Is One Deck Board Going to Be Cooler Than Another?

 

Is one composite deck board cooler than another?

Is one composite deck board cooler than another?

This question comes up frequently on the DeckAdvisor.com blog so I thought it would make sense to address the issue as a separate topic. My own clients ask me if one deck board is going to be cooler than another quite a bit, too.

No independent lab or authority does temperate testing that compares Brand X board versus Brand Y board to determine the heat they absorb under normal summer sunlight so unfortunately, there is no quantitative scientific data to fall back on. I may try to do some testing myself on the major brands and publish the results in Professional Deck Builder magazine in the future–we shall see.

First, let’s set a reasonable expectation for what dictates “too hot to walk on” with bare feet. I don’t know what the answer is but I can tell you that a toddler is probably going to have a lower tolerance than a 35 year old who walks on the beach frequently. Personally, I have walked on many surfaces with bare feet that were uncomfortable from sand, to wood, to concrete because it was just plain hot outside! People seem to forget that when it’s 105 degrees at 2PM and the sun is blasting, it’s not really a pleasant time to be outside–regardless of what you are walking or sitting on. A modern man made deck surface seems to be held to a higher standard than other products for some reason that I can’t quite put my finger on.

A deck’s surface temperature is a factor of the heat the deck boards absorb and retain. Much of this absorption is relative to the board’s color. A dark color will absorb more than a light color–it’s physics. For example, under the same conditions, Trex Vintage Lantern (perhaps the darkest deck board color going) is going to feel hotter under foot than Trex Rope Swing (a tan, sand color). This is not to say Rope Swing will be cool to the touch, but comparatively, it will be cooler than Vintage Lantern. Heck, if you painted a plain old pressure treated deck board the same color as Vintage Lantern, I bet it would be pretty darn hot too!

No man made deck boards are designed from the ground up to be remain cool in the heat. It’s just not something that the manufacturer’s focus on at this point.

So…the definitive is answer I can give you is this:

When the sun is blasting your deck (or patio, or driveway, or lawn) it’s probably going to be hot and not pleasant. Lighter colors are usually a little cooler than darker colors.

 

 

 

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Goodbye Wood Deck Framing… Hello Steel Deck Framing

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Chances are if you have a deck in your backyard–even if it’s a newer synthetic deck–the underlying support framing is pressure treated wood.

Pressure treated lumber is cheap, readily available and using it is a no brainer for the average contractor. “I’m going to build a deck, I’m going to use pressure treated wood” they automatically think to themselves. I’ve built hundreds of decks using pressure treated lumber, but I started getting increasingly frustrated by it.

The wood being harvested these days from forests is “new growth” wood for the most part. This means the trees are relatively young before they are cut down. There are barely growth rings on lumber we get these days (you know the number of rings a tree has is an indicator of its age, right?) and the more growth rings, the denser the board and the stronger and straighter it will be.

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You can visibly see the growth rings in this tree however this is a young tree. The rings would be much denser in an older tree.

Older lumber was much denser than the lumber we get today and was generally of a higher quality. Trees can only grow so fast and demand is high, so we get what we can get at this point.

Aside from the wood being “young”, the pressure treating process has been changed significantly in the last 10 years and chemistry used in the treating process has been cleaned up to meet environmental concerns. The lumber mills will tell you the new processes are better than the old ones, but ask any carpenter and they’ll all agree the new lumber is terrible. Not a little worse…Absolutely terrible in comparison.

I got tired of dealing with the unpredictable characteristics of pressure treated lumber. Sometimes it comes soaking wet, sometimes it’s dry as a bone. Sometimes the boards shrink a little when they dry out. Sometimes they don’t shrink at all. Despite our best efforts to frame a precise pressure-treated frame, we simply cannot control what the wood will do as it seasons or dries out in it’s final position as part of deck.

Pressure Treated Framing Moves at will

Look at how the deck boards are ridging at the intersection (Click the photo to Zoom in). This is not sloppy craftsmanship but the result of three different underlying framing members shrinking and crowning different amounts. This was glass flat upon completion of the job, but the wood does what the wood wants to do!

This unpredictability means that a deck can develop dips and dives, and deck boards attached to the framing move out of plane creating raised and ugly joints. It’s frustrating to see a beautiful deck compromised by the irregularity of inconsistent framing lumber six months down the road.

