INTERIORS SPRING 2011 | Ask The Experts
Great Wide Open
Patio and decking experts lay the groundwork for your best summer ever
A barbecue on the backyard deck. Is there a greater Canadian tradition? A better way to celebrate our triumph over winter? A place where burgers and beer taste better? As the glacier of winter recedes, many of us turn our attention to the place where we’ll be spending the summer – but for those of us whose decks need replacing (or are currently non-existent), there’s plenty of trepidation. Fair enough, really. After all, building a deck is no simple task. To help ease you into the approaching summertime, Interiors spoke with several area experts to answer some of your questions about patio and deck building and design in 2011.
Maintenance-free decks are popular today, while others prefer the look and feel of real wood. What are some of the best materials available for decks and what do you recommend?
Adrian Bartels, Owner/Designer/Sales, Cedar Springs Landscape Group:
There are all kinds of products – Trex, Azek – and all have their pros and cons. Natural wood is still ideal because there’s nothing warmer in the cold months and cooler in the hot months. Maintenance-free looks maintenance-free; they’re all trying to make it look like real wood, yet it doesn’t. It can also be twice as expensive: labour is more because you’ve got to predrill and it’s so hard you go through drill bits like crazy.
Duane Schutten, Design & Construction, Heritage Green Landscape Contractors:
Composites are a manufactured product. Some of the newer products are stain-resistant, scratch-resistant, split-resistant, so you get a longer lasting product and the most you’d have to do is clean it off. That’s one of the huge advantages of the composites is the lack of maintenance you have to put into it once it’s installed.
Brian Wallace, Owner/Operator, A Cut Above:
A lot of people want the “nomaintenance” deck but there’s no such beast. Even with products like Trex or Azek, something happens to them over time and once they do fade, you’re kind of toast. You can’t bring that back up again. I favour cedar: It’s a nice wood if taken care of every two years, plus you can change colours a little bit if you want. Some composites are out on the market for a few years and then they’re gone – you can’t even match up the deck.
Brad Arnold, Sales Manager, Hickory Dickory Decks:
We’ve got stuff that looks just like wood and stuff that doesn’t look anything like wood. They’re definitely a little more expensive up front, but for someone who’ll be in their home for seven years or more, it’s a good investment.
Barry Hordyk, Owner, Shademaster Landscaping Ltd:
For normal use it’s hard to beat the feel and look of natural wood decks. They won’t retain heat like some of the composite products and, although they do require some maintenance, the comfort and aesthetics are excellent. Composite products work well for high traffic decks, especially decks used by pets. Dogs in particular can unintentionally damage and lessen the lifespan of the decking with their claws.
Is there really a “maintenance-free” option or is that a misnomer? What kinds of maintenance are needed for both wood decks and “maintenance-free” decks?
Bartels: Maintenance-free is all the rage. People generally like the idea of having a wooden deck as opposed to stone in some cases because it’s warmer, but with today’s fast-paced lifestyle, they don’t want to bother staining and painting.
Arnold: The phrase “no-maintenance” should never be uttered. Anything that’s outside is going to require something, even if it’s just a bath. Some people will call us after 10 years and say, “My deck, it’s a composite and it’s no good,” but the last time they washed it was 10 years ago. Give it a bath, and the next thing you know it looks brand new again.
Hordyk: There are many new composites and decking materials and each product has its own maintenance schedule. It’s important to learn what maintenance is involved and choose the one that best meets your expectations. Ipe – Brazilian teak – is a natural wood and we’re starting to use more of that now. If you use an oil sealer, the wood will retain its natural beauty and colour.
Schutten: With wood decks it’s pretty simple. You clean it and put on a penetrating wood sealant. The wood tends to fade a little bit in the sun but the sealants help maintain that rich cedar colour. I typically say you can get away with two to three years, but it varies on location and use of the deck. Honestly, there’ve been times when the sealants are so good, when properly applied, that you’re going to get almost five years out of it.
Wallace: A good product will usually last two years. It’ll look a little tired the second year because it’s been walked on and the winter’s been at it, but the railings should last about four years. It’s just the flat horizontal stuff you treat every two years. You also have to be careful power washing before you stain – wait at least 72 hours between power washing and staining. And then it can’t rain for 24 hours after you stain. So even though it’s only a one-weekend-every-two-years job, it takes a bit of planning.
What are some other trends in decks and deck design?
Bartels: Unique railing designs are the way to put your signature on a deck. Use a combination of whatever wood (or other material) but with some iron or glass in it. We see more stainless steel, even cabling (though many building codes don’t allow for it because it’s horizontal and climbable). There are also stone elements and veneer stones on the market now that are not heavy.
