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Deck Design & Construction – Options for Deck Materials & Styles

TimberTech Deck
Deck with Gazebo and Outdoor Kitchen

Deck designs have evolved in recent years. The range of decking and railing choices has expanded drastically. Designers are expanding the program for uses and finding new, creative ways to combine materials to make each project unique. Homeowners have a wide range of decisions to make when designing their dream deck.

The deck industry has continued to grow even through this recession. Designers have capitalized on this by expanding the planning of uses that can be choreographed into a deck project. Outdoor kitchens, pergolas, gazebos, porch roofs, hot tubs, fire features and more are all now commonly included in deck designs when the budget allows. The vast array of decking styles and colors allows deck designers to create patterns within the decking that can delineate the various use spaces. The same is true with railings where a design can combine aspects of varied railing systems.

For years the choices for decking were cedar or pressure treated wood (redwood on the west coast & mahogany for the big budget projects). Then composite decking was invented in the early 1990’s, and has since become the predominant decking material used today. Trex Inc. developed the first composite decking, and along with TimberTech Inc., they have led the way in developing the highest quality and most attractive products. Each company makes several lines to fit varied budgets. Beyond the variety of choices in style & color, a benefit of composite decking is reduced maintenance since they do not need to be stained & sealed regularly. Composite decking still needs to be cleaned regularly with soap and water to keep that sharp appearance.

Exotic tropical hardwood decking is an option for the homeowner who may be averse to synthetic decking. These woods are very dense and have natural tannins that resist decay over time. And they are beautiful wood. Brazilian Ipe is one of the more popular and highest quality choices in this class because of the rich, dark appearance, high density and high tannin levels. Batu, Cambara, Garapa & Tiger Wood are other readily available choices in this category. The installed cost of exotic hardwood is about 15% higher than the highest quality composite decking.

Homeowners and designers have a wide range of choices when it comes to picking a railing system and design. The composite decking companies (Trek and TimberTech) make railing systems of the same materials as the decking to create a unified appearance. The composite choices range from a railing that looks like the standard deck railing used for years to higher price options with ornate spindles, detailed rails, and integrated lighting. Iron & Aluminum railings have become increasingly popular due to the ‘lighter’ profile appearance. These railings allow greater visibility through the railing and create less of a sense of being fenced in on the deck. Fortress Railing Inc. makes both iron and iron simulated aluminum railings with a variety of decorative detailing options and integrated lighting. Iron, Aluminum and Composite railings are all generally in a close cost range, so the choice tends to be one of preference and not budget. Braided cable railings create a distinctive contemporary appearance, a very light profile and the best through visibility, but homeowners will spend significantly more for this system.

Pergolas, gazebos and porch roofs on and over a deck have become increasingly popular. These elements allow homeowners to escape the rain and/or sun, while also designating specific use areas of a deck. Gazebos and porch roofs allow for ceiling fans, recessed lighting and infrared heaters to extend the use late into the fall and early in the spring. Outdoor kitchens and bars on a deck create variety and interest within the space, and keep everyone from running in and out of the house for food and beverages.

As with any project, proper planning by an experienced, creative and qualified designer will lead to the best final results. Hire a company that employs an educated design professional, has a track record of building unique decks, roofs, kitchens etc., and uses in house journeyman carpenters for the construction.  There are plenty of companies that can slap up a deck, but there are few that can provide high quality, experienced design and construction.