A base map gives you a picture of the outline of your property and its contents—just as they are. A site analysis takes that picture one step further.

A site analysis enables you to view the components of your yard as though you were in a helicopter. It will help you evaluate the relationships between landscape elements and record what you consider to be assets (things that work well with your lifestyle) and liabilities (the things that don’t).

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Deck Considerations

Take your sketch (not the base map) out in your yard and step back so you can evaluate its assets and liabilities. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What works well?
  • What do I want to change?
  • Is the route to the deck site pleasant?
  • Is the site easily accessible, or will I have to take a circuitous route to reach it?
  • Is the best part of the yard visible from the seating on the proposed deck space?
  • Is this site private enough to feel comfortable when I relax?

Go through the checklist item by item and make judgments about how each of these features of your yard will either enhance or detract from your comfort and convenience.

Make notes about your evaluation on your landscape sketch and include the following concerns:

  • How does the distance from your proposed deck to streets, alleys, and sidewalks affect your need for quiet and privacy?
  • Will streetlights and light from the neighbors encroach upon your use of the deck in the evening?
  • What views do you want to keep?
  • What views do you want to block?
  • Are there sources of noise nearby—day and night?
  • Are there drainage problems you need to correct?
  • Do neighbors’ trees or bushes overhang or shade your yard?

Take your sketch and notes back inside, trace your base map on a piece of tracing paper, and transfer your notes to it. When you’re done, it should look something like the site analysis shown at left.

Look for Utility Lines

No matter where you build a deck, consider utilities carefully. Verify with the local utilities where their gas, water, sewer, electrical, or communication lines are located. Make sure construction won’t cut into them or that you won’t cover them with paving.

Even if safety isn’t an issue, your deck should not prevent future access. Rights of access by utility companies are called easements, and easements apply even if you don’t receive the service of a particular utility. For example, even if you use a satellite dish for television, you need to find out whether the cable company uses underground lines. Note all easements on your base map or site analysis.

Checklist for Deck Site analysis

Effective deck planning means more than simply drawing plans and erecting a wood structure. A good plan should take into account the details of the total environment. When you are sketching your plans, it’s easy to overlook details that you’ll later find important. Here’s a checklist for the elements to include while you’re sketching your deck site. Use the list as a guide. Many items may not apply, and you will add other items specific to your needs.

  • Structures
  • Dimensions of house, garage, and any other permanent buildings
  • Roof overhangs
  • Walls, fences, and trellises
  • Columns
  • Built-in furnishings and appliances (benches, tables, grills, counters)

Paved surfaces

  • Existing and proposed deck pavings
  • Driveways
  • Walkways and paths
  • Steps
  • Edging

Amenities (decorative and functional)

  • Freestanding furniture and grills
  • Lighting
  • Play areas
  • Pool side areas
  • Birdhouses
  • Wind chimes
  • Sculpture and decorative elements access
  • Foot traffic patterns
  • Doors and windows


  • Spouts
  • Gutters
  • Current runoff areas and patterns

Slopes or steep grades

  • Dips in ground
  • Slope direction
  • Steep grades that may need retaining walls
  • Stairs and steps

Placement of utilities

  • Electrical supply lines, overhead or underground
  • Telephone lines, overhead or underground
  • Television cable
  • Natural gas supply lines
  • Water supply pipes
  • Wastewater pipes
  • Hose bibs
  • Sewage pipes and catch basins
  • Septic tanks
  • Utility easements (access for utilities)

Privacy and view

  • Open and closed areas within your property
  • Views to preserve
  • Views to block
  • Privacy walls, fences, plants

Plants (existing and proposed)

  • Trees
  • Shrubs and bushes
  • Ground cover
  • Ground-level flower beds
  • Raised flower beds
  • Vegetable or herb gardens
  • Edging

Water and rock

  • Erosion
  • Natural ponds
  • Streams
  • Constructed pools and fountains
  • Boulders or rock outcroppings

Climate and microclimate

  • Prevailing winds
  • Precipitation
  • Sun and shade
  • Heating and cooling

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