Adding a deck can add value to your home. Not only will you see a good return on your investment, but you will also have the enjoyment of additional space for relaxation, family gatherings, grilling, and gardening. Many homeowners think building a deck is a "do-it-yourself" project, and it can be--IF you have as much experience working with building departments as you do working with tools.
Yes, in most jurisdictions, you need to obtain a building permit to build a deck. In order to get a permit, you'll have to have plans and specifications showing the deck has been designed to meet local building codes. Once you get the plans and permit, you'll need to be prepared for several inspections during the building process. If this sounds like more than you'd like to handle, you would be better off calling a professional to work with you on your project.
In your initial meeting with your custom deck builder, you'll discuss your intended purpose for the deck, the space you have to work with, how you want to access the deck, the material you'd like to use, and your budget. Some decks are simple: If the deck is at ground level or no more than 30" from the ground, no guardrails are required. A standard deck like this, about 12'x14', costs about $12-14/sq. ft. in the Cincinnati area and can be built in 2 or 3 days once the permit is issued.
However, if the deck is above ground, things get a little more complicated as you add posts, beams, railings, and stairs. The size and shape of the deck may be determined by any furniture you have or by where you might want to locate a grill. You'll also want to decide whether you'd like to add benches, flower boxes, various levels, or if you have future plans to add a spa or firepit.
The biggest decision you'll make about the deck is to decide what type of material you'd like to use. Decks have traditionally been built of pressure-treated lumber or redwood. Wood products require periodic cleaning and sealing in order to maintain the quality of the wood over the years. A Brazilian hardwood called IPÊ is gaining in popularity because of its durability and resistance to rot, insects, and mold. It's more expensive than pressure-treated or redwood, but with IPÊ, you don't have the maintenance time or money invested over the long haul. Another popular alternative is a composite material such as Trex that resists rotting, warping or splintering completely. The composites cost almost twice as much as pressure-treated, but you have no maintenance. However, if you imagine yourself barefoot on the deck, the composites do tend to be hot in the sun. A composite deck, built above ground with some of the custom options mentioned above, can take as long as 3 weeks to build and can cost as much as $30/sq. ft. in the Cincinnati area. That may sound like a lot of time and money for a deck, but when you think about it as adding an outdoor room to your home, the cost seems reasonable and the value is priceless.