Diamond Certified Experts: Deck Construction 101

by James Florence


Prior to adding a deck to your home, it’s good to learn about the process involved. Photo: McGibbon Construction, Inc. ©2018

Few things can augment a home’s livability like the addition of a deck. This is especially true in the Bay Area, where the prevalence of warm, sunny weather can translate to many hours of outdoor enjoyment. If you’re thinking about adding a deck to your home, it’s a good idea to learn about the process so you can make educated choices. To help you do this, we’ve asked four current and former Diamond Certified Expert Contributors to share their insights on deck construction.

Preliminary considerations for deck construction

Prior to designing, building or even choosing materials for your deck, there are a few things you’ll need to consider. Juan Guzman of G.O. Blessing Construction Inc. says the first of these is your deck’s purpose. After all, a deck’s purpose directly corresponds to its functionality, which informs its overall design. Do you want a place for entertaining guests? A lounging area? A conduit between your house and your garden? Thinking about your deck’s purpose in advance will help you come up with a design that best suits that purpose.

Mr. Guzman says you also need to consider what kind of maintenance you’re willing to do. While some decks are virtually maintenance-free, others require recurrent upkeep, so you’ll need to think this over prior to selecting materials.

Another important consideration is your budget. “When calculating the cost of your new deck, be sure to account for additional components and features,” advises Mr. Guzman. “For example, deck railings can be expensive, depending on the type of material you’re building with. Also, you may want to make further aesthetic alterations in conjunction with your new deck.”

Choosing deck boards: natural or composite?

When it comes to deck materials, your options fall into two main categories: natural wood and composite decking. As for natural wood, Desi McGibbon of McGibbon Construction, Inc. recommends two products, starting with redwood. “Redwood is attractive, long-lasting and affordable, with several different grades to choose from. However, in order for a redwood deck to last, it needs to be regularly maintained. In particular, it must be resealed every few years to maintain its color.”

The other material Mr. McGibbon recommends is Brazilian hardwood, also known as ipe. “Ipe is a marina-grade lumber that’s very dense and durable,” he explains. “The downside is it’s very expensive to install. Because of its density, every screw has to be pre-drilled; furthermore, all cuts have to be sealed to keep in the oils. However, because of its superior durability, many people think ipe is well worth the additional labor costs.”

The other category of deck materials is composite decking, which consists of synthetic products that are typically designed to imitate natural wood. While composite decking offers advantages like reduced maintenance, historically, it doesn’t have a great track record. According to Weston Leavens of Deckmaster Fine Decks, Inc., there are two reasons for this. “From the beginning, composite decking manufacturers have faced two main challenges. The first is achieving the appearance of authentic wood. The second is preventing excessive heat buildup in warm weather, which is a common problem due to the sheer density of composite materials.”

Fortunately, thanks to ongoing technological innovation, the latest composite decking products are coming closer than ever to meeting these challenges. Mr. Leavens offers the example of Zuri® Premium Decking by Royal®. “Zuri decking features a simulated wood grain that mimics natural wood more accurately than any previous product,” he details. “Additionally, it resists heat gain when in direct sunlight—in fact, it’s so precisely engineered that it stays within a few degrees of the temperature that similarly colored natural woods would reach under comparable conditions.” With the improved performance of Zuri and other emerging products, composite decking may finally earn its legitimacy as a viable alternative to natural wood decking.

Building your deck

After materials have been selected, the design has been finalized and the permits have been obtained, it’s time to start building your deck. Whether you’re going the DIY route or working with a professional contractor, be sure to address all crucial points of the construction process. According to Steve Labourdette of Labourdette Construction, waterproofing is essential—particularly if you’re attaching the deck to your home. Neglecting proper waterproofing can cause a deck to fail prematurely and allow rot to be transferred to the home’s structure.

As Mr. Labourdette explains, the two main components involved in deck waterproofing are flashing and siding. “Flashing elements like Z bars and membrane flashing protect a deck’s wooden elements by repelling water, while cement siding creates a waterproof barrier between the deck and the house. Collectively, these elements work together like shingles to deflect water, providing several layers of protection for both the deck and the house.”

While some deck construction steps are tried and true, it’s also good to consider innovative methods for your project. For example, Mr. Leavens suggests looking into a hidden bracket system, whereby deck boards are attached from the bottom up instead of the traditional top-down method. “Attaching decks from the top down can cause several problems down the road,” he says. “For example, protruding nails and screws can be a tripping hazard; plus, water can penetrate the nail and screw holes and cause premature rot, which shortens the deck’s lifespan. A good way to avoid these kinds of issues is to use a hidden bracket system. With hidden brackets, joists are attached beneath the deck boards, which allows the builder to insert the screws on the deck’s underside. The end result is a clean, unblemished deck surface that’s as safe and durable as it is aesthetically pleasing.”

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