JEANINE MATLOW | PUBLISHED 5:51 P.M. ET MAY 26, 2016
Decks have come a long way in the past decade. In fact, today’s varieties make this outdoor living space a natural extension to your home. Whether you have a deck that’s seen better days or you’re thinking of adding one to your landscape, the selection of materials and other details has vastly improved.
Though much depends on the layout of the house and surrounding property, homeowners often combine various seating areas, like a brick paver patio beneath a raised deck, says Brad Upton, CEO of Dillman & Upton, a full-service home improvement center in Rochester.
Multilevel decks are aesthetically pleasing and popular, especially on sloped lots. While most decks are not completely enclosed, they may be covered for protection from some of the elements.
Decks have experienced a major evolution. “Forty years ago, redwood, which is naturally resistant to decay, was what we sold. Then came treated lumber that doesn’t rot and then cedar,” says Upton.
In the last 20 years, composites, from companies like AZEK and TimberTech, have dominated the market.
Still, some homeowners stick with traditional wood. “It doesn’t mean it’s not going to perform, you just have to maintain it every year and a half,” he says. “Composites are much easier to maintain, but they’re more costly up front.”
Due to the wide selection of outdoor furniture, features like built-in seating are not as popular as they were before. But there are other ways to add character to your deck. “They are adding excitement to the surface with a two-tone picture frame border,” Upton says.
Alternative railing materials like glass and aluminum and low-voltage lighting are among the other distinctive details.
At this point, most composites and other non-wood products are third or fourth generation. “They’ve evolved. They’re aesthetically better and they perform better than they did 10 years ago,” he says.
The selection of colors and textures has grown, too. “If you design a dark wood floor inside your home with a hand-scraped look, we have that same look in exterior deck materials that try to replicate exotic hardwood,” adds Upton.
Although Dillman & Upton doesn’t handle the installation, they can refer customers to contractors that build decks.
Unlike the average home, the average deck hasn’t increased much in size through the years. “It depends on use, but some are actually smaller with better quality and design,” says Upton. “It’s a great time to build a deck. The aesthetic quality has really improved and the materials are far superior to what they used to be.”
For Bayn Wood, owner of Autumnwood Construction in Shelby Township, man-made decking continues to be a big trend. The current ratio for him is around 85 percent synthetic and 15 percent wood.
“Everyone’s so busy. They don’t want to do the maintenance and the majority of these products come with 25 to 30 year warranties,” he says.
Though wood requires more time and maintenance, there’s a major cost factor to consider for synthetic decks, says Wood, who doesn’t recommend getting one if you don’t plan to stay in your house for long.
“If it’s within your budget, it’s the way to go,” he says. Expect to pay at least double the cost of wood and remember that synthetic decks are more labor intensive to install, too.
While synthetic is a general term for man-made decking, most composites are a blend of recycled materials like wood and plastic, explains Wood, who works with products from various manufacturers, including Trex, AZEK and TimberTech.
Cap-composite, which combines a composite core (recycled wood and plastic) with a more durable polymer (plastic) cap, is the most commonly used in the composite category. PVC, which generally contains no wood or recycled materials, consists of a plastic and foam mixture.
Site conditions help determine what’s best for you. “If you have a southern and western exposure in a new sub with no trees, you might choose a composite that comes with a 25-year fade and stain warranty,” says Wood.
PVC is better for mold and mildew, which can occur in some conditions when a deck is close to the ground, he says.
Because decks need cross-ventilation, a patio might be your best bet if the entrance to your home is low to the ground (around 2 feet and under).
Outdoor shade structures, like pavilions and pergolas, continue to be in demand, especially in new construction.
These can be ideal for outdoor grilling. “People want covered areas with a fireplace. It’s not just a deck; it’s a porch that gives some shade,” he says. “They want to create an outdoor room designed for fresh air enjoyment, which is something just an open deck might not accomplish.”
With decks, bigger isn’t always better. Earlier styles installed across the width of the house weren’t always the most practical. “It can be like a big stage out there that no one uses,” Wood says.
If you measure your dining room or great room, it’s usually some combination of the two that’s the right size for you, he says.
Modern styles are prevalent today, like those with angular shapes and longer lines. “You see that a lot in new construction. People are trying to get out of that box. A 45 degree angle is very popular. It makes the space feel bigger, so it’s a good option for a smaller deck,” says Wood.
Distinctive railings and other details complete the look. Choices include cable, glass, metal, aluminum, wrought iron or a combination of materials. Traditional newel posts make great accents.
High-end decks include masonry styles that incorporate brick columns, elevated concrete floors and brickwork around the façade. These can help to define special areas like outdoor kitchens.
Accentuating your deck with a lovely landscape contributes to the overall look.
There’s no doubt this al fresco focal point encourages everyone to step outside. “Outdoor living gets you outdoors to enjoy the backyard. With an elevated lot, a deck really is the prominent feature,” says Wood.
Jeanine Matlow writes the Smart Solutions column in Homestyle. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deck Safety Month
Check out the North American Deck and Railing Association (NADRA) May is Deck Safety Month program. Visit nadra.org for a Check Your Deck consumer checklist that helps homeowners assess their decks before having them evaluated by a professional, such as a home inspector.