Hit the Deck
Make your home bigger without actually making your home bigger

(MONEY Magazine) – As the sprawling acreage of suburban America is carved into ever-smaller chunks of sod, we all want to make sure our own chunk is being put to the best possible use. Adding an outdoor deck can be the most inexpensive way to bulk up the square footage of your home--just $6,900 on average, compared with $31,000 for a sunroom--if you do it the right way.

BUILD TO LAST Protect a deck as you would any investment by using materials that stand up to the elements. Woods that are rot-resistant (like cedar, used in the deck below) or pressure-treated (pine) are good traditional choices. New, longer-lasting materials also have the value buyer in mind. Composites made from recycled wood and plastic are mildew-resistant, crack-free and less expensive than high-end woods like teak. They are, however, about twice the price per square foot of your typical pressure-treated woods.

SCALE IT Size matters. A good rule of thumb: It should be no larger than one-third the foot-print of your home's main floor.

MAKE IT FUN Who says the comforts of home must stay inside the home? Decks can easily be wired for little luxuries like weatherproof speakers and ceiling fans (for covered areas).

GO WITH FLOW The more a deck is integrated with the house itself, the more use it will get. To achieve fluidity, there's only one solution: French doors. Sliding doors create a closed-off feel.

LET THERE BE LIGHTS Skip the prison-yard floodlights sold in most home stores. Use sconces that wouldn't look out of place in your front hall, or freestanding lamps or wireless solar-powered lights.

KEEP IT SIMPLE A fancy trellis, waterspout gargoyles or elaborate tiles may seem stylish to you but garish to a future home buyer. Devote your decorating dollars to classic outdoor furnishings, potted plants and other easy-to-arrange accessories.