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Ahhhh, springtime, when families' thoughts turn to backyard barbecues and relaxing weekends on their backyard decks. While the ground in America's northern regions may not yet be dry enough to sink concrete piers and the July 4th weekend may be a distant thought, it is the right time to plan the perfect outdoor space to enjoy the days of summer.

"Recent customer surveys show that decks are one of the top three desired features in a home," says Curt Langille, president of Lanco Development Company, a Lakewood, Illinois-based custom home builder. "A well-built, well-maintained deck is also a sound resale investment. Statistics show homeowners can recover up to 85% of the original construction costs."

But in order for families, friends and guests to get the most value and enjoyment from their decks, their are several factors to consider. Careful planning can make a deck the ideal extension of living space from the inside of a home. Langille offers these guidelines, which he uses when he builds his award-winning homes.

Accessibility: Decks are used for activity outside the home when weather permits. Consider how your family will use this space. For barbecues and informal gatherings, you will need to be close to the kitchen and bathrooms. For sun worshipers, you will need to determine the exposure before beginning construction. For quiet areas to read and retreat, homeowners will need more shade and a serene view, perhaps of a flower garden, pond or treescape.

Design: Consider the architectural style of the home. Choose a deck plan that will complement the home both in color and size. A deck bigger than the home looks just as silly as one that is too small. Select wood tones to complement the home's brick and exterior colors. Think of all the elements that the deck will have to hold. Where will the grill, chaise lounges, chairs and table go? Will there be room for a hot tub or exercise equipment? Plan ahead to avoid later disappointment.

Durability: Today's technology has allowed for even more durable decks. Redwood and cedar materials have always been chosen for their natural resistance to insects and water retention, and newer, more attractive and inexpensive vinyl and plastic products are also available. Tropical hardwoods and water-repellent pressure-treated woods are also popular. It is important to keep in mind, however, that most pressure-treated woods are treated with chromated copper arserate and care should be taken if used in children's play areas, around food preparation or garden areas as well as areas for housing or exercising family pets.

"A deck is as individual as a family. It should reflect the owner’s way of living, personal style and be an investment that grows with the equity of the home," says Langille.

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