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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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!

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!

No Maintenance Decking

So you’re in the market for a new deck and you want to install a decking product with no maintenance.

STOP RIGHT THERE…

All rights reserved by TheMuseCalliope

All exterior building products require maintenance of some sort of another.

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS “NO MAINTENANCE” decking or railing. Even the most expensive, super duper top of the line synthetic products require cleaning to keep them looking good.

I have come across many poor souls who have called me to replace a composite deck that’s not that old because it looks like hell. Mostly because they completely neglected it for it’s entire life, but in some cases, they were told by whoever they bought it from that it was “maintenance free”. This bothers me deeply. To me, it’s akin to a car dealer telling a little old lady to buy a car because “this one never needs gas.”

There are plenty of dealers and contractors out there that use the words “maintenance free” way too freely. It’s a complete lie.

Whether it be decking or railing or siding, you have to perform some kind of routine maintenance on them. In many cases, it’s just cleaning.

Typically, the more you pay for a deck or rail product, the better it will perform long term. This means less frequent cleanings and when you finally do go to clean it, it will be require a lot less elbow grease.

The original composites (which are still on the market today) are probably the highest “low maintenance” product you can install while the newer, much more expensive PVC boards are the lowest maintenance option at the moment.

Let’s face it. Birds will poop on anything. They don’t discriminate. So until someone invents a self-cleaning deck board or railing system, you’re going to have to go out there and clean up the poop!

Radius Decks and Why Curves are Expensive

 

Image courtesy of Matt Breyer, Breyer Construction and Landscape

Deck manufacturers love to use decks with curves in them (ie, a radius) in their advertisements because they look so damn cool. A deck with a curve or multiple curves in its framing is just plain sexy. Radius decks are far from typical and they just scream out “my deck is SO much better than yours.”

Often, new clients come to me at my Bergen County, New Jersey deck building company,  and, because they are savvy deck buyers, they’ll have some preconceived ideas about what features they’d like to include in their new deck.  One of the first things I hear commonly is  “we’d like to put some curves into the deck” and they’ll pull out one of those really cool ads from a magazine and say “can you build it kind of like this?” By this point, I’m just thrilled that these nice folks have at least put a little thought into the upcoming project, but then I have to drop the bomb. You know, the kind of bomb that knocks a customer off their feet…

I’ll be the first deck contractor to tell you that radius decks are awesome. They literally become showcase decks for the client and the deck builder (and sometimes the manufacturer). The only hitch is that radius decks are much more complex to design and build than a normal, angular deck. This complexity raises the cost to the client to the point where, all of a sudden, putting that radius into the design isn’t really that important anymore for most clients. Just like how a car company always puts the fully optioned car in their ads with the big shiny 18″ wheels that cost extra, deck manufacturers do the same thing in their ads.

So why are radius decks so expensive? I mean, it’s still framing and decking and railing, right?

The short answer is sort of. When a client wants a radius deck project they’ve purchased a one way ticket into a very expensive theme park I’ve nicknamed  “Customland”.

I think this is the door that takes you to "Customland."

First off, decks designed with radii (plural of radius) require a lot more foundation work (ie, footings) and a lot more rough framing work compared to an angular deck. This equates to more labor and materials and slows down the deck’s construction considerably. I don’t care if you hire Norm Abram himself to build a radius deck, believe you me, there is going to be a lot of head scratching and figuring going during the layout and framing process. Whereas an angular deck could be framed in three days, a similar radius deck might take five or six and could require double the materials with lots of waste. In Customland, this is par for the course so be prepared.

This set of curved stair treads takes significantly longer to build than a straight set of stairs. Image courtesy of Breyer Construction and Landscape

Secondly, installing the decking and trim boards gets tricky. Really tricky. Really, really tricky. In fact, many times, it’s trial and error for even the best deck contractors. Synthetic deck and trim boards must be heated in order for it to bend (wood presents its own issues we won’t get into) to follow the curves of the framing. This is not a scientific process by any means. Even the day’s weather can wreak havoc on the best methods. The tighter the radius, the more difficult the bending gets. It’s not uncommon for a deck builder to ruin many expensive boards just to get one that is just right. In Customland you really can’t worry about throwing out $500 in product  to get one good one.

