Get All Decked Out

*This article features DeckWright, now known as MOSAIC Outdoor Living.

by Emily Horton

Plan now for a gorgeous new deck or patio this spring

Atlanta-Home-Improvement-2005-02-01No matter how you use yours—to barbecue on weeknights for two or on weekends for a crowd, to lounge in the sun when the sky is clear or to settle in with a cold drink and a great book—an outdoor deck or patio can vastly increase the enjoyment you get from your house during the warmer months. And even though you may not begin enjoying yours until spring, now is the perfect time to plan a new or improved deck and patio.

Whether you’re starting from scratch or simply giving an existing structure an upgrade, giving this project your attention now will ensure that it will be in prime condition when you need it most. Keep in mind that most decking and patio companies face the least demand during the winter, which means they will have more time to spare now than they will if you opt for the last-minute route. Planning ahead also grants you more time for decision-making; the wide variety of materials available today for use in decking and patio installations gives you plenty of opportunity to tailor your outdoor structure to your tastes.

Know your needs before you visit a contractor. Come prepared with a rough sense of your budget, how you plan to use your deck or patio, what type of maintenance you’re up for, how much space you need and what kind of time schedule you’re on, suggests Rick Goldstein, owner and architect for DeckWright. Photos of decks or patios you like are also helpful. The better you articulate what you want, the more likely you’ll be to get it.

PINE

Cost $2 to $4 per square foot

Pros

  • pressure-treated with chemicals to prevent rotting and insects
  • among the least expensive materials
  • long-lasting

Cons

  • maintenance required, including sealing and staining every couple of years, to prevent drying and splintering

CEDAR

Cost $4 to $8 per square foot

Pros

  • gorgeous appearance

Cons

  • vulnerable to rot in the Southeast’s humid climate
  • maintenance required

IPÉ (BRAZILIAN WALNUT)

Cost $5 to $8 per square foot

Pros

  • ultra-dense hardwood
  • impervious to rot and insects and fire-resistant
  • beautiful mahogany-like color
  • long life span

Cons

  • needs to be oiled to maintain its gorgeous hue, or cleaned routinely to fade to a rustic teak color
  • requires expert installation

NATURAL WOOD

Natural wood is among the most popular, attractive and economical options for a raised deck. Its biggest downside is that it requires substantially more maintenance than synthetic surfaces.

Pine, pressure-treated with chemicals to prevent rotting and insect infestation, is a good bet for decks built on a tight budget. At around $2 to $4 per square foot, pine is by far one of the least expensive materials. Like cedar, it requires sealing and staining before use and then approximately every two years after installation. But with proper maintenance (sealing the wood periodically to increase its durability) a pine deck can have a 30- to 35-year life span, says Steve Campbell, owner of Your Backyard Plus.

Cedar, though a bit more costly at around $4 to $8 per square foot, is especially prone to rotting—which is partially a reflection of the less-dense cedar on the market today and a result of felling young trees that haven’t yet had time to mature, says Goldstein. Cedar’s appearance rarely disappoints. Just be prepared to spend more time and effort on its upkeep.

Less talked-about but rising in popularity is Brazilian walnut, or ipé. An ultradense hardwood, ipé is impervious to rot, insects and fire. “It’s so dense, nothing can eat it,” Goldstein says. “And it’s the most beautiful wood you’ll see.”

Ipé can be oiled to maintain its hue or merely cleaned routinely, which allows the wood to fade to a rustic teak color. Though its initial installation can cost more than conventional woods, ipé’s longer life span makes it a sound investment.

Atlanta-Home-Improvement-2005-02-02BRICK

Cost $5 to $6 per square foot

Pros

  • easy maintenance
  • nice scale and texture

Cons

  • prone to mildew
  • can be slippery if not exposed to sun

CONCRETE

Cost varies depending on application

Pros

  • easy maintenance
  • economical
  • long-lasting
  • can be applied using range of techniques for various appearances

Cons

  • can be hot in summer
  • may require extensive site preparation

STONE

Cost varies depending on application

Pros

  • versatility
  • blends in well with natural surroundings

Cons

  • cost may be high compared to other materials
  • dark stone can retain heat
  • prone to mildew
  • can be slippery if not exposed to sun

CONCRETE, STONE AND BRICK

For ground-level patios, particularly on level lots, there are a number of other surfacing options. Low-maintenance concrete (demanding only routine washing to eliminate dirt) is perhaps the most economical and can, if installed properly, last indefinitely, Goldstein says. It also offers a range of versatility when stained, scored or stamped with any number of designs.

