Archive for the ‘Advice for Homeowners’ Category

How to Keep Your Deck Clear in a Winter Wonderland

Friday, December 20th, 2013

Tomorrow marks the official first day of winter, but don’t tell that to Mother Nature…or the vast majority of the US.

With snow, ice and other winter weather in amounts well-above averages for this time of year in EVERY region of the country, winter has made its presence felt far in advanced of the “official” start to the season.

And as winter weather veterans know all too well, (and all those southern states are learning quickly) all that winter weather, while beautiful, has to be removed from streets, sidewalks and decks.  If you have a composite or PVC deck, you might be wondering how best to remove snow and ice from it without causing damage.

The best option is to use ice melt that is safe for use on concrete, flagstone and grass.  If the ice melt is safe for those three surfaces, it should not damage your composite or PVC deck.  However, avoid using an ice melt with a colorant added, as the dyes can stain decking.

You should also avoid using sand and metal shovels (or plastic shovels with a metal edge) as you may accidentally scratch even the most resilient decking.

For more tips for snow and ice removal, check out our archives.

Enjoying Your Deck

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

Woman and girl dancing on deck

Welcome to the final installment in our series designed to help you navigate the steps to getting the outdoor living space of your dreams! If you missed them, here are Part 1 –DesignPart 2 – MaterialsPart 3 – Working With ContractorsPart 4 – Budgeting for Your Deck and Part 5 – Care and Maintenance. This week will focus on the fun part – enjoying your deck!

Finally, once your deck is built, you get to take advantage of everything it has to offer. Here are some ideas to maximize your new living space:

  • When the weather is nice, try to spend at least a little bit of time on your deck every day. It will allow you to use the deck the way you intended and make the investment worthwhile.
    • Grill out and eat dinner on your deck
    • Lounge with a good book
    • Throw a deck party with neighbors!
    • Decorate for the season
    • Plan a deck date night under the stars
  • Use your furniture and décor to create separate sections of your deck for different activities
    • Grilling/Dining Area
    • Relaxation/Yoga/Spa Area
    • Entertaining/Conversation Area
    • Children’s Play Area
    • Garden Area

For more great ideas about how to enjoy your deck, you can check out our Pinterest boards, but however you choose to use your deck, it will add value to your home and, more importantly, your life. Enjoy your new outdoor living space!

I hope you enjoyed our six part series on what to expect when you’re building a deck.  To find it all in one place, you can download our free white paper What to Expect When You’re Decking.

 

Care and Maintenance of Your Deck

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013
Welcome to the fifth installment in our series designed to help you understand and navigate the steps to getting the outdoor living space of your dreams! If you missed them, here are Part 1 –Design, Part 2 – Materials, Part 3 – Working With Contractors and Part 4 – Budgeting for Your Deck. This week, we will focus on deck care and maintenance.

One of the things that many homeowners find when they first start researching decks is that care and maintenance can be costly and time-consuming. The good news is that, in general, you can control the level of maintenance required by the materials you use to build your deck.

Spacious deck built with Fiberon Pro-Tect in Chestnut

Spacious deck built with Fiberon Pro-Tect in Chestnut

General Care

All decks – wood, composite or plastic – are going to require some general care, both to maintain the integrity of the materials and to ensure it is a place you want to spend your time. There are several important factors to keep in mind to ensure your deck stays beautiful over time. It is critical to follow your decking manufacturer or supplier’s instructions with regards to care and maintenance of your deck as failing to do so may void any warranty offered. Any suggestions or tips in this post should not be taken over a manufacturer’s instructions.

If the gap between decking boards is less than 3/16″, organic debris such as leaves, seeds or pollen can settle on the deck and clog gaps. Water can pool, steeping organic debris that forms a “tea” or tannin which may stain your deck. This organic debris is a strong food source for mold. Keeping the gap clean is the easiest way to keep the deck clean. If gaps become clogged, use a garden hose, a spatula, putty knife or similar tool to remove debris.

Mold and Mildew

Mold and mildew are common environmental conditions. Molds grow on decaying organic material such as wood, leaf decay and pollen. Tiny and lightweight, mold spores travel easily through the air. Different climates experience varying degrees of these conditions depending on the amount of moisture and heat present.

To thrive, mold and mildew need air, water, elevated temperatures and a food source. There is no way to eliminate all of these conditions in the environment. A wide variety of building materials including concrete, wood products, vinyl siding and many others are subject to potential mold growth.

To minimize mold on your decking, clean your deck as often as needed, at least twice each year. Climate conditions vary in different regions of the country and may necessitate more periodic cleaning. Removal of leaves, debris, and other organic materials that provide a food source for mold development is important.

