Deck Questions and Answers by Industry Experts

Harry Eberle III President/Creator EB-TY® Hidden-Deck Fastening SystemsTM

Glenn Eberle Vice President EB-TY® Hidden-Deck Fastening SystemsTM

George Guttmann is the President/Creator/Editor of The Sound Home Resource Center

Index

  • Q: What are the best decking materials?

    A: Decks require some special materials in order to withstand exposure to the elements, pest damage and the wear-and-tear of feet and food. Here are some options and their benefits and drawbacks:

    Cedar and Redwood These are some of the more traditional materials for decking. Both have some resistance to rot but will require wood treatment in order to last in wet climates. Both woods are quite soft and subject to some foot traffic damage. These materials are best suited for the decking surfaces and not for the deck structure. In areas like the Pacific Northwest, decks made out of cedar and redwood will only last for about 10 years.
    Pressure Treated Lumber Treated lumber is the preferred product for deck structures. It is quite strong and quite resistant to rut and insect damage. "Appearance grade" products are available for deck surfaces and railings.
    Composite Materials e.g. Trex® These materials are usually made out of recycled plastics, most are gray in color. They are completely resistant to rot and insect damage. The material can be worked with regular wood working tools but is heavier than regular lumber and not as strong as framing lumber.
    Regular Framing Lumber Regular framing lumber such as Hemlock, Fir, Spruce and Pine are not recommended for outdoor deck construction. In outdoor exposure such as decks, this type of material is subject to insect and fungal wood-rot damage and tends to be short lived.
    Ipe This is a tropical hardwood product that has a very good resistant to rot and insect damage. Ipe is often used for deck surfaces.

    George

  • A: My advice to anyone considering building a deck should visit the Building Department that covers their property. The rules vary from town to town. Our state of New Jersey is heavily regulated when it comes to footing depth, attaching a deck to a home, railings and steps. I have seen non-permitted work that was done properly torn-out just because no permits were issued or work inspected. Start out on the right track with the authorities and they might even prove helpful with advise should you need it.

    Harry

    There are some general rules about permits for deck. Decks that are within 18" of the ground generally don't require permits. Some jurisdiction also have a value threshold and so a structure that has a value bellow a certain fair market value, say $2500.00 don't require permits.

    But there is really no need to guess about these issues. Most building departments have very good web sites and information desks. Contrary to popular belief, I have found that building and planing offices are eager to provide information. They often have helpful pre-printed or on-line forms and brochures.

    George

  • A: I am answering this questions while sitting on my deck. Now don't get me wrong, I have a very nice office and I really don't mind working from my office. But its a beautiful day today and my deck is located in a very nice part of the yard. There is a built in bench on this deck and a picnic table...

    Here are a few more features that I have built into my decks:

    • French doors that "extend" the indoor space onto the deck. This feeling of extension works even in the winter-time when the indoor space just feels larger when one looks out onto the deck. We have also found that french doors allow us to easily move "indoor" tables and chairs out onto the deck for those larger parties.

  • Decks that are located near the kitchen. This allows the use of the deck as another dinning area and makes life easier for the cook (that me!). It also keeps me close to my family and friends during the cooking process.
  • If there are small kids in the family, it helps to have the deck located in proximity to the play area. The adults can play on the deck and can keep an eye on the kids.
  • Water, power, gas and lights are important features and should be planed as part of the overall design. Which reminds me, I need to add a GFCI protected electrical receptacle on my deck for my BBQ.
  • Boot brushes - we have lots of fir needles and some mud at the cabin. Boot brushes on the deck help keep the house clean.

    The best deck features are those that fit your lifestyle, your home and your yard.

    George

  • A: Most realtors will tell you that a quality deck gets you "good bang for your bucks." Decks are highly rated for return of investment. A deck adds so much extra area to your home at a relatively low price compared to the enclosed areas of your home. Also, a deck takes a chunk of wear and tear outdoors that would normally take place inside your home.

    Harry

    The value of a well designed and well built deck is not only in the deck itself but also in how the deck enhances the rest of the house. For example, it can be used to give a visual connection between the indoor space and the garden. Such a "connection" can be used to enhance the appeal of both spaces.

    George

    Photo Courtesy of CorrectDeck®

  • A: Deck plugs are cylindrical pieces of wood that fill the countersunk holes where screws are holding the decking in place. Plugs are different from dowels as the grain is perpendicular to the diameter as opposed to parallel as dowels are. After the plugs are installed and sanded, the holes are relatively hidden because the wood plugs match the deck wood. Occasionally, plugs are installed with a contrasting wood instead. This application gives an almost marine look (like a ships deck) to the deck but must be precisely aligned because irregular lines really stand out.

