July 15, 2010
By Brent Gwatney
Transforming the backyard into an outdoor living room has become an increasingly popular trend among homeowners. The addition of a deck provides a relatively simple, cost-effective way to increase the size and value of your home, while maximizing the time and enjoyment of outdoor living.
Studies indicate a deck addition is among the top remodelling projects which results in a beneficial return on investment. According to a 2008 Appraisal Institute of Canada RENOVA survey, homeowners can receive a 50 to 75 per cent return on investment (ROI) on their deck additions.
Although adding a deck is easier than many home remodelling projects, it still requires thoughtful planning and creative thinking.
Planning is one of the most important elements of a deck project. As with other home renovations and additions, the more thought the design stage receives, the faster and easier the installation will be. Whether you are creating your own custom designed deck or working with a contractor, thoughtful preparation can reduce time, money and challenges during the construction process.
Start by consulting local building codes and zoning bylaws, which can limit heights, location or other such factors related to the construction of the deck. The building code also indicates whether or not a building permit is required. For most areas, if the deck is going to be attached to the house, a permit is needed. Additionally, if you are a member of a homeowners’ association, you will need to be aware of its specific guidelines for deck size, product type and design.
Your deck should complement your home, as well as your personality, so it should be designed to accommodate your lifestyle. Will it be used for entertaining? Do you want it to be divided into smaller sections, or left as an open common area? Do you want built-in benches or patio furniture, a kitchen or fireplace? Determining how you will use the additional space can significantly affect the layout.
The size of your home and backyard will also help determine the size and configuration of your deck. For instance, if your backyard gradually slopes down, a multi-level deck may look and function better than a raised one-level deck, as varied levels provide a smoother transition from the home to the yard. Traffic flow is another factor to keep in mind. A deck may be less usable or feel crowded without enough space for outdoor activities and guests.
The shape and board patterns of your deck can create visual appeal and creatively break up a large area. A deck can be virtually any shape you want, but keep in mind the more complicated the design, the more materials will be needed. This impacts the cost and level of effort required in building the deck.
Other ways to add visual interest include wrapping the deck around a corner of the home, building a pergola or arbour, adding built-in benches, integrating a fence or screen on one side, or even adding an overhead screen. 
As decks grow in popularity, deck product offerings continue to expand. While wood decking previously dominated the materials market, wood-plastic composites have shown the most rapid growth in recent years due to improved performance and esthetics.
When selecting a decking material, you’ll have multiple factors to consider, including budget, strength and durability, maintenance requirements, ease-of-use, and of course, the look. You may also be concerned about the impact decking materials have on the environment. Educating yourself on the differences of these materials and identifying which factors are most important to you, will help make choosing one easier.
The natural beauty of wood is a characteristic that continues to make this traditional material a popular choice for decking. However, maintaining an all-wood deck requires a great deal of time and care, especially for large decks.
Regardless of what type of wood you choose, even the most durable will require a protective finish and regular cleaning to prolong its life and beauty. With proper care, wood decking can last from 10 to 20 years.
If wood is your decking of choice, you will want to select a species that is naturally resistant to decay and insects, such as redwood, cedar or appropriate sustainable tropical hardwood varieties. Sustainable tropical hardwoods are harvested from tropical forests managed to sustainable standards. Due to their strength, attractive textures and colours, tropical hardwoods can make for great decking, though insect and rot resistance varies among species. Popular tropical hardwood species include Ipe, Cambara and Meranti. While Ipe is highly resistant to rot and insect damage, Cambara and Meranti are only moderately decay-resistant and work best when a water repellent is incorporated.
When choosing a stain or sealer for your wood deck, make sure it will repel water, resist mildew, and prevent fading in high traffic areas. Sealers and stains are either oil or water-based. Oil-based finishes tend to hold their colour a bit longer, but water-based finishes tend to be more durable and last longer. There are four major categories of sealants and stains: clear water repellent, toner or tinted water repellant, semi-transparent stains or solid stain, with each type containing increasing amounts of pigment. The more pigment you apply, the less woodgrain and texture are visible, but with better protection for the wood.
Durability, design flexibility and reduced maintenance are among the reasons some people choose composite decking over wood. For those who are concerned with the environment, some composites contain a high amount of pre- and post-consumer recycled content and help keep thousands of pounds of trash out of landfills each year. Composite decking products with high post-consumer recycled content can qualify for credit in the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) for Homes rating system. If you are considering composite decking, check with the manufacturer or dealer for the level of pre- and post-consumer recycled content as this can vary widely among brands.
Manufacturers typically make composite decking with a blend of recovered wood fibre and recycled polyethylene plastics. Due to its unique product makeup, composite decking will not rot, splinter or decay, and is highly resistant to moisture and insects. It can withstand harsh environmental conditions, and depending on the manufacturer, may come with a 20-to 25-year warranty, or even a limited lifetime warranty.
Composite decking is available in a wide variety of colours and sizes, including simulated tropical hardwoods. Deck boards can be bent for curved applications and are easy to use. With improved colour shading and texture, today’s advanced composite decking closely resembles the look of wood. Some manufacturers have expanded their composite offerings to include railing systems, hidden fasteners, fencing, and deck tiles to increase design flexibility and applications.
While composites may cost a bit more than some wood products upfront, they do not require staining, painting or sealing, which can help homeowners save money on maintenance in the long term. However, composites do need periodic sweeping and cleaning with water to remove dirt and debris. Due to their engineered strength and durability, composites have a life expectancy of 50 years or more.
Today’s decks and outdoor living spaces are treated just like any other room in a home, with a wide range of accessories to choose from. Here are some popular deck features to think about:
Decorative railings—railings are one of the most visible and prominent elements of a deck. With many materials to choose from, don’t feel you have to use the same material throughout the entire railing system.
Lighting and audio—both lighting and audio can create ambiance for your outdoor living space and extend entertainment into the night. Some composite decking manufacturers are incorporating convenient details into deck railing such as hollow posts for easy installation of outdoor lighting, audio systems and security systems.
Built-in benches—benches can add both style and function to your deck. By including permanent seating fixtures, you can save money by reducing the amount of outdoor furniture you need to buy.
Fireplaces and fire pits—outdoor fireplaces and fire pits both function for warmth and cooking and also adds to the ambiance. They can run on gas or the more rustic wood burning types.
Planter boxes—built-in planter boxes can instantly add colour and incorporate nature into your deck’s design. Depending on the placement, a planter box can also be used to subtly divide one area of your deck from another.
Outdoor kitchen islands—are a great addition to a usable outdoor space. There are many outdoor appliances to choose from that can be part of the island. As an alternative, consider a gas outdoor grill, which costs less than an entire kitchen island.
Brent Gwatney is vice-president of sales and marketing for MoistureShield decking, a manufacturer of durable wood-plastic composite decking products. For more information, visit www.moistureshield.com.
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