Hit the deck: Spruce up outdoor living area

Today’s savvy homeowners are extending their living space outdoors with decks and backyards that reflect their personal tastes and interests.

To make the most of your outdoor living space, consider the following tips for trans-forming a blah backyard into an outdoor oasis:

• Make materials matter. If you want to spend more time enjoying — rather than maintaining — your deck, choose materials that need only a simple soap-and-water cleaning to keep a “like-new” appearance for decades. Wood-alternative decking resists fading, staining, scratching and mold growth — even after years of heavy foot traffic and exposure to the elements.

• Go green. If you purchase compact fluorescent light bulbs and water-conserving showerheads, think about expanding your eco-consciousness to the great outdoors by choosing wood-alternative decking made from recycled materials.

• Design with distinction. Whether country cottage or mostly modern, select a style and color scheme for your deck that best complement your home’s exterior and reflect the natural environment.

In terms of shape, remember that decks no longer need to be simply square. Think “outside the box” and consider an outdoor living space that spans multiple levels or wraps around two or more sides of your home. Take time to examine product samples and seek out online tools that let you experiment with different products, finishes and layouts. Finally, consider using a hidden fastener system during installation.

A smooth deck surface without visible nails or screws can be an attractive extension of your home’s interior style and create a more comfortable environment for children and pets.

• Get on the rails. Railing can upgrade any deck from drab to fab — and it’s often the one element that truly sets your outdoor living space apart from others in the neighborhood. While many homeowners decide to complement the color of their decks with contrasting railing, the most popular choice is to create a matching color scheme.

• Don’t forget finishing touches. Today’s outdoor living spaces may be “decked out” with luxuries ranging from stainless-steel appliances to flat-screen televisions to stone fire pits. But if budget constraints don’t permit such grand plans, try built-in flower boxes or benches and colorful lounge furniture. Finally, don’t underestimate the impact of fencing to perfectly “frame” your outdoor living space.

An ideal fence will add privacy and visual interest — not just define your property line. Several wood-alternative fencing options are available that offer superior durability and aesthetics while being easy to install and maintain.