    Harry

  • A: This refers to the to the EB-TY® Hidden-Deck Fastening SystemsTM . The EB-TY® biscuits fit into kerf cuts that are made into the deck boards (either cut with a plate-joiner tool at joist intersections or continuous kerfs on side of board). A screw is put into each biscuit at 45 degree angle at each intersection of decking and joists.) The EB-TY® biscuit has a spacer keel that keeps the next board at the appropriate location called for (EB-TY keel widths vary to suit the different deck material requirements.) This procedure is repeated until you reach the edge of the deck. The last board is then screwed and plugged.

    Photo curtesy of EB-TY® Hidden-Deck Fastening SystemsTM

    Harry

  • A: You are building a quality deck with the best decking materials. Do you think rusty spots at each fastening location would look good? Also, stainless steel screws have no reaction with treated lumber as galvanized fasteners do which could cause them to rust out and fail to hold the deck down. You can learn more about stainless steel fasteners by visiting www.swansecure.com

    Harry

    Let me add a couple of other comments about stainless steel screws:

    • The difference in cost between stainless steel screws and other types of fasteners is no longer as large as it used to be and they are available in most lumber yards.
    • I love square-drive screws and battery operated screw-guns. The square-drive screws have a more secure grip. This translates time and material savings and a cleaner job.

    George

    Photo curtesy of EB-TY® Hidden-Deck Fastening SystemsTM

  • A: The relative ease of building decks results in the construction of some unsafe decks. Decks are somewhat easier to build than houses but like houses they require some basic structural and safety features. Here are a few examples:

    • The deck structure must be properly bolted to the adjacent house, nailing the ledger board to the house is inadequate.
    • Decks (like houses) need lateral stability. Deck posts and footings can provide great vertical support but very little lateral support. The attachment of the deck to the house structure can provide some of the needed lateral support but other bracing maybe required in order to prevent sideways pressures. Such lateral support can be achieved with various types of metal brackets, wood bracing, stair structures and some railings.
    • Deck railings and staircases are just as important in decks and similar outdoor structures as they are inside the home. Don't want to block the view with railings? Take a look at deck railings made out of tempered glass or metal cables.
    • Barbecues can produce some very high temperatures. Great for some cooking methods but potentially dangerous. Barbecues must be located in a safe location. For example a BBQ on a wood deck should be placed on concrete board or tiled area.
    • GFCI protected electrical circuits are required in all outdoor areas - a great safety feature. This is one more reason to make sure that the wiring on your deck meets code.

    The bottom line is that decks tend to be less complicated structures than houses but that does not mean that they can be built without good planing and attention to structural requirements and codes. And there is lots of good help available for such deck projects. Here are some suggestions:

    • Building Departments - most building departments have some on-line and printed information about deck structures. The permit application and inspection processes can also help to make sure that a deck is a safe structure.
    • Books - there are many good deck construction books with construction details and information.
    • Professional Designs and Engineering - sounds too expensive? not if you estimate the total cost of the construction and calculate that a good design costs a small fraction of the project.

    So, with a little extra time to design and plan a deck, you can end up with a very safe and long lasting structure.

    George

  • In my work as a home inspector I see a great deal of deck damage from barbecues. IOt is quite common to see deck surfaces and adjacent walls with scorch marks and melted vinyl siding. Luckily most of these cases don't end up in fires, but they do cause some expensive damage. For example, when waterproof deck surfaces are damaged in one area it may be necessary to replace at least some of the special plywood underlayment and re-surface the entire deck. And when vinyl siding is damaged in one area finding some matching replacement material can be very difficult.

    Another type of damage from BBQs comes from grease and other spills around the BBQ area. Soft woods like western red cedar and redwood can absorb such liquids and the resulting stains are difficult to remove.

    So here are some tips that should help in avoiding such problems:

    • A connected garden hose and/or fire extinguisher should be in reach of any BBQ, smoker or similar device.
    • Place your BBQ/smoker on a flameproof and easy to clean surface surface. A sheet of tile backer board is inexpensive and depending on the type it is relatively easy to clean. A tile surface on such a board might even add a decorative touch to your deck.
    • A space of 18"+ between the BBQ and any wall surface is a good rule of thumb. But 18" is not enough for vinyl siding and some painted surfaces.
    • Ease of cleaning is another good reason to stain or treat wood surfaces. Painting wood decks is not a good idea. The paint tends to peel and is hard to maintain.

    Have a great BBQ!

    George

    p.s. Take a look at all of our EB-TY® Deck Food recipes!

  • Hi George,

    Hope this finds you doing well, happy New Year!