The weather is finally warmer and sunnier here in Ohio. Let’s let ourselves imagine that Summer is actually around the corner (and take those snow shovels out of your car now!). This is the perfect time to start thinking about building a deck for your yard—BBQ season is right around the corner! Where to start?
First, contact a licensed professional renovation and installation service. You may have a friend or family member who is great, but will they know if they need to pull permits or not? Probably not. A professional will also know how to ensure your deck is structurally sound and will weather the years. Professionals (hopefully) also know what materials and design is going to work best for YOU and how you’ll use your deck.
Once you’re ready to start, do some research with your contractor about what materials are best for your new outdoor space. One of the primary considerations should center on the best materials for your home in the northeast climate.
There are an abundance of materials on the market but all choices vary in terms of quality, safety, and value. In general, there are two main categories of materials for you to consider.
When most people think about construction, the material that comes to mind is wood. It’s a natural material that’s used for everything around the home including fences and backyard furniture (think Adirondack chairs). Real wood decks always win hands down for looks because wood is naturally beautiful. Treated wood is also insect and rot resistant. Hardwoods, like redwood, are stable and warp resistant. The downside? They’re sourced from old growth trees which make them non-sustainable and expensive. Softwoods, like cedar, have an almost light honeyed warmth but tend to be soft and susceptible to splinters and scratches—think about that if you like bare feet outside or will move furniture and a grill around.
Pressure treated lumber is widely available and has all of the durability of natural wood. Just keep in mind to do your research well because quality can vary with price. Cheaper pressure treated wood will distort when faced with weather changes like extreme cold and heat. Untreated pine is the least expensive option. DIY homeowners often find this material the most attractive because they can keep costs down with some annual elbow grease.
Is it as simple as pressure washing and applying a marine stain like Rustoleum every year? No. Sadly, the truth is that untreated pine ends up costing the homeowner in the long run. On average, untreated pine decks will need to be replaced (sometimes as often as every 2-3 years) because they cannot stand up to Ohio cold and wet as well as their pressure treated counterparts. No amount of staining and maintenance will protect an untreated deck in our climate.
Beware of any contractor who gives you an abnormally low estimate. Remember to ask exactly what kind of materials he's using for your deck, stairs, or access ramp.
Next on our list are the latest in wood alternatives. These are either composite materials (a mixture of wood and plastic) or entirely plastic. Trex is arguably one of the highest quality and an industry standard for composite decking materials. It’s sustainable since it is 95% recycled wood. It also offers some of the best durability and appearance (there’s a wide array of patterns and styles to choose from). Maintenance is limited to a quick soap and water cleanup if needed – so no power washing. It’s mold resistant and comes in a variety of colors. This makes Trex an ideal material for high traffic decks because it will withstand heavy use without showing as much wear and tear. Trex will initially cost more to purchase, but the payoff is that there is little maintenance on your part for a beautiful natural wood finish deck, and you’re increasing the resale value of your home by using a trusted brand that is low maintenance.
For the environmental and green conscious, another advantage of this composite material over wood: you’re limiting your carbon footprint.
Trex has many competitors but the main alternative to it is PVC (polyvinyl chloride). This material is 100% recyclable since it is entirely made of plastic. Like Trex, it mimics the look of real wood and is nearly maintenance free. The downside is that PVC is susceptible to fading and staining. Wait too long to clean up after that barbecue and you’ll be disappointed! Things like spilled wine, coffee, and sunscreen will stain a PVC deck if it is not cleaned up and left in the hot sun. PVC will also change with the weather. Direct summer sun will make the material heat up uncomfortably underfoot and your deck will actually expand and contract with weather extremes. The result is that you’ll need to watch to make sure decking isn’t loosening over time.
Don’t let the multitude of choices overwhelm you! Here’s a handy summary chart with the pros and cons of each deck material. Read it then talk to your contractor. In the meantime, plan for a long and enjoyable summer with your friends and family on your outdoor space! Just do a little research and you’ll be on your way to enjoying your new deck that’ll last you for years to come.