What is this I hear about composite decking?
The last 20 years had yielding so many choices in non-wood decking choices, the possibilities can seem almost endless. The good news is that there are lots of choices and lots of price points but composite decking is always more expensive than treated wood and sometimes this difference can be many times the cost of wood. It is a different story with some higher grade domestic cedar and imported exotics like ipe. (Check spelling plz). Composite offer long life, dimensional stability as far as moisture is concerned, sometimes cooler walking surface and perhaps a tad less maintenance than wood. Composites come in various colors and finishes as well. No exterior walking surface is maintenance free, regardless of the manufacturers claims. All take on dirt and some are more susceptible to algae and mold growth depending on climate and where installed. Bottom line, do you homework, know what you are looking for before you are talked into someone’s favorite composite and don’t disregard a second look at the natural wood products available. There is even more dimensionally stable and higher grade treated wood products available such as kiln dried after treatment southern yellow pine that might be worth a closer look as well. At least you have tons of options. Get with someone in the know who’s not a dealer for one specific brand.
What kind of maintenance is required to maintain a deck?
The good news is that most surfaces require little maintenance. The bad news is that all decks require maintenance. With composite decks, it shouldn’t be assumed that cleaning isn’t going to be required and those surfaces can actually allow algae and mildew growth depending on the materials and formulation in the composite material. Power washing, with or without soaps/solvents will be an important maintenance requirement in order to keep the surfaces in serviceable condition. Just be sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommendation so any warranty isn’t compromised. Natural wood, treated or natural, requires a little bit more attention perhaps but this upkeep shouldn’t be a deal breaker when you are deciding what surface to install. Wood, especially treated wood deck materials are at such a reasonable price point that this often makes the most sense even with a little extra elbow grease required to keep these decks looking refreshed and decay free. At the very least, most woods, with the exception of oil rich exotics like Ipe, all will need some kind of sealer or stain and sealer either initially for a particular look or later in the decks life to refresh and rejuvenate the surface. All wood and many composites do much better in areas that have the opportunity to dry out and take on occasional sunshine to minimize algae and mildew growth. Highly shaded areas and northerly facing decks with have more issues with this type of maintenance requirement whereas decks encountering constant sunshine with be more prone to drying out (wood) and fading (all types of decks) over time. With the case that more expensive is usually better, do your homework when it comes to decks. That’s not always the case. You’ll be surprised what a little non-biased research might yield as your most cost effective option.
Should I step down from a doorway onto a deck surface?
Short answer, yes, always! Longer answer is probably yes. The reason this a tricky area to address is that the concerns are many. The most important reason that a step down makes sense is protect the door and door sill. Water, snow and ice all are bad to have localized to this area and dropping down a step helps protect the doorway from rain bouncing and snow/ice accumulating. In fact, snow and ice accumulation on a surface that is flush to the door sill can cause real problems in even using the door in the winter if the door or perhaps a storm door is an out swinging type door. In this situation it is best to build a durable entryway in this area by adding an overhang or porch roof of some type to protect the opening. Another reason to lower the deck if possible is that most decks are tied into or “hung” off the house. The lower this attachment occurs on the homes framing, the better chance that this transition are from exterior to interior won’t create water pathways where moisture can make its way into the interior framing and cause rot. Experienced remodelers have a lot of horror stories to share on how incorrect construction detailing has caused thousands of dollars of repair work to a home’s floor and wall framing. Have your design/build pro work with you to get the look that you like for your attached deck but also rely on that firm’s knowledge and experience to advise you on the best possible detailing of the deck structure. Then, spend the money you will save in future repair work on the BBQ grill for that deck that you’ve always wanted.
Should there be spacing between the deck boards?
It’s very important to understand the different movement that you might get in various decking boards used today. The only material that doesn’t need a gap would be treated (non kiln dried after treatment). This material will dry out and shrink enough post-installation that it is probably best to install relatively tight. Upon drying, you will end up with something in the 3/8” +/- range gap. Kiln dried after treatment or untreated natural wood will have little movement but could actually swell slightly in high moisture situations. To properly allow for that to occur, a gap of ¼” minimum would be recommended. With composites, follow the manufacturer’s instructions but the industry generally recognizes that composites do need some separation but most movement will be along the length of the deck board, not in width.
Do I need a permit to build a deck?
Most local jurisdictions consider anything built above grade to be a structure and all permanent structures (like a deck) therefore require a building permit. Check with your building authority but assume until you know otherwise that a permit will be required. There are lots of examples of deck failures, some causing real injuries, so it is in your best interest to make sure you or your contractor are building your deck to be not only attractive but also structurally sound. Pros will never engage in any type of structural work like a deck without working under the mandates of the building code and inspection process. This not only protects them but also affords you piece of mind as a homeowner that your personal liability is minimized as well since your project is being built to the most current building code. At resale, this can make a difference too. We’ve seen plenty non-permitted work messing up real estate purchase contracts.
Are railings required for all decks?
In the state of Ohio, railings are only required if the deck, stairs, or walking surface is higher than 30” off the ground. Railings are also required on at least one side of any run of steps with 4 or more risers.
Is it better to consider a deck or patio if I’m close to grade?
Both patios and decks add considerable value to a home and both can be expensive options depending on size, height above existing grade and materials selected. For the most part, concrete or paver patios that are either on or very close to the existing grade are probably less expensive than building a deck at that same close proximity to grade. If the finished level desired is higher than it almost always is less expensive to build a structural deck that is supported by piers and posts as well as a portion of the deck perhaps being supported by the adjacent house. Your designer and builder can work together to work through all the options and deliver to you budgets that perhaps address clarify whether a patio or deck structure makes the most sense for you. Beyond that analysis, there are so many advantages and few drawbacks for either a deck of patio it almost comes down to the look and feel that you think you’d most enjoy. Do your homework and get with the pro to thoroughly understand all the possibilities.