Deck Buying Guide
A deck can pull your indoor living space out into nature, serving as a home’s second dining room, living room—or even bedroom if an afternoon nap on a chaise lounge sounds appealing. High-end features that can be included in a deck’s design, like a fireplace, an outdoor kitchen or a fountain might elevate the deck from a place to grill and chill to a featured entertainment space for your entire family.
Keep It Cozy
When designing a deck, consider what direction it faces and its exposure to the sun. Decks without shade are rendered almost unusable in the heat of Georgia’s summertime sun. While it adds to the cost of installing a deck, a shade structure will enable you to use your deck at any time of the day. High-tech features are available for these structures, like remote-controlled pergolas with louvers that rotate based on the angle of the sun. Solid deck roofs offer an opportunity for extras like skylights, misting systems or ceiling fans. Retractable awnings are a colorful option—look for those with sensors that automatically furl the awning when wind starts to blow.
Decks made from real wood have a certain appeal—the planks’ unique texture and markings couldn’t come from anyone other than Mother Nature. The authenticity of the variations in color and heft harkens us back to our log-cabin-building forebears, chopping down trees and dragging them home to be fashioned into sturdy, beautiful floors, walls and roofs. But, today, concerns about sustainability, as well as the amount of maintenance and short lifespan inherent in the use of lumber, have spurred deck-making ingenuity. Many manufacturers seek to clone the natural beauty of real wood, but use recycled or reclaimed materials to do so.
Landfill-Bound Wood Makes a U-Turn
Environmentally sensitive products, like wood-polymer composite decking (made of recycled plastic and wood that otherwise would have headed to the landfill) are gaining in popularity amongst builders and homeowners. Besides the altruistic advantage of avoiding deforestation, composite deck materials offer longevity—the combination of plastic and wood fibers is much stronger and more durable than wood itself. There’s no need to worry about splinters, and the composite decking materials can be cut, shaped or drilled the way natural wood can.
If you just can’t bear to use modern deck materials, though, you can help protect the ecosystem by seeking out wood from certified forests (guaranteeing that it’s responsibly harvested). Ecologists advise avoiding the purchase of cedar or redwood since those generally come from old-growth forests whose numbers are dwindling.
Make Like a Duck
Water is a very destructive element when it comes to decks. If you start seeing water stains on your wood deck, you’re probably headed for trouble. When wood planks stay wet, they are prime candidates for mold, mildew and rot. Once a deck support begins to rot, its strength is compromised, leading to those deck collapses you hear about on the news. Never fear, though, an ounce of prevention can keep your deck safe from debilitation. Stains and paints, when applied early in the life of a deck, can protect it from rain and sun damage.
Don’t skimp on the quality of the product you purchase to seal and protect your deck—expensive stains are generally worth every penny as they last longer and thus don’t have to be reapplied very often. According to the 2016 Consumer Reports Stain Buying Guide, of various stains tested by exposure to the elements, “The best remained close to their original color after three years, picked up only a little dirt and mildew and effectively protected the wood from cracking. The worst looked ratty in less than a year’s time.”
Remember that the more dense the stain you use on your deck, the better it protects the wood. The Consumer Reports Stain Buying Guide explains, “Opaque treatments tend to last the longest. But you may prefer a semi-transparent or clear finish for aesthetic reasons. Wood stains and treatments cost $15 to $50 a gallon.”
Simple deck projects can be tackled by a DIYer with basic skills, but for decks with fancy (heavy) features like firepits or built-in grills, or ones that are cantilevered out from a building, are built on unstable soil, will protrude over water or perch on a hillside, a structural engineer and professional contractor should be involved. To get started, though, you can check out design ideas by finding an online deck planner, like Timbertech.com/FreeDeckPlans, and get samples of materials from dealers.
Pro: Natural or rustic look if left unfinished; least costly; fairly easy to repair
Con: High maintenance—must be sealed or painted regularly; sunlight and water will deteriorate it quickly; can have splinters; easily chipped or scratched
Tip: Clean with an oxygen bleach product that doesn’t have chlorine; lasts about 15 years
Cedar and Redwood
Pro: Pest resistant; very dense; light weight
Con: Easily nicked or scratched; least eco-friendly—usually harvested from old-growth forests; expensive
Tip: Will fade to gray in sun—protect with sun-blocking stain; lasts about 20 years
Tropical Hardwoods (like Ipe)
Pro: Extremely dense and durable; beautiful look (can be oiled for extra-rich color); resistant to insects and decay; usually harvested responsibly—great for environmentally friendly projects
Con: Expensive and heavy; so dense that hammering a nail requires drilling a hole first; dark colors become extremely hot in sun
Tip: Less well-known varieties, like Cumaru or Tigerwood, are cheaper; lasts about 25 to 50 years
Pro: Stands up to weather; no need to seal or paint; resists scratches, stains and fading; newer types resist mildew; no splinters; large variety of colors and finishes; eco-friendly
Con: More costly than wood; can look man-made; hard to repair—must replace an entire plank; can have mildew build up, so scrub regularly
Tip: Easy to install if using planks with the same finish on both sides; for more design options, choose planks with a different finish on each side; the jury’s still out on longevity—it’s only been on the market for about 30 years
WHERE TO FIND DECK INSTALLATION SERVICES AND MATERIAL IN ATLANTA
Benjamin Andrew Construction Co. | BenjaminAndrewConstruction.com
Carolina Lumber & Supply Co. | CarolinaLumber.com
DC Enclosures | DCEnclosures.com
Decks & More | DecksandMore.biz
Florida Tile/FinPan | FloridaTile.com
OutBack Deck, Inc. | OutBackDeck.net
PMC Building Materials | PMCbm.com
Southeastern Underdeck | SoutheasternUnderdeck.com
Totally Dependable Contracting Services | TotallyDependable.com