In a quest to always provide the best product to my customers, I’ve completely abandoned pressure treated lumber in all of our new deck projects in lieu of light gauge steel framing (LGS). Just a few of the benefits of steel deck framing are:

  • Lighter in weight but stronger than wood
  • Wildly increased joist spans mean less beams and less footings. This is a really big deal on raised decks with patios underneath.
  • More design flexibility. If I need a longer span I can change the parameters of joist from gauge, flange width, and web depth. With wood, we are stuck with 2×8 through 2x12s.
  • Perfect material. Every joist is made by a machine so there are no inconsistences from joist to joist like wood. Sometimes two wood  2x10s can measure up to a half inch differently!
  • Perfectly flat, level and square decks. The consistency of the material means that everything is extremely precise.
  • No shrinking, warping, twisting or shape changing.
  • Very little waste. All the steel is delivered to the job site pre-cut so it just has to be assembled.
  • When completed, it’s nearly impossible to tell the framing is not wood.
Steel Deck Framing in New Jersey

This multi-level deck is looks different now, but look at the photo below to see it when it’s finished and  it looks no different from what you’d expect.

Steel Deck framing provides a glass smooth deck surface

This deck surface is not just flat. It’s perfectly flat and will stay that way forever unlike wood which wouldn’t start or stay this flat.

This is a steel framed deck. Can you tell?

 

 

More and more leading deck builders across the country are abandoning wood in favor of steel framing because there are very few downsides to using steel. The main roadblocks to getting started with steel for most contractors are:
  • Lack of knowledge or understanding of steel framing methods, materials and techniques
  • Resistance to change because they are comfortable in their old ways
  • Cost. Most think it’s more expensive than it is or too labor intensive. It can be more expensive and it can be more labor intensive in some circumstances but not all. Usually the minimal cost difference is well worth the value of the finished product.
  • It’s not locally available. Nonsense! Light Gauge Steel framing is available everywhere. If there’s a commercial building in your town, you can bet it’s got LGS in it.

This is a steel frame deck, too.

Pssst! Wanna Buy Premium Remodeling on Sale?

We live in a society of supply and demand. Things that everyone wants to own (a Mercedes SLR) typically cost more than things no one wants (a Yugo). The same applies to services; a haircut from someone who cares about the details and has years of experience in creating the latest styles will demand a premium over a cut delivered by a beauty college student just starting out with scissors.
But what if you wanted that car, haircut, (or in our case, remodeling) that was the better quality option, but you wanted to secure it at a discount. Well, for the car, it might involve looking for a used model, for the latest haircut you might have to look for a coupon or promotion… but what about that finished basement, attic storage space, or outdoor kitchen/deck dream?

Custom Deck, Patio, Kitchen

Outdoor Kitchen, Patio, and Deck

Getting the lowest price possible on quality remodeling requires 2 things: Honesty and Flexibility.

  • Honesty: Have a clear understanding of your financial limitations, as well as a list of wants/needs in priority, and communicate these to your remodeling contractor or designer. Once they know what is most important to you, they will be able to revise the project to fit your needs, and can offer revisions and options to best suit your preferences.
  • Flexibility: Timing can play a crucial role in lowering costs. For instance, most contractors in the northeast are slower December thru February, and are willing to work for less just to stay busy during those months– but this may require waiting until that timeframe, or allowing them additional time to complete the project while they work around the weather or availability. Again, clear communication up front– and throughout the project– will help keep expectations accurate and satisfaction within reach.

Keep these simple thoughts in mind, and start the conversations with your prospective deck designer/builder as early as possible to allow you both to work thru any questions, and create the perfect project, at an affordable price.

Gate Thoughts for Your New Deck…

As a deck designer I frequently get all sorts of special requests from our clients, but one of the most common requests is to install a gate on a deck.

Typically a gate is added for security, to keep pets or kids on the deck and away from the steps, but a gate can also be added to improve privacy or as a fashion statement.

When considering a gate for a deck, consider first the “needs”: should this have a child-proof latch, be self-closing, or rated for pool access?

Trex Deck Pool Gate

Custom Pool Deck

This deck needs a gate

While it may be required because of the location or client’s needs, it’s important to consider as well the location of the gate and operation-will it create an inconvenience when open (blocking travel, or opening over the steps)?

Gate at deck steps

Once you know what a gate “has to” do, it is worth considering what you’d like the gate to look like. Should it perfectly match the deck’s rail?

Matching Deck Gate

This custom-ordered gate matches the TimberTech Rail

Or would this be an opportunity to do something just a bit different to create an artistic statement or accent?

Matching Deck Gate

Privacy wall gate in Fiberon Horizon

Wrought Iron Gate

Custom-designed and built metal gate

Lastly, once you know what you want, it is time to get a price, and see if the cost fits within your budget.

