Choosing Deck Materials for Your Deck

Installing a deck on a flat roof or building a ground level deck in one’s backyard is a popular service item requested by our clients.

Installing a new deck, or replacing an existing deck, are projects which add value, aesthetic appeal, and enjoyment for the property owner. Of great importance is that the workmanship is done to a high standard in order to achieve safety, longevity, and to be compliant with local building code standards.

As a result; the selection of deck materials is important because the quality of the product has bearing on how long the structure will last. Indeed there are a number of wood species commonly used in deck construction, at varying price points. Each may have its own particular advantage characteristics.

It is important to consider that the cost of labour does not deviate tremendously when one is selecting some form of wood deck material, versus another. Certain composite products may be more labour intensive if for example they require heat-bending to account for curvature in the design of the deck.

In general terms; the more intricate the design of the deck, and the more elements incorporated into a deck structure; will influence the overall labour cost of the project. This forms part of the direct cost, in addition to the cost of the particular deck material or combined deck materials specified for the structure.

As an example; one may choose a treated lumber product for the structure of the deck; but elect to use a composite deck material for the finished flooring detail. This would translate into a more expensive deck cost as opposed to simply using like-kind treated materials for the entire build.

One of the first things to understand is the types of deck materials that are available. The following products characterize the most commonly used products used in the Canadian and North American markets.

The most common deck materials include:

  • Pressure treated lumber (Primarily comprised of spruce, the material receives a chemical treatment that is designed to preserve the lumber over time. Material which has been cut on ends, should receive a touch up coating of preservative by the installer, to help prevent moisture penetration over time. While pressure treated lumber represents the most economical option for deck construction, it’s longevity is typically less than cedar or redwood lumber options. Another important consideration when using treated lumber is that it should weather for a period of time in order that it may accept stain, if that is the desired finish).
  • Cedar lumber (Is considered a premium choice for deck construction and is available in two species, and a few different quality grades. The best cedar for deck building is western red cedar. White cedar is a lower cost alternative, but does not have the same longevity, and could be likened in quality to pressure treated. Red cedar is aromatic, and looks beautiful when stained. It is considered more durable. Red cedar lumber tends to be insect resistant, and resistant to breakdown from algae. The grades of cedar include knotty, premium select (smaller and less knots), and clear cedar; which is very expensive and more rare, but virtually knot free). Cedar lumber does not have to be stained if one prefers the silver finished appearance which results over time from natural oxidization.)
  • Redwood lumber is also a species similar in nature to cedar and is expensive as it is rarer in eastern markets.
  • Hemlock lumber is a species available in the Ontario market but is not readily available through conventional lumber yards. Sourcing is best achieved from dedicated mills in northern Ontario. One of the characteristics of Hemlock is that it is highly durable, takes stain well. It is a tough species and can be harder to cut.
  • Composite decking is essentially made from either wood fibers and polyethylene, or is manufactured using PVC (polyvinylchloride); depending on which manufacturer one selects. Such products offer the look of stained wood material, but require virtually no maintenance when compared to natural wood. Further advantages include the fact that it does not require staining. To note is that composite decking materials are used as surfacing for the tops of deck structures. Dimensional lumber is still required for the skeleton of the deck.

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There are other exotic species of wood such as mahogany; which can be used at a very high cost; but such products represent a mere fraction of the deck material spectrum, in terms of what is common and most popular.

Selecting the type of materials that one intends to use, is only one part of the overall design process.

To be considered is the purpose /use of the deck space itself, and the traffic flow one requires when using the deck.

As an example; a combination of dining and lounge space may be important to many people that entertain, where others may use the deck as a more personal space, such as for locating a hot tub, and a yoga practice space, where privacy elements should be incorporated.

Also to be considered when designing a deck is that its architectural appearance marries with the architecture of the home itself. By doing so, it will result in a higher value finished appearance.

When considering building a deck, think about design elements that make the deck look more like a decorated exterior room, as opposed to a utilitarian platform. Such elements include items such as “picture framing” around the outside perimeter of the deck floor, incorporating low voltage lighting into the floor or stairs, pergolas, built-in seating, outdoor kitchen counters or bar areas, differing elevations, and glass panels incorporated into the railing structure to maximize views and minimize maintenance.

All these suggestions and more, can be explored and tailored to suit the leisure requirements of the property owner.

Adding or remodelling a deck space is adding usable square footage to the home. People who purchase higher-end properties expect a particular quality of finished detail that should be mimicked when constructing a deck for such homes. Home improvement television programs demonstrate many great examples of outdoor living spaces that incorporate higher-end deck structures.

Popular in the Annex and High Park areas of Toronto, are rooftop decks which are constructed over flat roof portions of the home. Roof decks can help to provide increased rent values, and also can serve as an extension of living space for an upper floor bedroom, or study.

When constructing a rooftop deck, there are a few key elements to keep in mind. The first thing is to insure that the flat roof structure beneath can support the weight of the structural materials and occupants. An equally important consideration is that the waterproofing materials are both correct for the circumstance, and in good condition before attempting to install a roof deck.

Also for consideration, is constructing a roof deck which can permit positive drainage. This helps to eliminate excess load on the structure, and helps to preserve both the roofing and deck materials.

Roof decks are therefore best constructed on “pads” of a sort; such as sleepers which rest on extruded styrene insulation or added membrane pads.  Supporting rafters for the deck can be shaved to account for drainage in the roof slope.

Where small flat roof decks are concerned; some can be designed in sections which can be lifted for future roof maintenance.

Costs for deck construction can vary greatly. Site access, required footings, design, materials, permits, and accessories all contribute to the final cost. Where ground level decks are concerned; a pressure treated structure using cedar floor lumber can run in the neighbourhood of $35 to $45 per square ft.

Such materials typically are accounting for about one-third of the cost.

When dealing with both ground level and roof decks; structure is everything. Having the correct number piers or footers for ground level is key. When considering the roof deck; weight distribution which can incorporate the exterior bearing walls, and enhancing the structure of roof rafters can be necessary to achieve the proper and safe result.

It is often wise to consult with an engineer who can specify construction details that protect the property owner from unwittingly investing in a poor or dangerous result. This is particularly true when a roof deck is planned. The time spent to verify existing structural elements, and or deficiencies which need to be corrected or enhanced, as part of the total project scope is a proper planning step.

People who live in semi-detached homes that share a flat roof structure with their neighbour may consider the creation of a separation between their neighbour’s portion of the flat roof, and themselves.

The advantage is that it creates a “water break” between the homes. This dividing of the roofs allows one to properly water-proof one’s own side, and minimize the possibility of water ingress from what may be a less sturdy roof assembly next door. The old saying is that “fences make good neighbours” can truly apply in this regard. It does however, require communication and cooperation with one’s neighbours when conducting any such work.

To learn more about ground or roof decks, restorative exterior carpentry, and other related services, contact our Construction Team or visit us at: