by Janice Henshaw –
Has there ever been a better time to enjoy our outside grounds and gardens? There is no pressing need to spend hours packing for a big camping trip or making reservations to fly far away. Instead, this summer can be a great time to focus on building or renovating our patios and decks and turning them into a relaxing and fun gathering place for family and friends.
First off are patios; they are a ground-level outside dining or social area that can be made of concrete, brick, flagstones, pavers, tile, cut stone, or loose materials such as bark mulch, pea gravel, or pebbles. You can be creative in mixing and matching any materials you choose. For example, planting a low-height herb such as thyme between pavers provides an interesting contrast, as do wood strips along gravel. Bricks, metal and recycled material works well for landscape edging. They add a decorative element and can form curves. Trimming the surrounding grass will be easy if the edging restrains loose material from migrating out the sides.
If your summer budget is limited, little additions can have big impact! Pots of beautiful plants and shrubs will provide a hit of colour and privacy; sweet peas clinging to netting offer fragrance and a living wall. Geraniums, petunias, zinnias and marigolds are easy to care for rockstars that will bloom all summer. Add in some comfy furniture, an umbrella, a glass of iced tea and you have created a blissful place to relax.
Decks form another great outdoor space. On the West Coast, we love our beautiful wood decks made of cedar, redwood or tropical hardwoods. Pressure-treated wood (wood that’s been treated with preservatives) is a less expensive option. There are various grades though and it’s important to choose select or premium boards that have fewer knots and straighter grain. Kiln drying before and after pressure treatment will lessen the tendency to shrink and twist. Having deck boards that last forever in a warped and uneven state is no “deal!” All pressure-treated wood is vulnerable to the sun, moisture and dirt so staining the boards once they are cured and dry will improve the deck’s life and appearance.
Whether to use screws or nails to install the deck boards may seem like a minor choice but it does make a difference. Over time nails will corrode and lift from the wood, making them a nasty thing to stub your bare feet on. Coated deck screws resist corrosion so they last longer and, if they do lift a bit as the wood dries out, you can always tighten them with a screw gun. If you drop something down between the boards of a ground-level deck or an unwanted animal gets snared under your deck then removing screws is less destructive to the boards than digging holes in them with a nail puller or crowbar.
An annual inspection of decks is vital. Wood decks have to withstand all seasonal changes and as a consequence, excess moisture and pooling water can cause mold, mildew and rot. Oddly enough this is called “dry rot” and is caused by a fungus that if left unchecked will destroy the cellulose from the wood leaving it dry and brittle. This is the cause of most deck failures when they collapse.
Dry rot invites wood-consuming termites and other insects that have voracious appetites. Poor construction can be a contributing factor. The result is scary to think about, so the best action is to check out your deck boards for soft spots and cracks and examine wood-to-earth contacts such as posts, under potted plants, near downspouts and at door thresholds. Inspect the joists and ledger board, and look for rust in the hardware components and flashing. If you do not have the time or knowledge it’s probably best to hire a licensed contractor to do the inspection and if necessary set up a plan on how to fix any small problems before they get worse.
Composite deck boards sold by Home Depot are made of “wood flour” (a recycled post-industrial material) PVC, or wood fibres, polyethylene or hardwood and polypropylene blend. The decking is low maintenance and easy to install because it cuts like wood. Their premium resin deck boards are made entirely of 100% recyclable engineered polymer material and contain no organic material. Veranda, DuraLife and Trex Composites brands come with a 25-year warranty against fading or stains.
Another deck alternative is the application of a waterproof coating over plywood. This adds the benefit of dry storage under the deck. I talked with Mark Simpson who, along with his partner, Ron Graham, owns and operates Gulf Islands Deck and Rail. They are based in Sidney and install Duradek vinyl and Flexstone deck coatings locally and in the southern Gulf Islands.
Their products, Mark says, are durable, 100% waterproof, aesthetically appealing and require very little maintenance. “They provide long term durability in our wet environment and are backed by extensive warranties (15 years +).” Often construction is part of their work as they prepare decks for the coatings and add railings. If the deck has not been cared for and has dangerous levels of rot then they have to demolish and rebuild it.
Some decks with dark-coloured plastic planking can get very hot to walk on with bare feet. To avoid that problem Mark advises clients to choose lighter colours that are generally cooler. Duradek offers a Cool-Dek vinyl that helps reduce the temperature of the vinyl in direct sunlight. He added that Duradek vinyl is a sustainable green building product that qualifies for LEEDS (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) credits.
Railings are the most visible part of the deck from the street and should be secure and attractive – a match for the style of the house. They are required on all decks built above a specified height as set out in the local building code. Even a short unexpected fall off a low deck can cause injury, if not embarrassment! Wood railings are most often installed in new construction.
A popular low maintenance option is powder-coated aluminum railings with framed tempered glass panels. Clear glass panels without a top rail are a great scenic view enhancer if your budget stretches that far. If you want to thwart neighbourhood looky-loos then create a private space on your deck or around your hot tub with frosted glass or wood panels.
Whatever your choices are for decks and patios – whether they are wood, vinyl, concrete or simply grass – they are easy-care spaces that we can make beautiful with small or large budgets. Kick back and enjoy your summer − it’s a wonderful time of year.