Building a safe, referral-friendly deck in any size yard, even the postage-stamp variety, may be easier than you think. Here are a few ideas we’ve gathered that can help you leapfrog competitors (especially ones not reading JLC).

1. Beyond code. Building to code is always an option, but that minimum standard may not play well with homeowners that may sell one day. Some home inspectors take a tough hardline approach to deck safety. Building to code will earn you a failing grade.

Bruce Barker of Dream Home Consultants of Cary, N.C. is a 33-year home inspection veteran is a good example. “Most decks that I inspect have multiple defects,” he reports. “I don’t consider a defect simply a failure to comply with code. Failure is ignoring best practice, which is presented in Prescriptive Residential Wood Deck Construction Guide, or DCA 6-15.

“A deck that passes local code may still be unsafe. DCA 6-15 is the standard, regardless of what is allowed by local authorities,” Barker advises. Barker recently identified common deck trouble spots for JLC readers. The pictures might surprise you.

2. 3D-design magic. If you use a 3D design tool or compete against contractors that do, then you know the impact a professional-looking 3D deck design can have on a homeowner. For some, it’s the tiebreaker at decision time. Yet, what contractor has time to be a computer wizard? Good news … there’s a new 3D design tool called VisualBuilder that’s free and easy to use. This speedy, do-it-all tool creates colorful dream decks on the fly from your laptop, notepad, or smartphone.

It’s perfect for rookies with no previous design experience. Instantly toggle back and forth between 2D and 3D views of decks of all shapes, heights, sizes, and materials with tiers, stairs, walls, accessories, scenery, you-name-it. You can even adjust the visuals for daylight. Send or print finished designs with just a click. Did we say it’s absolutely free?

3. Small yard secret. Homeowners with smaller yards are good sales prospects, in spite of that small space out back. Thanks to tools like VisualBuilder, overcoming homeowner reluctance (“My yard is too small!”) is easier to overcome than ever before.

Tim Quigley, owner and operator of Quigley Decks in Madison, Wis., swears by this small yard idea: “It’s true a deck can easily overpower a small yard space,” Quigley explains. “One way to tame-down deck size is to minimize railing infill. Keep sightlines as clear as possible. I always recommend cable rail. It’s an easy upsell because of the aesthetics and easy maintenance. I’ve never had a customer regret installing it.”

The business of deck building is constantly evolving with new materials, new practices, new ways of doing things. Look to top deck materials manufacturers like the folks at Feeney, the cable rail people, to support you with the products, tools, and service you can count on. To learn more about VisualBuilder and other deck building ideas, visit here.