The recreational value of a deck is obvious, but it also can add to the value of your house at resale time.

According to the annual Cost vs. Value survey jointly sponsored by Remodeling and Realtor magazines, a typical American homeowner who adds a deck could recoup 75 percent of the total cost if he or she sold the house within a year of the deck’s construction.

The project described in the survey was a 16-by-20-foot deck of pressure-treated pine, supported by 4-by-4 posts set into concrete footings. Include a built-in bench, railings and planter, also of pressure-treated pine. The cost of the project was estimated at $5,865.

Cost and value of decks varied from region to region.

In metropolitan Boston, where a similar deck costs about $7,600 to build, a homeowner can expect to recoup 139 percent of his investment at sale time. On Long Island, where it costs $7,800, the return is 112 percent.

In Westchester County, N.Y., Albany, and Baltimore, the return is only about 50 percent.

If you want to make some real money, move to San Diego. A deck there costs only $6,200, but you recoup 156 percent of your investment - the highest in the United States.

Some suggestions from the real estate agents interviewed in the report: Design the deck as something other than a rectangle. Consider using a laminated safety glass instead of pickets for the railing, so the view is not blocked. Add decorative posts with pre-made copper-topped finials or post caps.

For the greatest financial return, many builders and real estate agents suggest that the deck be designed as an extension of the living space, not an appendage to the house. A deck is high on the wish list of virtually anyone buying a house in the city. Depending on the time of year, one can actually "expand" a home, providing additional living space, with hot tubs, grills and patios, and even outdoor showers.

Very often, city buyers do not care how big that outdoor space is. They may want just a little something for the dog. One thing is certain, though. If the house has no deck , and there is a way of adding one, the city buyer will do it -- especially rooftop decks with great downtown views.

If there is a little something already, it's bound to get bigger.

In the suburbs, a deck often can sell a house, especially in late spring or early summer, as people envision themselves outside and entertaining. New construction was expected to have a deck , but since they are relatively inexpensive to build, it won't break the bank if the buyer has to put one on.

A lot of builders make decks optional. The builders will tell the buyers that they could probably find someone to build it cheaper, and put a couple of boards in front of the French doors to where the deck will be.

Deck maintenance is a big issue with homeowners, and and a lot of buyers opting to install vinyl-coated decking. There also has been major growth in maintenance-free, composite-wood decking such as Trex and other brands in recent years.

How big should your deck be? Most people tend to build their decks too small for furniture and for function. Add a couple more feet than you think you'll need. Every inch will be used.

A lot of houses, especially true Victorians, don't look quite right with a deck - try a patio garden, pergola or porch. But if you think a deck would go well with your house, take a look at what others have built. Then think about appearance and size, determine what you can afford to spend, and obtain estimates.

Every municipality has its own requirements for decks and their builders. In some, builders must be licensed; most are required to be insured. Other towns require that a scale drawing of the deck plan be reviewed by the building inspector. Each contractor should provide a detailed estimate of the project, including a description of the materials, how they will be used, how much the project will cost, and about how long it will take.

The contractor handles all permit and inspection requirements and builds the cost of them into the price. Many provide the required scale drawings once the contract has been signed.

The Remodeling/Realtor 2001 Cost vs. Value report's cost for a typical 16-by-20-foot pressure-treated deck works out to about $18 per square foot for materials and labor. Cedar or redwood decks cost about 45 percent more.

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