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How to give your outdoor setting some much needed space
By Patti Plummer
The deck is the heart of the backyard. Whether it’s surrounding the pool or gracing the home, the deck is the place where everyone gathers for outdoor activities—and where you can find solitude after everyone departs.
There are different types of decks, and choosing the one that best suits your needs takes some thought. The first thing to consider, however, is how you want to use the deck: to provide more usable outdoor space, finish a pool, or both.
For many homeowners, a deck is an extension of the home. With added touches, it can turn any empty space into an outside room that is ideal for get-togethers, family dinners, or simply rest and relaxation. Backyard decks can be crafted from a variety of materials, but primarily hardwoods, pressure-treated wood, and composites are used because of their versatility and durability.
Ipe, teak, and mahogany are hardwoods that show superior strength in nature—they have evolved to survive the daily rigors of harsh, damp, insect-infested rainforests. Ipe (EE-pay) is especially becoming more popular, and because it can be responsibly cultivated in forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, it is also an eco-friendly choice. After harvesting, hardwoods maintain their resilient personalities, becoming excellent building materials. When installing, contractors always take special precautions—such as pre-drilling holes to avoid splitting—to preserve these exotic woods’ natural beauty.
Other woods include redwood, cedar, and cypress. In the past, redwood was very popular for decks because of its hardy constitution, but because of over-harvesting, it is in limited supply and is mainly available only on the West Coast. Cedar is similar to redwood, but is more flexible. It is easy to work with and its thermal properties allow it to stay cool when the weather gets hot. Plus, cedar forests are more abundant so the environmental impact is not as great. Price and availability varies from region to region. Cypress has benefits similar to its redwood and cedar cousins: Cypress is decay-resistant plus strong and hardy. Most commonly found in the southeastern part of the U.S., it is relatively less expensive than redwood and cedar. No matter what type of wood you choose, however, you’ll want to ensure that it comes from a reputable, sustainable source.
Although pressure-treated wood has received some negative press in the past few years, it is still the most popular choice for decks—an estimated 80 percent of all U.S. decks are made of this economical material. Pressure-treated wood is chemically treated, making it resistant to termites and rot. Made primarily from southern yellow pine, red and ponderosa pine, douglas fir, and hem-fir, it is a plentiful and renewable resource.
Composite and vinyl decks are making inroads past the traditional styles. Although initially more expensive than wood decks, these manmade materials are low-maintenance and can become a more economical choice. Composite wood will fade and change somewhat with age, but the only maintenance required is to clean it on a regular basis.
For pool owners, the deck surrounding the pool is important to both the look and feel of the entire setting. In addition to offering the best vantage point for swimmers and sunbathers, it is an integral part of the overall design of the poolscape. It should complement the pool design and be comfortable to walk on.
There are a number of material choices for inground pool decks, including wood, concrete, stone, and composites. Each has its own set of pros and cons: brick tends to absorb heat and become too hot to handle while travertine remains relatively cool in the summer sun. Based on a number of factors, such as budget, environment, the style you prefer, and how much maintenance you are willing to perform, you will be able to choose one particular type over the others.
Hardwoods, like Ipe and mahogany, are popular go-to choices for pool decks because of their rich and luxurious appearance. Concrete is a flexible option that allows for tinting, seeding with decorative rocks, stenciling, rock salt finishing, and stamping to create a more customized look. Natural stone, such as granite, bluestone, and travertine, is a beautiful, formal material that enhances a pool setting. Decks made of composite material are low-maintenance alternatives to the real thing. Although this kind may cost more initially, over time it tends to be cost-effective.
Decks around aboveground pools aren’t just a place to put your stuff before entering the pool: they can be cozy, decorative assets that feature seating, planters, lighting, and more. Made of composites, vinyl, or wood, this type of deck is usually flush with the aboveground pool’s surface, meaning that it is about four to five feet off the ground. b
Photo courtesy of Trex Company
Maintaining Your Deck
Over time, all decks will fade and lose their initial luster, but with proper care, a deck can last for years and evolve into an elegant addition to your home or pool. The first thing a homeowner should do after the deck is installed is create and follow a maintenance schedule. It’s easier to tackle stains and dirt when they first appear rather than wait until after the heat of the sun causes damage. Here are a few tips on how to care for each type of deck:
• Decks made of exotic woods need to be treated with an oil sealer, while other woods should be stained or painted in order to maintain their vibrancy.
• Pressure-treated wood can be stained or painted, but not until a few months of curing have passed.
• Composites and vinyl products are easier to handle: just follow the manufacturer’s recommended cleaning instructions. Usually, all you will need is soap and a hose for easy cleaning and specially-formulated cleaners for more stubborn grime.
• Concrete pool decks need to be cured and sealed with a special curing compound. This seals, hardens, and dustproofs the concrete, protecting the material’s beauty and providing a more durable surface.
• Maintaining hardware, structural splits, rips, and tears requires more forethought. Metals tend to degrade in harsh weather while everyday use causes surface imperfections that need attention. Do-it-yourselfers can typically perform easy-to-do fixes, like changing hardware, knocking-in popped nails, and re-staining and painting. Sometimes, however, calling in a professional installer is necessary, especially when planks need to be replaced.
Photo courtesy of Duckback Products
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