  • As a generic guide, a basic pressure treated or vinyl gate might cost between $250-500.
  • A wrought iron or aluminum gate may range from $400 to $1000.
  • Lastly, a custom-fit, matching gate can often cost $500 to over $1500 installed.

 One thing to keep in mind is that while gates should be discussed during the planning stages, if budget dictates or your needs change, they can usually be added at a later date rather simply.

So, there’s this tree in my way…

Building a deck around a tree is not difficult and can really give your deck that “Wow” factor (plus avoiding that oh so un-eco-friendly solution of cutting the tree down!)

BEFORE
AFTER

FRAMING
Your framing needs to be close enough to the tree to support the decking ends, yet far enough away so the tree has room to move (in the wind) and grow.  I keep the decking 2-3” away from a full grown tree so the framing should be 5”+/- away.

Any joists that run into the tree need to be headered off, this is similar to building in a stairwell opening in a floor system.

First, install your joists on layout except those that the tree location interferes with.

Second, install 2 pieces of blocking between the 2 joists on either side of the tree, one on the house side and one on the rim joist side. (You’ll want to double up this blocking if you’re spanning more than 4’)

Third, install the remaining joists on layout between the house ledger and the blocking.
Fourth, install shorty joists on layout on the outside edge of the tree from the 2nd piece of blocking to your rim joist.

Fifth, cut blocking w/ 45º angles and nail to interior corners of the box around the tree.

Tree is fully blocked and ready for decking

Your framing should now be within 5” of the tree on all sides.  (You may need to adjust your joist layout slightly or add additional blocking to keep the box within 5” of the tree).

DECKING
I normally start at the house and work out so in this case, I lay down decking until the tree interrupts the course.

Decking Ends cut in contour of tree

Set the deck board down in place on the deck and trace a line following the tree’s contours on the board, keeping the final cut 2-3” away from the tree
Cut out the line using a jigsaw and clean up the edges w/ a router and 1/8” roundover bit.
Install the deck board.

Subsequent rows on either side of the tree get a similar treatment –

  • Rough-cut the end of the deck board to the tree,
  • Butt the rough cut up to the tree and trace the final cutline,
  • Cut the final line w/ a jigsaw, clean up w/ router and roundover bit,
  • Install the deck board keeping that 2-3” gap.

At each row, I pull measurements from both sides to make sure everything lines up on the far side of the tree.

When I get to the far side of the tree, I trace a final cut line on the full-length piece of decking, cut and install.

Continue on w/ your decking until you’re finished, install all handrails, clean up and voila!  You’ve now got a tree in your deck!

Flashing your projects (without getting arrested!)

Flashing your projects (without getting arrested!)

Flashing – this is what can make or break a deck’s lifespan.  And no, I’m not talkin’ about running around in a raincoat and little else!  Flashing tape and/or metal flashing will divert water away from critical points on your deck, preserving the wood and maintaining a solid structure.
The three main areas I’ll cover here are beams, ledgers and handrail post blocking.

Beams –

If you build East of the Mississippi, chances are you use doubled or tripled  2x as your support beams.  These are just beams built up by nailing multiple 2x members together.  Any time you nail 2 pieces of wood together, you create a spot for water and debris to sit on…and eventually rot out.  I pulled a built up beam apart to find this amount of rot between the plys.

One problem is you can’t see the rot as it’s hidden between the 2x plys.  It will continue to degrade until one day, the beam fails – most likely when there’s a hefty load of people on the deck.

Solution? Run a strip of 4” wide flashing tape across the top of the doubled beam (6” wide for triples) to prevent water from seeping down between the plys.  To eliminate topside penetrations, use hurricane straps such as Simpson H1s or H2.5s to secure your joists to the beam w/o running nails through the flashing tape.
For those builders who use 4x solid beams, the use of flashing tape will prevent debris from sitting on the beam top, hastening rot.

 

One additional thing I do is build ‘hats’ out of metal flashing for the tops of my 6×6 support posts.  This keeps water from wicking into the exposed end grain and rotting out the tops of my posts.
One important thing to note – if you use metal flashing (aluminum) w/ ACQ pressure treated wood, you MUST put a barrier between them.  The chemicals in the ACQ pressure treated wood will eat the aluminum flashing in short order.  What I do is skin the bottom of the metal w/ flashing tape so the metal doesn’t touch the pt wood.  If you have access to MCQ treated wood, this isn’t an issue for you.

Ledgers –

Can NOT stress the critical nature of this connection ENOUGH.  95% of the deck failures you read about across the country happen because the ledger failed for one reason or another.   I will cover proper ledger connections in another blog, but for now, let’s talk flashing.

