Analyzing Exterior Deck Options
Originally published on Green Building Elements.
When asked what is a highly desired feature outside of the house, a good number of people will first select an exterior deck or porch. Here’s why: if done well, it makes an inviting place to visit with family or friends to enjoy summer cookouts, or simply as a great place to sit back, relax, and savor the wonderful natural world outside the house.
If you happen to be one of those wanting to build something like this, you are no doubt facing the most basic construction question: what will you build it with? How much can you afford? How green do you want it to be? How long do you want it to last?
Let’s start by writing about the green materials question, one which should be frequently addressed in this era. In 2013,Cynthia Phakos provided this useful post about what materials you might want to use: “Which is greener: cedar decking or a composite like Trex?“
About composite decking, she said, “My main observation is that composites have strayed from using recycled content, their original green attribute.” Her observations are too lengthy to use in this article, however, they are very much worth reading.
Here are some of the materials choices you have.
According to the National Association of Home Builder’s (NAHB) composite lumber comes with these advantages:
- Non-toxic (wood for exterior use is often treated with toxic chemicals)
- Composite wood is not subject to decay
- Does not splinter or warp
- Does not require painting or staining upkeep
Having worked with composite lumber, these are truly great features. It can even be sawed like wood, so it is relatively easy to work with.
On the other hand, there are also some downsides to the product, including:
- Expense (costlier than most wood)
- Structurally weaker than wood
- Except in very rare cases, cannot be used for the substructure
Another composite product is bamboo composite decking. Cali Bamboo states its product contains 60% renewable bamboo fibers and 40% recycled HDPE plastics making it stronger as composite decking. (I have not used bamboo composite decking so am unable to verify whether or not it is stronger.)
If you go with wood, cedar is a good choice. It is less expensive than redwood and has similar durability, and resistance to decay and insect pests. If left unfinished, the wood will turn grayish in color. But be prepared for splinters and slivers over time.
If you have ever walked among the giant redwoods in California, you no doubt have been awed by their majesty and beauty. But consider how long it takes a redwood to grow before ordering it. Also, sawing redwood can have a toxic effect on the skin and lungs, so where adequate ventilation. Plus your hands can be blackened by working with the wood. This can be cleansed using raw lemon.
More expensive than cedar, redwood will also turn gray if left unfinished.
Flagstone, Tile, & Brick
No splinters here, however, the installation cost is usually quite a bit higher. But if it is properly prepared, you can be certain it will last a very long time and look quite beautiful.
In the end, use great care when choosing what materiel you use for your deck or porch. Think about how long you want it to last and what environmental footprints you are making. Hopefully, they are green ones.
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