And last but not least, the railings. Without getting into the math of a radius, I can tell you that every simple curve has an equivalent numerical radius. With this number in hand, the deck builder must build, or most likely order, custom railings to match the radius. Most premium synthetic railing systems can be special ordered (“special order” is the most frequently used word in Customland by the way) directly from the manufacturer to fit the shape of the deck. These railings are much more costly than a similar straight railing, they are more difficult to install, and because the deck contractor only gets one crack at making the cuts on site, the pucker factor is 11 on a scale of 1 to 10. One “oopsy” and that $600 railing section gets chucked into to the dumpster and it’ll take another 3 weeks to get a new one. In Customland, that “oopsy” is usually built into the cost of the project.

You might be able to take the risk out of the equation for the deck builder by offering to pay time and materials on a complex project. This way, you will only pay for the actual time and materials invested into the project. Otherwise, most deck contractors, myself included, will charge a very hefty premium due to all of the risk they assume by building a radius deck. They have no idea if they’ll make the bends on the first shot or on the tenth shot, so you’ll be charged for all 1o boards and the time it takes to bend them even if they get it right on the third board.

By now, you’re probably completely discouraged about asking your contractor about a radius deck, but you shouldn’t be. You should just be aware that introducing curves into your deck project will add a significant cost. That being said, if you pony up the money to build a radius deck, it’s safe to say that you will probably have the coolest deck in your town.

5 Ways to Become an Expert Deck Buyer

First, let me make the assumption that you will be hiring a competent deck contractor to complete your project. Our goal here is not to create another DIY “How to build a deck on a Saturday with three buddies and a 24-pack”. Instead, we want to empower you with knowledge that will help you get a high quality, enduring deck project built by a reputable deck builder.

  1. DO A LITTLE HOMEWORK: I would much rather meet with a prospective client that has done at least some cursory research about decks. I don’t expect you to know too much, but it’s extremely helpful if you can lead me, the deck designer and builder, down the right path so I have an idea of what you think you want to do. Photos are great. Maybe you saw a picture online of a staircase style or shape you liked. Benches, custom railing designs, pergolas and shade structures are SO much easier for me to integrate into your custom design if I know what style you like.

    Please...Share your budget with your Deck Contractor

  2. ONLY DO A “LITTLE” HOMEWORK: The worst thing I encounter in meeting new clients is the person who has done so much online research about decks that they’ve literally become drunk on completely inaccurate or outdated information. The internet is a great resource, but it can be dangerous in that so much of the information is just bad. The lay person usually doesn’t have the overall knowledge of the big picture to process all of this data. Plus, you are hiring me because I am an expert. When you use your the lawyer or accountant, do you argue with his professional opinion? You are paying me because I spend a lot of time educating myself. Get your money’s worth and heed my advice.
  3. COME UP WITH A BUDGET: I’ve got some news for you. Believe it or not, you are going to have to pay to have us build your project. Yes…I know. It’s unfathomable to think I have to charge you, but I do. But seriously, homeowners tend to guard the budget they have set for a project like gold bullion. This is simply ridiculous and it wastes a lot of time–both yours and mine. In order for me to design your deck project efficiently, I need to know if you are in the market for a Ford or a Ferrari. I can design anything you want, but what’s the point if you have $15,000 set aside for the project, but I designed you a $75,000 deck you fell in love with but can’t pay for? If you tell me your budget, I’m going to give the most bang for your buck. Think about it. Do you really think that reputable deck contractors get to where they are by ripping people off?
  4. ESTABLISH A SCOPE OF WORK: You may not be in the market for a true custom designed deck. Heck, most people still hire us to build “rectangles” with one set of steps. We love those jobs because they will always be our bread and butter. If you are in the market for simple deck or a “rectangle” as we call them, you might be calling anyone and everyone you can find to give you a price. While that is the topic of an entirely different story, you need to make sure you are asking everyone “bidding” (I hate that word…it just lacks value) to include the exact same materials and methods. Here’s why. A deck builder like me is going to do things the right way, using the best methods, and is probably going to do things a plain ol’ contractor never even thought of doing. Write it out. We want X decking, Y railing, this kind of framing, this many footings, etc… This way you’ll have an apples to apples comparison.
  5. PRETEND YOU ARE GOING ON A DATE: Hiring a contractor is kind of like going on a blind date of sorts. The first time you meet the contractor, you have to remember it’s his first time meeting you too. An established deck contractor is not living and dying based on hiring or not hiring them for your project, so it’s important that you make a good impression so that they will want to work on your project. I’ll tell you a little secret…sometimes we (contractors) get such a bad vibe from a prospective client during the first meeting that we wouldn’t  take the project if you paid us double for it. I could write pages about things people have said to me (probably unaware of how tactless their comments were in their defense). Be cordial. Be honest. And…be respectful. You’d be surprised how far that will get you.