Schutten: Creating a green space around it or incorporated right into it – deck planter boxes, something as simple as that, but also trees and garden planting surrounding the area – softens it up. If it looks good from the kitchen window, you’ll enjoy it in the fall and the spring, too, even if it’s just as a view. You can also get a lot of curves into decks nowadays. Even something as simple as changing the angle of the boards into a diagonal lay pattern adds a bit of interest.
Wallace: I promote stone elements in my designs. A flagstone patio or something along those lines complements the wood, and vice versa. Don’t overdo the wood, that’s what I advise. As well, black balusters seem to be in fashion. You can get balusters in different colours and styles – though the simple straight variety looks nice to me, and most of my clients like it that way.
Arnold: Design-wise, the “outdoor room” has evolved to an area for dining, a bistrowhat’s come into play are full outdoor kitchens with stone countertops and stainless steel fridges, barbecues, pizza ovens, the whole ball of wax.
Hordyk: Designing and building generous decks with ample room for entertaining, cooking, relaxing, etc. Many newer styles of outdoor furniture require more room than a conventional patio set and decks need to be sized and arranged accordingly. A well-planned deck should be an extension of the living space of the house and be scaled appropriately; generous steps and landings that allow intuitive traffic flow are always welcome and can add a lot of interest.
What should people keep in mind if they’re interested in the investment in their property and resale?
Bartels: Having a deck adds value because the alternative is having no access down to your backyard. If you do something that’s designed well and use good materials, you’re adding value. To say that you’re going to get 120% of the value back, I wouldn’t say that. Front yards get people into the house, kitchens and bathrooms sell the house. People treat the backyard as a bonus.
Schutten: It creates another room for a potential homebuyer. If you’re going to do a $10,000 deck and thinking you’ll add $20,000 to the house, that’s not the way it works. But if it’s a space you can enjoy for a few years and you have quality, it’s will retain its value and help you sell that house or maybe get what you want out of it. It will set the house apart.
Arnold: Plan to be there for 20 years? Don’t worry about return on investment, worry about what it is going to do for you. If you want to be there for 5 to 10 years, then yes, keep return on investment in mind. Don’t get the project too specialized to your needs because the chance of someone else having the exact same ones are pretty slim. Think more generally – most people will want a decent amount of space, and potentially some privacy, a place for the barbecue, that sort of thing.
Wallace: For wood, go with cedar – it’s going to look like it’s worth twice as much when the new homeowner looks at it and says, “I like this deck – I don’t have to tear it down, I don’t have to add on to it.” If you take care of that deck every two years, even if it’s 14 or 16 years old, it’s going to look nice.
Hordyk: A well-designed and constructed deck that’s inviting and interesting will area, a lounging area. In the higher-end, add value to a house. If a deck is poorly designed in that it doesn’t have enough room to be comfortable, or doesn’t address traffic flow and feels cramped and awkward, it can be more liability than asset when selling a home.
What sorts of things does a homeowner need to keep in mind when planning the job? What kinds of questions do you ask homeowners to get them thinking?
Bartels: How high or low do you want it to be? We try to build them as low as possible, so that they’re not overlooking everybody else’s fences and into other peoples’ yards. Your property feels bigger when you’re down at ground level because you can slide your chair right to the edge of a patio and not feel like you’re going to fall off the thing; I prefer patios because you can use more of your space.
Schutten: Do you have young children that are going to be playing and their friends are going to be over? Are you a retired couple and you just want to go out there and barbecue and have a coffee in the morning? Looking through magazines or on the internet is helpful, to find looks that you like – but every site is different – you can see something on one site that you really like but it just doesn’t work because your yard’s too small or it’s too high up or something like that.
Wallace: First is privacy: How high or low do you want your deck? If you want it low, and you have a high walkout are you going to walk down 10 stairs every time you want to get in and out of your deck? I don’t think you are. Where the barbecue is going to go is pretty important as well, because a lot of people barbecue 12 months a year.
Arnold: How much you think you’ll be using it. Many families are outside every day, so let’s build a nice deck. If you’re never outside, why build a nice deck if you’re never going to use it? The average size of groups on your deck is another – for whatever reason some people want to build a big monster deck and it’s going to be them, a husband and wife, on the deck.
Hordyk: A good place to start is to know the local by-laws and restrictions for your property. Decks are regulated not just for structure but also height, size and possibly setbacks from property lines. Once you have determined what is allowed, the next step is determining what and how your deck will be used – entertaining, dining, sunbathing, cooking, relaxing, et cetera.