I flash ledgers in a multi-part process.
1. Install Z-flashing over top edge of cut house siding (beneath ledger board)
2. Install flashing tape over top of Z metal and up the side of the house to top line of ledger.
3. Under French and sliding glass doors, I install metal flashing and caulk to seal that area from water intrusion.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pulled off old ledgers to find the house wall rotted out under the French or sliding glass door!  Not a pretty sight!

4. Install ledger board.
5. Install 4” flashing tape over top edge of ledger board and up the house wall under the house wrap.

Handrail Blocking –

OK, one more thing on flashing…if you’re building a deck where the handrail posts will be top-mounted (usually in a metal post situation), you’ll want solid blocking under the handrail post location.  That way, the lag screws will have a large chunk of wood to bite into, providing a secure connection for the post.Again, you’ve got wood nailed right next to wood so… flash that sucka!

Light It Up !!

So… you know you want to have some kind of lighting on your deck, but there are so many different options you don’t know quite where to begin.  Well you came to the right place.  For the past 12 years Long Island Decking has been lighting up approximately 90 percent of all the decks we install. That’s a lot of lights!!   It is the number one accessory that we are asked.  They add beauty, value and more importantly, safety to your backyard.  Lighting up stairs will cut down on accidental falls, and lighting up railings or up-lighting the back of the house will make your home less of a target for burglars.

Let’s start with the three basic types of lighting available in the market today so you have a basic understanding of the differences between them.

1.      Line voltage or 110

2.      Low voltage or 12V

3.      Solar lighting

Line Voltage or 110

Line Voltage is exactly the same type of electricity that you will find throughout the rest of your home.  It is the same power that runs through all of your outlets, powers your television, appliances, and other lighting.

Pros

The biggest advantage that line voltage has over the other two is that practically no matter how far you have to go away from your power source you will not have a noticeable difference in the brightness of your fixtures.  Low voltage lighting experiences what’s known as voltage drop.  That means the further you get away from your power source the dimmer your lights will get.

Cons

In most municipalities installing line voltage requires lighting requires a licensed electrician.  That means that typically an electrical permit has to be pulled and an electrical inspection has to be performed.  These additional steps usually end up costing more and taking longer than the other types of installation.  They are fed power through wires.

Low Voltage or 12 V

Low voltage lighting is our preferred type of installation at Long Island Decking.  Contrary to popular belief low voltage lighting is not dimmer that line voltage.  When installed properly they are just as bright as the line voltage equivalents if not brighter.

Pros

Typically all that is needed to install low voltage lighting is an outlet to plug a transformer into.  In our area at the time of writing this article you do not need to file additional permits or have a licensed electrician to install them.  The newest fixtures on the market today are available in LED.  They use a fraction of the power of a normal fixture and last up to 15 years before having to be changed.  Less power means smaller transformer and lower cost.  These newer fixtures also cut down considerably on voltage drop that is known to plague low voltage systems.  We can install 50 fixtures on a single 60 watt transformer and only use the power of a 50 watt bulb.  Now that’s efficient!!

Cons

Normal incandescent low voltage lighting fixtures are known for burning bulbs out rather quickly.  They also experience voltage drop and require special wiring techniques to avoid having some lights dimmer than others.  They are fed power through wires.

Solar Lighting

Solar lighting is by far the easiest to install as there is no wiring to deal with.  Just unpack set outside and wait for it to get dark out.  Most solar lighting are used as post caps as they get direct sun and collect energy from the now smaller solar panels on top.

Pros

Ease of installation… let me say it again.  Ease of installation.  The main thing that solar lighting has going for it is that they are very simple to install.  No wiring necessary.  That means that not only do you not need a permit, you definitely do not need an electrician.  There is no timer or switch to worry about as they will turn on via a sensor built right into the fixture.  They use no power.

Cons

Brightness level is the biggest complaint about solar lighting in general.  Though the newest generations are much better brighter and smaller than years past they still have a long way to go to catch up with the other two types of installation.  Batteries tend to die after a few seasons.  Don’t stay on all night.

I hope you now have at least have a general understanding of the three types of exterior lighting available to you so you can make an informed decision on which works best for you on your home.

Owner Jay Oliver has been designing and installing backyard projects in Long Island NY for the past 20 years.  If you have any questions or comments on this article please leave them below.

Stylin’ Decks – Using non-wood decking to create multi-tone projects


In addition to qualities such as decreased maintenance, scratch resistance and mold/mildew resistance, non-wood decking also allows you to create multi-colored decks. This opens up a whole new realm of style for your next outdoor project.
Wood decks have long been a single color simply because it’s wood and also because it’s too difficult to attempt to stain it multiple colors. With the advent of color choices in non-wood decking, that mindset can be challenged.