Cleaning Your Capped Composite, Uncapped Composite or PVC Deck

As I mentioned above, it is important that you clean your deck as often as needed to remove pollen, organic debris, dirt or stains. Generally, a broom or a blower will work better than a hose for removing scattered organic materials like leaves. For general cleaning, use soap and water or mild household cleaners.

Skilled professionals may use a pressure washer with wide fan tips, at low pressures under 1,500 psi and at safe distances (about 12” above deck). In the wrong hands, your composite deck can be damaged by a pressure washer. Exercise extreme caution.

Maintenance Considerations

If you have capped composite or PVC decking, keep the following information, in addition to the tips above, in mind:

  • Direct downspouts, downspout extensions and splash guards away from decks.
  • Position dryer vents away from decks.
  • Maintain a deck that is dry and clean.
  • If mold is present on your deck, use soap and water to clean.
  • Minimize the use of wet mulch up against the deck structure.
  • Items stored directly on top of the deck surface, such as flower pots, prohibit water evaporation and can cause some staining of the deck surface.

Additionally, it is important to protect decking during masonry construction. White or hazy residue from mineral deposits (efflorescence) can leach out of stone and masonry materials after water evaporates leaving the deposits behind. Minerals from soils in certain arid and mountainous environments can also cause a hazing affect when deposited on the deck surface.

This can only be prevented with complete and secure coverage of the decking surface area during the construction phase or installation of the decking after the masonry construction phase. To minimize this affect during masonry construction, keep materials dry and allow masonry and cement to cure properly.

Additional Considerations for Uncapped Composite Decking

Because of the exposed wood fibers in uncapped composite decking, more frequent deck cleanings may be required to keep mold from growing. If mold is present on your deck, there are many commercial products available for cleaning mold.

In addition, the use of wrought iron railing or other carbon steel materials in contact with or above an uncapped composite deck surface may cause dark extractive staining.

Wood Deck Maintenance

When taking care of wood decking, in addition to the mold and mildew prevention tips above, you will need to clean your deck semi-annually and seal and stain it as needed. You’ll need to plan ahead to ensure that the weather doesn’t ruin all your hard work. Clean and treat your wood deck when the weather forecast calls for three rain-free days in a row and temperatures between 50° and 90° F.

To determine whether your deck needs to be sealed and stained, sprinkle a few drops of water on the wood. If the water beads up, you don’t need to treat it yet, but if not, it needs to be cleaned, stained and sealed. Do this test once every six months.

Your deck must be clean and dry in order for the stain to penetrate the wood. Keep in mind that this is a stain that is not meant to come off, so wear clothes and shoes that you won’t mind throwing away when you’re done.

  1. Remove all deck furniture and plants and trim any shrubs, bushes or trees near the deck to avoid getting leaves and twigs in the stain.
  2. Repair any damaged or loose boards and sand all the rough patches.
  3. Sweep off the deck and then clean your deck based on the stain manufacturer’s instructions. Note that some manufacturers require the use of a wood stripper and brightener.
  4. Clean redwood, cedar, or mahogany with a wood cleaner specifically formulated for these surfaces.
  5. When working on vertical surfaces, work from the bottom-up to avoid uneven appearances.
  6. Liberally apply the wood stripper with a pump-type sprayer.
  7. Let the wood stripper stand for a minimum of 15 minutes, but don’t allow the wood stripper to dry.
  8. After the wood stripper has had time to work, rinse the surface with a garden hose, or pressure washer on a low setting.
  9. Mix the brightener with water according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  10. Apply the solution with a pump sprayer and let stand for 15 to 20 minutes.
  11. Use a cleaning brush on any trouble spots (spots affected by mold and mildew).
  12. Rinse off the deck with a garden hose and nozzle or pressure washer on a medium setting. Repeat the process if necessary.
  13. After the deck has been thoroughly cleaned, let it dry for at least 48 hours.

Avoid staining in the heat of the day or in direct sunlight when the stain could dry too quickly.

1. Mask off any parts of the home that may come in contact with the stain.
2. Completely stir the stain.

  • If you’re using multiple gallons, combine them into a five gallon bucket to assure color consistency.

3. Pour a small amount of stain into your paint tray.
4. Apply a thin coat to a two- or three-board section with a paint roller.

  • Work from one end to the other, assuring that the stain penetrates the wood.
  • Apply the coats in thin layers. Generally two thin coats are better than one thick one.

5. Repeat this process on all wood surfaces.
6. Use a paintbrush to apply the stain in tight areas, like the steps or railing.

  • The support beams under the deck probably will not need a coat of stain. But you may wish to apply a coat for aesthetic reasons.

