Building A Deck To Last
Anyone who has ever built a deck can attest to the satisfaction derived by a job well done. Moreover, a deck surrounded by lush landscaping can transform a poorly utilized section of barren land into an outdoor “oasis” that can both embellish backyard entertaining and improve a property’s value. Unfortunately, this backyard “oasis” can, over time, become a “wasteland” due to poor construction or if left unprotected against the forces of Mother Nature.
Fortunately, improved materials, modern construction techniques and quality wood finishing products can mean that you’ll spend more time “catching rays” on your deck than repairing the damage caused by them. Allow us to make “light” of the rays to which we refer – they are the ultraviolet rays produced by the sun. They can turn the rich look of cedar or redwood into that all-too-familiar “battleship gray.”
While the sun does more than its share of damage to a deck, water can by no means be considered any less of a threat. Although water may have been the source of nourishment responsible for growing the tree that produced the lumber, to a finished deck it usually means mold, fungus and rot. Not a pretty site! Thus, sun and rain can be a lethal combination to a deck ill prepared to thwart the negative effects of these elements.
The first step to a healthy deck involves material choices. Depending upon where you live in the country, redwood, cedar or treated southern yellow pine are the most popular natural choices for decking. Aside from their natural beauty, redwood and cedar contain resins that make them more pest resistant than other wood species. However, the last several years have seen an insurgence of synthetic materials manufactured from such products as vinyl, recycled plastic grocery bags and a combination of plastic and wood fibers.
The material cost for many of the synthetic products is equal to or slightly higher than their natural counterparts. However, proponents of the former contend that its overall cost is less once finish and ongoing maintenance are considered. In spite of this, some manmade products can be stained or painted.
In the final analysis, when it comes to decking material, it all boils down to personal taste and the amount of time and energy one is willing to invest to keep it looking good.
The other material component that has much to do with the lasting-quality of a deck is the framing system or “joist.” Although redwood, cedar and pine are excellent choices for decking, they don’t have the structural integrity of, say fir, making them poor choices for joist. Pressure treated fir (lumber that has been treated with a pesticide) is the best choice for joist, girders and support posts due to it strength and pest resistance.
The means by which deck boards are attached to the joists has a tremendous impact on the appearance and longevity of a deck. In days gone by, the primary means of fastening decking to the framing was with nails driven through the top of the deck boards into the joist. In an attempt to improve holding power and to prevent hammer dents and nail heads from popping up, high-end deck builders switched from nails to screws.
Unfortunately, builders soon discovered that the deck screw didn’t solve the biggest threat to wood decking – rot. As wood weathers and shrinks, screws and nails loosen and pop up becoming hazardous and allowing water to penetrate through the deck boards and joists causing wood rot.
Recognizing this problem and seeking a solution, the hidden deck fastening system was born. One such system that we discovered during a recent visit to a national building products show is Deckmaster, a hidden deck fastening system. Using this system, deck boards are fastened from below using stainless steel screws and a series of 22 inch galvanized or stainless steel brackets that are attached to either side of a joist in a staggered pattern. For more information on Deckmaster, (www.deckmaster.com) call 1-800-869-1375.
In addition to protecting the deck surface by eliminating the primary cause of deck failure – moisture penetration through exposed screw or nail holes – the hidden deck fastening system results in a safer, more attractive and longer-lasting deck.
Beyond material and the means of attachment, a deck-finishing product (stain or wood preservative) can be the deciding factor in maintaining the beauty and enhancing the lasting-quality of a deck.
Generally, deck-finishing products are available in either water-base or oil-base. Although many do-it-yourselfers prefer water-base finishes due to easy soap-and-water cleanup, we have yet to experience a water-base finish that can measure up to a good penetrating oil finish.
Some high-quality oil-base deck finishes contain transoxide pigments that will protect the wood from up 99% of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. What’s more, they also contain a mildewcide that will prevent moss and fungus growth on the wood.
As with any painting or staining project, preparation is the key. Before applying a coat of finish, the deck should be clean and dry. New deck material should have the opportunity to air dry for maximum absorption of the oil finish. Old decking should be washed with synthetic trisodium phosphate (TSP) and a stiff bristle broom. Badly aged and discolored decking should be treated with a deck bleach or deck “brightening” product and may even require power washing. The finish can be applied the following day after the deck has been allowed to air dry.