Building the Ultimate Deck
Deciding on the right style and materials for your deck
By Terri Shields
Every home’s outdoor space is full of potential, and by adding a deck to the property, a homeowner can increase that space’s usefulness to a whole new level of functionality. Whatever is needed: more room for outdoor activities, a quiet place for relaxation, or a spot to arrange comfortable lounge chairs around the pool, a deck is the perfect solution.
Natural vs. Composite Wood
For most homeowners, enlarging their backyard space is an ideal way to improve the value of their homes—both aesthetically and practically.
Wood is one of the most popular materials for building a deck. Ipe, teak, and mahogany are three types that deck installers highly recommend. They are hardy, beautiful, and sustainable choices that preserve their natural characteristics after harvesting. Because they can handle damp, harsh, and insect-riddled environments in nature, these woods can handle almost anything. Prices vary from region to region, but these woods are top-tier selections and that will reflect in the cost.
If your budget needs more flexibility, consider redwood, cedar, and cypress. Redwood used to be the nation’s go-to wood for decks, but time and over-harvesting have left redwood in limited supply; now it’s typically only found on the West Coast. Cedar, on the other hand, is more readily available. Similar in nature to redwood, it is easy to work with and has thermal properties that keep it cool to the touch on hot summer days. Also, cedar forests are more plentiful. If these two woods are still above your budgetary limit, consider cypress. Strong, decay-resistant, and hardy, this wood, found mostly in the southeastern part of the U.S., is relatively less expensive than redwood and cedar but shares many of the same properties.
Another option for those on a tight budget is pressure-treated wood. Over the past few years this material has received negative press, but this chemically-treated wood is economical and can withstand termites and rot—and is probably the component of about 80 percent of wood decks in the U.S. Crafted primarily of southern yellow pine, red and ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, and hem-fir, it is a plentiful and renewable resource.
One final choice is also a low-maintenance one: Composite woods and vinyl products are growing in popularity. They can be more expensive initially, but homeowners love that the only maintenance typically required is just washing with soap and water.
When developing a new poolscape, homeowners need to work closely with their designer to obtain the optimum space for poolside fun.
There are many material choices for pool decks: wood, concrete, stone, and composites are just a few. Each type is better for one environment over another, and your home’s style and architecture will also help determine which is best for your property. For instance, brick tends to absorb the heat and become too hot underfoot while travertine remains cool in the heat of the day. Other factors to consider are budget and how much maintenance you are willing to perform.
Exotic hardwoods like Ipe and mahogany add a rich elegance to poolscapes that are sophisticated and classic. This option can be expensive, but if the design of your home and poolscape can accommodate this type of deck, it is one worthwhile to pursue. Installers will treat it so that it not only maintains its beauty but also remains safe for bare, wet feet.
Stone, such as granite, bluestone, and travertine, also adds luxuriousness to a backyard. Usually found in designs that are tropical or more natural in style, these materials can also complement elegant settings. Travertine, for example, is great for Tuscan-style pools.
Concrete is like a chameleon: Whatever style you are trying to achieve, it can usually be done in this material. Concrete can be tinted, seeded with decorative rocks and pebbles, stenciled, rock salt finished, and stamped to create a more customized look.
Some pool owners opt for composite and vinyl decks because they are low-maintenance and make delightful additions to a swimming pool’s overall design.
Regardless of what material is chosen, what kind of deck you build, or where you place it, remember that all decks must be maintained or they will lose their vitality. Exotic woods need to be treated with an oil sealer while other woods should be stained or painted. Pressure-treated wood can be stained or painted after curing for a few months, while owners of composites and vinyl decks need to follow the manufacturers’ suggestions. Concrete decks—especially those around pools—must be cured and sealed with a special compound that hardens and dustproofs it, making it a more durable surface.
Photo courtesy of Trex Company