Mix up colors in a single brand and line of decking to make your next project ‘pop!’

BORDERS – High end deck builders offer the option of installing border boards around the deck perimeter to hide end cuts and give a more “finished” appearance.

STAIR RISERS & FASCIA – Another option is changing up the color in your vertical surfaces.

HANDRAILS – Some non-wood decking manufacturers are now offering mix-n-match handrail kits w/ balusters in one color and rails/posts in another. Barring that, you can always custom order your own rail parts in the desired colors.

SEAM BOARDS – When a deck is longer than 20’, an alternative to random butt joints is to run a seam board down the middle of the deck, perpendicular to the deck boards. If you’re using different colored perimeter boards, use that same color for the seam boards. Seam boards require extra framing, which will be covered in another blog.

PINSTRIPING – This is a new effect that I invented! At least, I’ve never seen it on any deck or picture before…
Rip a deck board down to 1 1/2″ and screw it (every 8″) to the side of a perimeter board to create a pinstripe effect on your deck. Position the ripped edge against the side of the perimeter board so the finished edge is showing at the gap.

Ah, yes… the numbers!

In my neck of the country, decks can cost as little as $20 per sq. ft, and as much as several hundred dollars a ft, depending on what goes into them. (Most of our projects end up between $30 – $60 per sq. ft.) that’s a big range, isn’t it! This is where a deck design professional can assist- in helping to understand just what you expect of your new outdoor living area, and the tag-along costs.

But if you aren’t yet ready to talk to a professional just yet, take heart! There are a few things you can do on your own to get a feel for what to expect.

Glenn Mathewson suggests you think thru some of the “rooms” you would like to see included on your new deck, then measure the corresponding rooms in your house. Like your 400 sq. ft. dining area, maybe half of your 600 sq. ft. living room, and just the basics of your 500 sq. ft. kitchen? Well, you may be able to share some of the size (think of your first apartment’s kitchen/living room), but you will need some space for walkways, or “hallways” in the deck. So you may be looking at a deck that is 800 to 1,000 sq. ft. in size. It might be worth doing a little thinking and research to find out what that type of square footage is worth if it were a complete house, simply as a point of reference.

Now that you know the size, and you have some idea of what you want for features (remember, more stuff costs more), take a look at your house and neighborhood. Live in a gated community in a pricey zip code? Or maybe you live back a dirt lane at the end of an unpaved county road.

While a deck builder will most likely build whatever you want regardless of where you live, a seasoned deck designer will usually make recommendations in design and materials that reflect the area, and will complement the design and construction quality of your house. You rarely see a throw-away PT deck attached to a beautiful brick home. Your new deck will most likely cost between 5% and 30% of what your house is worth.

Again, this is all about you, and what you are looking for. Don’t let a deck builder bully you into allowing them to build a shrine to their ego- do your research and talk to professionals to find out who you are comfortable working with, just like you probably did when you bought your house!

With a basis of what you would like to accomplish, and some rough idea of what it could cost, you are ready to talk to a deck design professional to start the process of narrowing down the layout, features, materials, and options that will help define the outdoor living space you and your family will create memories with for years to come.

Setting a deck budget… And how about that design!

So you’re thinking about adding a new deck, or replacing an existing deck that has outlived it’s welcome. This is the perfect opportunity to improve not only the value of your house, but the comfort of your home.

See, here’s the thing. A deck can be a simple box,and that’s not wrong, but with a little bit of thought, it could be so much more. But this isn’t about deck design (at least this entry) it’s about budget. However, your budget will drive your design, so a few simple questions should be considered.

Whenever I meet with a new client to talk about designing a deck, we spend some time talking about how they plan to use the deck, before we get to the dollars and cents. If you don’t ever picture using the deck- it’s just simple access, or you need SOMETHING there in order to sell the house, then we will want to look at designing the simplest and most affordable deck that will safely accomplish those goals. I mean, after all, why have an 800sq. ft. Deck, if you only need a 16sq. ft. landing!?

OK, so you need more than a landing with a set of steps… This is actually something you and your family are going to use.

Again, your intended use of the new deck will drive the design, which will help to determine the project budget. Simply put, the more “rooms” of your house the deck will replicate, the more $$ you will need to allocate to the project, in order to meet your needs. Want a big outdoor dining room, with a separate sitting area, and perhaps a built-in kitchen? Then not only will we need to set aside some space, but we will need a proper budget as well.

Ah, yes… The dreaded budget. Stay tuned for some facts, figures, and numbers!