.

4. Is it possible to build around the tree?

This is an option many homeowners don’t know is available to them. While it is not an easy project, planning your deck design around a tree is possible – most of the time. The biggest obstacle you will face will be placing adequate footings that will support the deck without harming the tree’s root system. You will also need to give the tree enough room around the trunk to allow for growth. On the plus side, properly installing a deck around a tree can actually benefit the tree by reducing the amount of soil compaction that its root zone receives.

5. What do I want to use my deck for?

This is an important consideration, but one that many home owners don’t keep in mind. If you are going to be using your deck for grilling, you may not want to put it directly under a tree. Leaves, twigs and bird droppings are definitely not the best thing to find on your hamburger patty. On the other hand, if you want your deck to be a place to relax in the shade, building it around a tree may be a great fit.

6. What type of decking material will I be using?

The best type of decking material to use when building near or around a tree is natural wood. Not only does cedar or Tigerwood decking material look great, but the natural material is easier on the soil in the tree’s root zone. Wood decking material also allows you to put spaces between deck boards, which is essential for allowing oxygen and water to continue to flow to the tree’s roots.

On the other hand, it’s worth it to consider a more durable decking material, such as PVC decking. While wood materials such as cedar or Tigerwood decking can suffer from maintenance issues such as rot due to leaves and other debris from nearby trees, PVC decking is inorganic and won’t sustain as much damage from fallen debris.

Just because you have a massive tree in your yard doesn’t mean you can’t build a beautiful, functional deck. By asking yourself these six questions, talking to a professional and planning ahead, you can have the best of both worlds.

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