When you first start planning to build your deck, you’ll quickly realize there are many options when it comes to figuring out what materials to use. From the footings to the lumber to the fasteners and screws, getting a grip on your materials is a first-step to building a safe deck you’ll enjoy.
When it comes to footings for your deck, we of course know that in most cases there will be no better or easier option for you than to use RediFootings for your footings. There is no concrete to buy, no mixing, and no waiting for the concrete to dry. You can read more about why RediFooting is your best option for your deck footings here.
Below is a graph that shows the difference between using RediFooting vs using concrete for your footings:
In combination with the ledger attached to the house, the footings support the entire load of your deck. Footings are one of the most critical components of deck construction (as is the soil below the deck footing). But if your footing can’t support the load, it doesn’t matter what materials you use to build the rest of your deck.
The Framing and Structure of Your Deck
For the most part, the main framed structure of your deck–which generally includes the beams, posts, joists, and ledger if attached to a house—will be built from pressure treated lumber. It’s not only the most economical choice but is rot and insect resistant. It’s also easy to find throughout the United States.
An alternative to pressure treated lumber is to use either redwood or cedar, both rot and wood-insect resistant. However, the costs can be double, on average, for redwood or cedar as compared to building your deck with pressure treated lumber.
Initially, pressure treated lumber was preserved with chromate copper arsenate (CCA) added to the wood to make it wood and insect resistant. But because of its high arsenic toxicity levels causing both health and environmental concerns, the manufacturing of pressure treated lumber using CCA was discontinued in 2003.
The newer pressure treated woods (ACQ) are generally more environmentally-friendly with copper-based compounds, also making them a healthier alternative to the older, discontinued pressure treated woods.
However, the newer pressure treated lumber is not without its issues. There are still warnings, including the recommendation to wear gloves during handling and to wear an EPA approved dust-mask.
Additionally, the new pressure treated woods treated with copper are more expensive and also cause issues with the corrosion of certain metals (due to the high copper content). More information is included below with regards to the different types of hardware required for use with pressure treated woods to avoid the dangers of metal corrosion.
Even if you decide to frame your deck’s structure using pressure treated wood, your options are still wide open when it comes to the actual decking material you can choose to use for the parts of your deck that are visible to you and your guests.
The most popular wood decking options are pressure treated wood, redwood, or cedar. The difference (aside from cost) is that redwood or cedar is naturally rot and insect resistant.
In addition to cedar and pressure-treated decking, there are beautiful hardwood options, also known as “ironwoods” because of their dense cell structure. Because these hardwoods are so dense, they require additional handling and extra work to use them in your construction project. For example, most of the hardwoods will need to be pre-drilled and require different hardware than your typical softwood materials. You’ll notice your saw blade will wear faster when cutting hardwoods.
Hardwoods include Ipe (the most popular hardwood), Cumaru, Garapa, Cambara and Machiche. Although they do not necessarily have to be treated the way the softer woods should, you will extend the life of your hardwood decking by using a surface treatment.
Both composite decking and PVC decking has taken off over the past few decades, and provides homeowners with a viable alternative to building a deck with real wood.
Composite decking is typically manufactured with a mix of recycled plastic materials and wood pulp. By adding the plastic to the composite, it becomes insect and rot-resistant. Because it is a manufactured product, you will not find the imperfections you will with natural wood products. There is no grain to worry about, and no knots that can often get in the way when cutting and drilling.
Most of the products manufactured today are non-toxic, and have come a long way since the early days when you could spot a deck built with composite or plastic decking a mile away.
Today’s composites and non-wood decking products come in a wide range of colors and styles, and can be an aesthetically pleasing addition to your deck.
There are few downsides to building with composite decking. One is the cost, which is higher than softwood lumber. The other is that some composite decking is more flexible than wood, and often requires closer support spacing, which can increase the overall cost of your deck.
Fasteners, Connectors, Screws and Nails
As deck building codes have changed over the past few decades, using metal fasteners has become more a part of building than your grandfather might ever imagine. Back thirty or forty years ago, a contractor might have used some joist hangers here and there, but otherwise entire decks built with screws, nails, and bolts.
Today, the building codes are written so it is very clear which specific metals and fastener types must be used to build a safer, code-compliant deck. Using the correct fasteners will prevent dangerous failures and provide you with a stronger deck.
Prior to purchasing your connectors and fasteners, you will need to make sure you are choosing the right metal for the material you are using to build your deck. The options used to be limited to either galvanized or stainless steel, but today different woods, such as pressure treated, require coatings and metals specifically designed for the makeup of the wood. The connectors and fasteners are labeled to help you identify which metals you will need.
You can find a wealth of information about fasteners and connectors available for deck construction by visiting the Simpson Strong-Ties website.
When you walk down the aisle at the hardware store or big box store, you’ll realize there are hundreds of variations, sizes, and materials used to manufacture screws.
As is the case with the fasteners and connectors, screws are manufactured with various materials and coatings to ensure durability and compatibility with the various available deck building materials.
The screws you choose will depend on the type of lumber you’re going to be using to build your deck. Therefore, it’s important to know the differences and why any one screw would be suitable for your construction project.
Galvanized screws were at one-time the go-to, especially with pressure treated lumber. But because of the newer formulations in pressure treated woods, some screws that were at one time approved will no longer last long enough to be considered useful. Many will break-down over time due to the makeup of the pressure treated lumber.
That’s why there are so many different screw variations on the market today.
And the differences aren’t just in the material used in the manufacturing. Whether you use galvanized or stainless or ceramic coated is just the beginning of your decision-making.
Because in addition to the material used to manufacture the screws, you will also need to consider the type of screw head you will use. Each will vary from one type of screw to the next, including everything from your typical Philips head screw to square-bit screws to star-head screws to flat-heads, and many others.
Each screw is manufactured with the goal of improving drive, ease-of-installation, resisting corrosion, and having a durable screw that will last the life of your deck.
As you can see, there are a lot of options when it comes to finding the best building materials for your deck. This article is only a start, and it’s worth doing your own homework once you have your plan together so you can make the most informed decision so you will have a safe and attractive deck you will enjoy for a long time.