There are a number of options available to you when it comes to the essential part of most Aussie homes: the deck.
The ‘outdoor room’ is all the rage nowadays – that part of the home that isn’t quite the house, and isn’t quite the backyard, but is really both at once.
It may feature permanent covering or retractable tarpaulin; it may have four walls, or only one, and some of them may be glass or – again, retractable tarp; it may feature some potted plants or just a sofa or the spare fridge or the barbecue, or all of the above plus a ping pong table and wide screen telly to boot! Its basis is ‘the deck’ – a flat surface capable of supporting weight.
Traditionally, decking was constructed from hardwoods and treated softwood timbers, which are still popular options. Hardwood varieties vary in cost depending on availability, and like all timber decking, requires on-going maintenance. Blackbutt and Spotted Gum, whose natural fire retardant properties meet the Australian Standard AS3959, can be used without additional treatment in bushfire-prone areas. Merbau, another popular hardwood, is durable and resistant to decay if properly ventilated, giving it a 25-year lifespan. Untreated, the wood turns a less pleasing grey colour.
Softwoods are a cheaper material for decking and are easier to work with. The most common softwood material is treated pine. However, preservatives used to treat softwood timbers can pose a health and environmental hazard, so be especially aware of splinters.
There is a wide range of timber composite and polymer composite options designed to provide additional benefits over timber. Recycled plastic decking options include a combination of high and low density polyethylene (HDPE and LDPE) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Other additives may be included depending on intended end product application. Polystyrene and fibreglass are often used to provide a greater load-bearing capacity; pigments may be introduced to improve the aesthetic finish. Stabilisers, to prevent UV deterioration, and flame retardants, to protect against fire damage, may be introduced to the manufacturing process.
Timber composite decking is manufactured from reclaimed wood waste (fibre) – a by-product of timber milling – and recycled plastic, the latter coming from the likes of shampoo and water bottles and milk cartons. Although an environmentally sound alternative on the surface, there are some disadvantages, such as ‘contamination’ of the wood content that would have otherwise been biodegradable. However, it does add to the longer life of the decking and is a good alternative to timber, offering – in many instances – more versatility.
Composite decking offers a number of advantages over traditional timber. In addition to a range of colour and stylistic finishes, it does not warp, slip or rot, is termite resistant, and formulated to provide additional strength and moisture resistance. However, composite boards, like traditional timber, will expand when wet. Ensure adequate space exists between boards, both end-to-end and side-by-side, as per manufacturer recommendations. Adequate ventilation is also required to allow boards to dry after wetting. As with timber, mould may build up in the wood fibre of composite decking; there are products available to assist with removal of mould from traditional and composite decking.
Decking boards were traditionally fixed with galvanised nails since ungalvanized nails corrode more easily, compromising strength and stability of the structure. Galvanised hex drive screws are also popular and though more expensive, hold together better over time despite expansion and contraction of decking material due to time and weathering.
Also worth considering are hidden fixing systems providing a flush, blemish-free finish not unlike the ‘secret nailing’ of internal timber floors. Deck fasteners are relatively simple, and are designed to hold decking timbers in place with automatic gap spacing.
While the deck is the hit, having to hit the deck – repeatedly – is considerably less so. For this reason, stainless steel self-drilling screws are fast becoming the fastening system of choice. Whether you use a stand-up-and-drive auto-feed screwing system (the screw equivalent of the nail gun) or your own drill, they cut out a lot of time, ensuring you can finish a hard day’s work quickly, rather than the hard day’s work finishing you. However, note that certain screws are designed for specific applications: hardwood decking to hardwood joists, wood decking to softwood joists, or composite decking. The stainless steel material ensures minimal corrosion, and therefore long life to your deck.
And once your pride-and-joy deck is completed, no matter which materials you choose, ensure the job is properly finished and protected. Using quality rollers and brushes to apply top-shelf stains and oils will ensure the outdoor living area is a joy for years and decades to come.