Depending on installation and the type of material used—from brick, cast concrete paver stones and ceramic tile to cobblestone, flagstone and slate—masonry can create a refined or rustic aesthetic. Most stone patios can be applied to a flat concrete base for a polished, even elegant appeal, or embedded into crushed granite, yielding a result that blends well with natural surroundings.

Maintenance for masonry patios, the materials for which tend to run between $5 and $6 per square foot, tends to be low, says Sean McCormick of Oasis Landscapes and Irrigation. Patios installed in granite may need to be groomed occasionally for weeds and the granite refreshed occasionally, but masonry demands little more than simple washing to keep the stones and grout clean. Keep in mind, too, that darker stones show dirt much less easily.

COMPOSITES/PLASTICS

Atlanta-Home-Improvement-2005-02-04Cost $6 to $7 per squre foot

Pros

  • requires virtually no maintenance except periodic cleaning
  • termite- and rot-proof
  • color does not fade
  • made from recycled materials
  • available with a 10 – to 20 -year warranty

Cons

  • more expensive than wood
  • may not be as attractive as wood

RUBBER

Cost $5 per square foot

Pros

  • made entirely from recycled rubber tires
  • can be adhered to concrete or wood
  • prevents puddles and slipping around pools
  • easy on feet
  • requires little maintenance

Cons

  • may not be as attractive as wood

COMPOSITES AND PLASTICS

“People tend to not like to take care of their decks,” Goldstein says. Composite, plastic or PVC decking surfaces, which are made out of plastic and wood or purely from plastic, are ideal for hassle-free decks. Their shortcoming is that despite manufacturers’ efforts to mimic the appearance of wood, synthetics are never quite as beautiful as natural wood—though some do come close.

At $6 to $7 per square foot, composite and plastic surfaces also are pricier than wood, though the benefits reflect the higher cost. Aesthetics aside, they require virtually no maintenance beyond occasional cleaning, are termite- and rot-proof, maintain their original color, often are made from recycled materials and typically are offered with a 10- to 20-year warranty.

Rubber paver tiles, at around $5 per square foot, are another synthetic option, and one of the most environmentally appealing. Constructed entirely from recycled rubber tires, they can adhere to concrete or wood, making them suitable in both deck and patio applications. They also are an especially good choice for patios around pools. Because rubber tiles are porous, water seeps through, preventing puddles—and slipping. Their softer surface means stumbling kids are less likely to scratch up their knees, and walking is easier on everyone’s feet. Like most synthetics, rubber tiles call for little maintenance; an occasional spray-down is all they demand, and disinfectant eliminates any bacteria growth between the tiles. “They can handle a lot of abuse,” says Walter Bell, owner of Creative Closet and Flooring Solutions and Pavers Pools. “It’s hard to wear them out.”

COVER SYSTEMS

Atlanta-Home-Improvement-2005-02-03Now that the deck looks great, you may find you’d like to do something with the area underneath it. For many, the dark, dingy area beneath the deck is used for storage, but for those who want a more appealing alternative, a cover system may be the solution.

Decks Under Cover Inc. manufactures an interlocking, rustproof, painted aluminum ceiling that can be installed under any deck. It was created to serve low- and high-end residential markets. It reflects and amplifies visible light and helps lead runoff water away from your home’s foundation. For most homes, the cover can be installed within one or two days.

Undercover Systems Inc. makes a modular roof system for the underside of decks. By maintaining a 4- to 7-inch space between the bottom of the deck and the top of the ceiling, the individual ceiling panels and integrated gutters collect water and act as supports for the ceiling. The steel panels are self-sealing. The system is available in white, tan, bronze and a wood-grain finish.

Regardless of the type of deck or patio you own or choose to build, regular maintenance and cleaning is key to extending its life. Cared for properly, many structures will last as long as you own your home, McCormick says. Taking the time up front to determine what you need and want will go a long way toward preserving your home’s outdoor appeal for years to come.

See the reprint of the article here (PDF).