If you are deciding what to do next to enhance your home, experts agree it may be time to look out the window and consider "decking out" the outdoors.

Adding a deck is considered one of the most functional, financially feasible and prettiest investments a homeowner can make these days, and choices of deck materials have increased.

"It is absolutely a growing trend that has grown in popularity the last few years," said A.J. Lomax, who owns a Berlin, Conn., franchise of Archadeck, which specializes in custom decks, porches and sunrooms. "People are staying put in their homes because it has become too expensive to replace what they have. So they are adding on by going outside."

Paul Smith, who owns Deck Specialists Inc. in Manchester, Conn., said business began increasing about five years ago, when interest rates began to drop and people were refinancing or taking home-equity loans to fix up their homes. That, combined with the desire to spend more time at home that came after Sept. 11, 2001, fueled interest in making the best of one's home, inside and out.

"Families want to spend more time together, they want to be outside, and they want to do something to their home that is measurable in terms of adding space and making it look nicer," Smith said. "A deck fits all those criteria."

A new wave of synthetic and laminate materials has eliminated some of the drudgery once associated with decks. Homeowners are no longer limited to the high-maintenance, pressure-treated, raised pine rectangles that were the standard when decks began popping up years ago. Today's materials include exotic woods, plastic and vinyl, as well as new, safer, pressure-treated woods that no longer include the potentially toxic inorganic arsenic, used until just recently as part of the pressure-treatment process. New choices are stylish and convenient.

"It's all about the easy maintenance," no rotting floorboards, no staining, said Mark Gluhosky, branch manager of Kamco Supply Corp., a commercial and residential supplier in the Northeast. "Many of the new materials are made of recycled plastics, so they are environmentally friendly."

And you don't get splinters.

Those conveniences come at a cost, though. A pressure-wood deck costs an average of $22 to $25 a square foot.

Synthetic deck products can cost an average of $35 and up per square foot.

"For us, it was worth it," said Jessica Martin, whose family recently added a 20-foot-square vinyl-and-plastic-blend stepped deck, manufactured to look like stained redwood, to their home.

"It will be a great place to entertain," she said.

"And my husband loves the fact that the only thing he is going to be responsible for is power-washing it once a year. In fact, now he is talking about replacing the wood fence with the synthetic ones that are available now."

Some manufacturers of composite decking offer dozens of colors as part of the spring line. Trex Co., one of the first companies to offer the synthetic product, has "Brasilia," fashioned to look like rain forest hardwoods. There are no repeated patterns in the floor or railing pieces, giving it a more natural look.

Composite decking pieces are usually screwed together or put together with special fasteners like the Tiger Claw, a deck fastener that is manufactured in Bristol, Conn.

"You need to have some carpentry skills to put up a deck, but using fasteners or screws rather than nails does make it a little easier," Gluhosky said.

Fans of real wood also have choices beyond the pressure-treated stuff.

"Real wood is still in demand, especially some of the tropical woods like teak and ironwood," said Smith of Deck Specialists.

Tropical ironwood, also known as ipe, is a dense, rot- and mold-resistant wood that is reddish brown but weathers to a silver patina.

"It is beautiful," said Smith, who said that while it is pricey, at about $55 a square foot, it will last for at least 25 years and has a natural beauty that cannot be replicated by a composite.

But whether the planks are real or artificial, a deck can offer a fun and financially sound way to extend your home.

"We are so excited about the deck because it will be something for the whole family," said Melinda Rose, who last week had a deck added to her family's East Hampton, Conn., home.

"For entertaining, for grilling outdoors, just to be able to walk outside and enjoy the outdoors, it was all worth it."

A deck of non-wood material adorns the Chiapetti home in Simsbury, Conn.