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Mike Holmes’ Advice on Backyard Decks and Fences

HOLMES_Mike_Outside_001PSP: What are some of your basic rules for deck building?

Holmes: Again, check with your local building authority—you will definitely need a permit if the deck is attached to your house or it’s over a certain height. If you don’t check and you are reported, you will have to take the deck down, so it’s best to double check and get the permit! The same rules apply to decks as they do with fences when it comes to checking for easements and proximity to property line and lot coverage, so do your homework.

Otherwise, when building a deck, you want to make sure it is properly secured and attached to your home. It needs to be bolted (not nailed) to the house (or another solid structure), using a ledger board, which runs the entire length of the deck. The deck joists are hung with joist hangers from the ledger board. To prevent water infiltration and damage, make sure each and every bolt is caulked and sealed. Also make sure your contractor uses vinyl spacer pins, which will allow water to drain free between the ledger and the house.

Another option is to do a freestanding ‘attached deck’ right next to your house on proper footings that is not actually connected to your house. This way, you’ll avoid any problems of water filtration in your home.

PSP: What about the different types of material that can be used for fences and decks? What would you recommend?

Holmes: I recommend using pressure-treated (PT) wood for the main structure of the deck. Then, you can clad it with whatever wood you prefer, like cedar or composite. It is popular, cost-effective and has been chemically treated with a copper compound to protect against insects and prevent wood rot. This means any screws and joist hangers must be labelled for PT wood. Even though it is treated, PT wood still needs to be maintained. Annual cleaning and a coat of water-repellant every year will help protect against moisture damage, splintering or staining.

I also love the look of cedar or redwood, but it will cost you more than PT. For a more cost-effective look, you could use PT for the structure and support, and then use cedar or composite for the planks and railing. Cedar is naturally resistant to insect damage and rot, and therefore needs less maintenance than PT wood. But remember, cedar should not come into direct contact with the ground. You will not need to treat cedar—it will weather to a grey colour or you can stain it. However, once it is stained you will have to maintain it regularly. You should also wash your deck every year with a mild detergent and water, but don’t use a pressure washer. Cedar is soft and can be damaged.

Composite wood products have come a long way since they first hit the market and I’m starting to like them better. Composite wood is usually polyethylene (PE) or polypropylene (PPE) mixed with wood fibre or wood flour. It looks a lot like real wood and is UV-resistant. It won’t fade and you don’t have to stain it, as it already comes in a variety of colours. It also won’t twist, split or warp and is resistant to insects. The drawback? It’s way more expensive, about five times more than PT wood. However, in the long run, you’ll save a lot on maintenance. Also, keep in mind that a lot of composite wood material is somewhat softer than natural wood, and isn’t available in long spans, so your contractor will have to place the joists closer together. You could also choose resin decking, which has no wood in it at all, so it won’t absorb moisture. It’s also lightweight, durable, won’t mould, splinter or crack and comes in lots of colours.

PSP: How involved should I be during the construction process? Is there a point at which I should ‘back off’ and let the contractor do their job, or should I stay as vigilant as possible?

Holmes: It’s always good to talk to your contractor, be involved, ask questions and communicate your concerns—just don’t make a nuisance of yourself.

For more on Mike Holmes and his various projects, visit www.makeitright.ca.

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14 comments on “Mike Holmes’ Advice on Backyard Decks and Fences”

  1. What fence company did you use for your sons house on season 1 and episode 6 of Holmes and Holmes
    Trouble locating a source in a Florida
    We love the shadow box effect and the construction simplicity
    Thank you

  2. I was looking for that answer also. What kind of fence did you install for his house? It made install and board replacing look easy.

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