Welcome to “At Home with Tom and Sandy” We are here to give you the inside scoop on real estate, the construction industry; what’s up, what’s down, what’s hot, and what’s not. We’ll share real estate stats, home prices, building permit numbers, construction pointers and give you hints on renovations that will give you a return on your investment and, as they say, “so much more.”
There is plenty going on in the housing and construction industry and we want to share some fantastic, cool, groovy and helpful information with you. We are going to use our insight and local expertise to help you save time, money and surmount obstacles of all kinds. So, settle in and enjoy.
Sandy: It has become a year around “thing” now to take care of your decks, build decks and enjoy decks. Tom, it is not an easy task taking care of decks, deciding on what material to use, since not all decks are created equal, what finish to use and more importantly how to care for a deck. It has been “all hands on deck” to answer the phone calls from our citizens with deck questions.
Tom: In our climate, outdoor living is almost a requirement and given our mountainous terrain, we often need to construct an area for outdoor enjoyment well above the ground, therefore, the “Deck!”
Sandy: If a homeowner does not have a deck, where do they start with material selection, site and layout design? Is there a basic rule of thumb, Tom?
Tom: For sure, start with a few basics as you contemplate your deck design. Typically, when a deck is constructed, the surface is about 30” from the surrounding ground. This can vary to some extent and the distance is generated by building codes. The clearance from the bottom of the deck joists to the ground needs to be 18” if constructed with Douglas fir standard dimensional lumber. Treated lumber will allow you to get closer to the ground. It is standard to either paint or seal the deck frame prior to applying the surface deck material.
Sandy: When does the requirement and building code for railing come into play? I would think that the design of the railing is an important function of your view shed when seated on the deck. I have seen very cool railings that are made from clear glass, plastic and even wrought iron to add to the design of the desk.
Tom: If you do build 30” or higher from the ground, you will need a railing. That is code. The real decisions, aside from orientation, dimensions and shape are what type of material to use for the decking itself. We should look at the three popular choices folks are making and talk about the merits of each.
Sandy: With the section of deck materials, the homeowner must also be aware of and consider maintenance. I would guess, Tom, that the most popular deck materials would probably be cedar and redwood because they are naturally resistant to insects and rot. Am I right?
Tom: Yes, Sandy, you are correct. Cedar and redwood are the number one wood choices for deck material. These products need to be sealed with a deck sealer that provides protection from our UV rays. Typically, this should be done every two years.
Sandy: The other choices for decking surface material are composites. For our readers, composites are generally products that are composed of predominately recycled material. Composite decking is typically manufactured from wood, reclaimed wood, sawdust and chips bound together in a plastic material.
Now we have evolved into a greener society and today, if cost is not a factor, the greenest decking is a plantation-grown wood product that is naturally resistant to rot and bugs, and does not need further preservative treatment. Eco-friendly decking includes black locust or tamarack or domestic and tropical woods (redwood and teak) and all are certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council. Nowadays, we all want our decking to last for many years without maintenance, and that alone is a big challenge.
Tom: If homeowners are weary of maintenance, and as you say, Sandy, we are becoming a “greener society,” I am all for composite deck materials. The great thing about composites is they look and act like wood. Popular manufacturers known for sustainable products are TREX, NEXWOOD and TIMBERTECH. These products have been known to last for up to 20 years with little maintenance, however, you must keep in mind that all of these products will weather and some warping may occur. Composite decking is as strong as wood, it looks and feels like wood. When selecting this type of decking it is important to verify how well this product holds fasteners, so it is very important to discuss this with your contractor.
Sandy: Besides composite deck materials, there are plastic deck products, vinyl or PVC decking and all of these products are considered green. Again, eco-friendly composite decks made from a blend of recycled wood and plastic and processed with earth-friendly manufacturing processes, reclaiming factory waste and eliminating the use of harmful chemicals are the wave of the future. The fact is, being green should be in our DNA.
Tom: It is not easy being green and the good thing is that locally sourced reclaimed wood that would otherwise end up in a landfill finds its way into many high-performance composite decks.
Sandy: The recycled wood in TREX decks is combined with recycled plastic film from a variety of sources ranging from the overwrap on paper towels to dry cleaner bags, sandwich bags, newspaper sleeves and grocery and shopping bags. Here’s an interesting fact: the average 500-square-foot composite TREX deck contains 140,000 recycled plastic bags! That makes TREX one of the largest plastic bag recyclers in the U.S. As one of the largest plastic film recyclers in the U.S., TREX saves 400 million pounds of plastic film and wood from landfills each year.
Tom: It is important to share with our readers that a deck, like the space inside your residence, needs regular cleaning and maintenance to remain habitable and safe. Decks made of composites require less maintenance than wooden decks, but there’s no such thing as a self-cleaning deck or a deck that lasts forever. By doing what’s good for the wood and avoiding what’s not, you’ll get more life from your outdoor living space.
Sandy: Let’s share some DOs and DON’Ts for deck cleaning. I will be the DO and Tom, you be the DON’T.
Sandy: DO CLEAN. Decks need exfoliation, so protective sealers can seep deeper into the wood. When it’s dry and moderately warm, 60 to 70 degrees, apply an appropriate deck-cleaning solution with a roller or sprayer to kill mold and bacteria. Use a utility brush to scrub the deck where it’s especially dirty and where mold or mildew might lurk. Power washers and pressure washers are the quickest way to clear residue, but you risk gouging the wood. A garden hose outfitted with any nozzle that has a hard-stream setting will work.
Tom: DON’T CLEAN THE DECK WITH CHLORINE BLEACH. Unless, of course, you don’t mind stripping the wood of its natural color and damaging its cellular structure. Oxygen bleach is an all-purpose alternative that won’t wash out colors or harm plants, but it’s still not appropriate for redwood.
Sandy: DO SAND your deck before sealing. It can take up to 48 hours for the deck to fully dry. At that point, lightly sand the surface to remove splintery or fuzzy patches caused by pressure-washing the deck. A pole sander with 80-grit sandpaper will suffice; a power sander is overkill. Then, seal the deck to protect from cracking, cupping and warping. A clear sealer lasts longer; a tinted stain or sealant fades quickly with lots of foot traffic. Paint looks nice when it’s first applied, but it looks downright distressed before long. If you then decide to refinish the deck with an alternative sealant, you’ll need to first remove all the paint with a stripper or sander.
Tom: DON’T ASSUME that pressure-treated wood is maintenance-free. It might resist rot and insect infestation, but pressure-treated wood still needs to be cleaned and sealed to withstand water and solar damage. Use products made for pressure-treated wood.
Sandy: DO BE VIGILANT ABOUT DAMAGE. This is an important issue. Inspect periodically for soft or splintered spots, loose nails and deck attachments, and split or rotten planks.
Tom: DON’T USE NATURAL MATERIALS UNDER DECK FURNITURE. Protect the wood deck from scrapes inflicted by chair and table legs, but don’t use natural fiber rugs such as jute and bamboo. These absorb moisture and promote mildew. Rugs made of recycled plastics won’t cause these problems and they’ll last longer.
Thanks for stopping in “At Home with Tom and Sandy.” You’re in good company and we love sharing educational, fun and important information with you. See you next month. QCBN
Tom Reilly, Architect, Contractor, Renovations 928-445-8506 renovationsaz.com
Sandy Griffis, Executive Director, Yavapai County Contractors Association. 928-778-0040.