HomeownerHelpful Info: Outdoor Projects

Deck Building & Maintenance

Deck Building & Maintenance Educational Content

Multilevel. Multilevel decks are just like they sound. They have multiple levels connected by stairs. If you have a sloping backyard or a multi-story house, a multilevel deck is a practical option.

Wraparound. Many decks wrap around two or more sides of the house. This is a great design if you want several different rooms on one floor to have deck access. Wraparound decks are typically extensions of the front porch.

Cantilever. This deck style is contemporary and unique. A cantilever deck appears to almost float off the house. It’s an appealing design for lots of people. It is typically a more expensive option due to the complex design.

Platform. Platform decks are low to the ground. They are most often installed next to the ground floor of a home or on single-story houses. Depending on the deck’s design and local building codes, a platform deck may not need railings. If you don’t need railings, consider other creative add-ons. Built-in benches or planters along the edge of the deck add practical seating options.

Detached. In some cases, a deck attached to the home is not an option. A detached deck is built the same way as a traditional deck, but it can be placed in almost any location in the yard. Be sure to maintain a detached deck just as you would an attached structure.

Pressure-treated lumber is softer wood, usually pine, that is treated with preservatives to resist rot. The exact type and amount of preservatives determines whether the lumber can be used in or on the ground. Pressure-treated wood isn’t maintenance-free. It should be sealed regularly to maintain its water resistance. In the past, pressure-treated lumber contained chromate copper arsenate (CCA). CCA is a wood preservative that has an arsenic component. Because of health concerns, the industry has turned to other chemicals. Sodium borate, copper azole, and other copper-based preservatives are now used for treating residential lumber. These newer preservatives do not contain arsenic. It is still important to wear gloves and wash your hands when handling pressure-treated wood.

If you have an older deck, it may be made of lumber that was treated with CCA. The EPA recommends that existing CCA-treated decks should be sealed and properly maintained. More information on CCA is available on the EPA website at www.epa.gov as well as from the Consumer Protection Safety Commission’s Consumer Hotline.

Engineered composite materials are popular choices when it comes to building or replacing a deck. Though these materials may cost more up front, composites are durable and low maintenance. They are usually guaranteed by the manufacturers against rot, warping, and splintering.

Redwood has a dark red color when first cut. That beautiful color can fade, however. If you want to maintain redwood’s original shade, keep it sealed or stained. Otherwise, it will gray over the years. Redwood is a strong, durable, and attractive deck material. A number of grades are available, and the cost varies depending on how much heartwood is in each board. Heartwood is prized because it grows at the center of the tree. This makes it quite hard and resistant to damage from the elements and insects.

Cedar wood is beautiful and is commonly used for fences and overhead structures. It is a soft wood that is susceptible to scratches and marks from furniture and pets. Cedar wood naturally resists insects and decay. It works best for vertical elements and low-traffic areas.

If your goal is a luxurious, distinctive deck, look into tropical hardwoods like ipe, cumaru, red tauari, and Philippine mahogany. These imported materials are typically very dense and hard. This means that they carry a natural resistance to insects and decay. Many tropical hardwoods are also darker in color than more commonly used materials. They will, however, weather to a gray color if they aren’t regularly stained or sealed with a wood protectant. Exotic woods are beautiful, but remember to factor their maintenance needs into your decisions. There’s a lot you can do with pressure-treated lumber. Keep an open mind, and be honest with your contractor about your needs.

Brand-new decks will need to cure before any wood treatment application. This usually equals about four to eight weeks of dry weather before the initial sealing. Many contractors will do this initial sealing. If yours doesn’t, set a reminder for yourself so you don’t forget. Periodic cleaning and sealing will keep the deck looking good for years. This preventative maintenance will protect it from the following hazards:

Moisture damage. For wood decks in particular, water from rain or dew can create problems. Water absorbed into the wood can wash out the wood’s color and increase the likelihood of rot. Waterlogged wood is also susceptible to mold, mildew, and algae growth.

UV exposure. Decks are constantly exposed to the elements. Unfortunately, the UV rays in sunlight can fade or gray the beautiful, rich tones of the wood. Sun damage is the worst enemy of a deck. Apply a sealer and toner to the deck every spring to protect the wood from UV damage.

Stains due to normal use. Because they’re outside, decks are prone to stains. Bird droppings, fallen leaves, and mildew can all stain or discolor the wood. Candle wax poses a special threat to wood decks because it’s virtually impossible to remove. The only way to rid a board of candle wax is to replace the board itself. Deck cleaning will address preexisting stains. A sealed deck will resist staining better than raw, unsealed wood.

In most cases, a deck build requires a permit. A good deck contractor will know the specifics on the permitting process in your area. Most contractors will handle the process on your behalf. Some homeowners’ associations also require approval before exterior work on a home can begin. It’s a good idea to check with your association for information on its requirements.