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How to Choose Between Traditional and New Deck Materials

Oct 15, 2007
Homeowners and designers have many more options when it comes to deck building materials than in previous years. The majority of new products seem aimed at creating decks that require less maintenance. The old adage of buying high quality materials holds true today.

Decks take a fair amount of abuse because they are subjected to foot traffic as well as the elements of nature. Quality materials will certainly keep the deck looking better for longer periods of time.

There are 2 types of untreated wood that are used most often for decking. Redwood has a straight grain, takes a finish well and ranges in color from light to dark red. Heartwood redwood is resistant to decay, insects and rot. It is expensive, often 4 times the cost of pressure treated wood. Consider using redwood only for the visible decking parts and using pressure treated lumber for the under structure.

Western red cedar heartwood possesses many of the same qualities of redwood although it is lighter in color. Cedar is easy to work with but softer than redwood and takes a finish readily.

Both types of wood work well as decking but heartwood is more expensive and not available in quantity all the time. Lumber harvested from new growth which is lighter in color and called sapwood may have less resistance to decay and insects.

Exotic woods are another option for maintenance free, long lasting wood decking. Ipe, also known as Pau Lope, ironwood or Brazilian walnut, is one type while teak, Brazilian cherry and Philippine mahogany are others.

These exotic woods benefit from being extremely dense and rich with natural oils thus making them very resistant to decay, fungal growth, insects and even fire. On the other hand, these tropical hardwoods are so dense that saws and drills have a diffiucult time penetrating them.

Tropical hardwoods cost more than most deck materials with the exception of redwood which is on par with them. Additional costs must be expected because of labor costs associated with the slower processes of predrilling and cutting. The need for extra saw blades will also impact upon the cost of the project with these deck materials.

Exotic hardwoods have great natural beauty but will still require some maintenance similar in nature to what is done with cedar and redwood.

Pressure treated lumber is the most cost effective and practical deck building material for the majority of homeowners. It is extremely resistant to rot and insect damage. A new process has replaced arsenic with copper compounds which poses no known threat to humans. The copper compounds are highly corrosive to other metals so it is vital that hot dipped galvanized or stainless steel nails and screws be used as fasteners.

Some synthetic deck products called composites combine wood fiber and recycled plastics. Others are produced from vinyl. Both are used primarily for decking with some matching components for railings, trim boards and moldings.

Synthetic products are not subject to rot, checking and do not splinter. They require less maintenance than wood but are more expensive than wood types. Some brands are more difficult to work with due to their density and weight. These types also tend to hold more heat than real wood and can cause discomfort when walking on them.

Aluminum decking is the new kid on the block that likely will become an attractive alternative in the future. It is low maintenance, light in weight but strong, prefinished, cool to walk on, recyclable and has a clean, contemporary look to it. Aluminum decking is also substantial enough that noise and denting are not problems.

Channels that are built in between the planks conveniently carry away rain. This translates into no additional drainage system under the deck being required. Aluminum decking is very well suited for use with roof decks and harsh seaside climates.

Decking made from plywood is another alternative to the use of solid wood or synthetic deck planks. This option has a more formal, less busy appearance than traditional deck products. When it is waterproofed properly, the space below will easily stay dry.

One process involves caulking and taping all joints and then applying several coats of acrylic polymer. Granules can be added to the final coat to improve skid resistance and add a measure of texture.

A second system involving rolling a heavy vinyl membrane into place would basically achieve the same result. Any seams would need to be overlapped and heat welded. The finished product is much like an outdoor sheet vinyl floor because it is available in a variety of colors, patterns and textures.

A third alternative would involve applying a layer of fibreglass and resin to the plywood. Once dry a coating of marine paint would be applied to complete the task and add a splash of color to the outdoor living space.

In most deck designs, footings, beams and joists are usually hidden for good reason. However, it is possible with a little imagination to incorporate these items into the total deck design especially with upper level decks and those decks built on ground that slopes away from the house. In such cases there are a number of possible options.

Beams can be accentuated by extending them beyond the deck perimeter and cutting their ends with a distinctive profile. Cladding piers, posts and columns with wood, brick or stone can be particularly effective when the home also includes these materials.

Craft posts from full logs or rough-hewn timbers and they will look more distinctive than standard milled lumber. Use less obtrusive diagonal braces in place of posts as long as they meet local building codes.

Make use of decorative deck hardware such as column caps and joist hangers that typically come powder coated in black.

The choice of deck materials selected by a homeowner will be almost certainly affected by the project budget, product availability, design possibilities and of course with maintenance issues which have become increasingly more important in recent years.
About the Author
Richard Vande Sompel is a professional deck builder of 35 years and over 850
decks built and is the author of "How to Plan, Design and Build a Deck from
Start to Finish". To Discover More About
Deck Materials and Claim your 2
FREE Deck Plans, Insider Report, MP3 Audio and discover everything to know about
building a deck visit:
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