Decks are attractive outdoor features because they offer a fun entertainment space and can add value when you're ready to sell. They don't require as much work as a porch but offer the same benefits. During the summer, you have a nice space to host a backyard cookout or relax on a warm day.

In addition to the fun benefits, decks can be relatively inexpensive to construct, especially if you take on the project yourself. Rather than paying someone else for the labor cost, you can save by only purchasing the materials or reallocate some of your funding to build a nicer deck.

Regardless of whether you decide to hire a professional or get your hands dirty, there are some parts of the process to understand beforehand if you want to the project to go smoothly.

Get the appropriate permits

Nothing can derail a construction project faster than a fine from the city for lacking the necessary permits. Before anyone starts cutting lumber, visit your municipal office and obtain the appropriate documentation. Taking these few minutes is better than completing your deck and then having to dismantle it because the city finds out you didn't get a permit.

While you're completing the paperwork, inquire about your city's building codes for decks. There could be rules about how high, long, wide and far from your house it can be. The codes will also give you guidelines for important construction factors, such how deep you should dig based on the local soil quality. Once you have the permit, the city will send a professional out at some point to conduct a house inspection and ensure that your deck is within the guidelines. Anything that is found to be violation of the codes will have to be dismantled.

Consult with your homeowners association, as well. It may have its own rules for how you can build your deck.

Consider various materials

When you build a deck, you're not limited to wood. There are a number of materials that can give you the same style with more protection, including both natural and synthetic options. Among wood types, for example, you can choose from redwood, cedar and tropical hardwood. You can also look into PVC, which has the same look but doesn't have the swelling problems of wood.

Composite boards are becoming more popular and are a mix of wood fiber and polypropylene. They can be nailed through, painted and stained and look like the natural option.

Take some time to plan

Before you or your builder purchases materials, figure out what you want from your deck. After narrowing down the material, determine the dimensions and the uses. Is the deck going to function as a space to relax and share a meal? Do you want to install a hot tub? Is the deck going to have a unique pattern? Keep your building codes in mind while making these decisions and also consider how your deck will be placed in the environment. Will it be in direct sunlight or under trees, for example?

To get an idea of how your deck will fit into your yard, use a stake and strings to mark the space. This way, you can make adjustments to things that you don't like before any money is spent.

Get creative when planning. Think about some unique ways to design your posts and optional features that give a luxurious appeal, such as built-in riser lights. Just be sure that you don't go overboard when planning. Although the materials are sturdy, you can overload them with too much weight.