7. Allow the deck to dry for at least 24 hours.
8. After the deck has thoroughly dried, put your patio furniture back in place.

No matter which level of maintenance you choose for your deck, following these tips will ensure that it stays beautiful for years to come.

Stay tuned next week as we wrap up our blog series with the fun part – Enjoying Your Deck! Or, if you can’t wait, download our free white paper What To Expect When You’re Decking!

 

Budgeting For Your Deck

Thursday, September 26th, 2013
Welcome to the fourth installment in a series designed to help you understand and navigate the steps to getting the outdoor living space of your dreams! If you missed them, here are Part 1 –Design,  Part 2 – Materials and Part 3 – Working With Contractors. This week, we will focus on the elephant in the room – budgeting for your deck.

Budgeting For Your Deck

There are many factors that will combine to create the cost for the deck of your dreams. The first step is to decide what amount you’d like to spend on the project. Make sure this is a realistic number, which takes into account both materials and labor, and set that number as your target budget. It’s also important to consider the absolute maximum amount you can or are willing to spend on your deck and make sure that you don’t go above that number, no matter what.

Several factors in the design of your deck will affect materials and labor costs. The size, shape, whether it will sit at ground-level or raised up and any extras, such as built-in benches, hot tubs, lighting, fire pits or any curving of the boards, will all have an effect on the total cost of your deck. Additionally, the materials themselves have a range of associated costs.

As a reminder, it’s important to remember that regardless of what kind of decking you choose it will only apply to surface decking.  Composite and PVC materials are not approved as a structural material, so you will need to use pressure treated lumber for the substructure of your deck. The substructure for the deck will be what the code calls for in your municipality and some deck designs may require more stringent substructure designs.

For the deck surface, you’ll pay more money for composites than for natural wood upfront, but the added maintenance and replacement costs for wood can make for a more expensive deck over its lifetime, so make sure you consider that when pricing out the deck surface and railing material. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed a tool in 2006 for use in comparing the costs of using yellow pine (pressure-treated wood), redwood (hardwood), composite decking and recycled HDPE plastic (similar to PVC) over the life of the deck, broken down by materials, installation and maintenance and gives you an idea of the average annual cost over the lifetime of the deck. Although the numbers have not been adjusted for inflation, this Excel tool has worksheet tabs that allow for cost inputs and can give you a good idea of the cost differences between the materials.

More recently, an article featured on the popular reviewing site, Angie’s List, estimates that on a simple 14’ x 20’ deck with one flight of stairs, you’ll pay around $4,600 more in maintenance costs for treated lumber than composite decking material over the first eleven years you own your deck.

Overall, a deck adds value to your home and has a high return on your investment if you ever sell your home. The lifestyle value allows you and your family to enjoy an expanded and beautiful outdoor living space for years to come.

Stay tuned for our next installment in this series designed to help you navigate the deck of your dreams – Care and Maintenance. Or, if you can’t wait, download our free white paper, What to Expect When You’re Decking.

Working With Contractors

Thursday, September 19th, 2013
Welcome to the third installment in a series designed to help you understand and navigate the steps to getting the outdoor living space of your dreams!  If you missed them, here are Part 1 –Design, and Part 2 – Materials.
This week, we will focus a major aspect that can seem pretty daunting – contractors.

Working with Contractors

Contractors installing Fiberon decking material

Mick Feduniec and his team from Deckscapes in Charlotte, NC install Fiberon Pro-Tect Decking

Unless you are an experienced deck builder, it is highly advisable that you hire a contractor to handle this project. Their experience with multi-level designs, deck board angles, and stair designs can create a dream deck beyond your imagination and do it so that your deck is safe and meets code requirements. As you get started, there are several things to consider as you look for a contractor.

Reputation

Reputation is the most important factor in choosing a contractor to work with on your deck. The easiest way to start looking for a contractor with a good reputation is to ask your friends and neighbors who have decks who they used and whether they would recommend them. If no one you know has a recommendation, services like Angie’s List or online forums that specialize in decking are great places to get honest reviews about contractors in your area.  Additionally, manufacturers’ websites have zip code locators for deck builders in your area and may have a contractor gallery with photos of deck projects.

Once you have a few leads, conduct phone interviews. During the phone call, ask about their availability, ability to handle the size and scope of your project (including experience with your preferred material) and make sure they are a licensed contractor (if your state offers or requires licensing) with liability insurance and workman’s compensation coverage – you don’t want to be held liable for any accidents or injuries sustained while working on your project. It’s also important to ask for references from previous projects. If the contractor cannot or will not provide references, that should be a huge red flag.

Once you have a list of references, make sure to contact them and ask them some pointed questions regarding their satisfaction with the job, the timeliness of the project and the workers, whether or not the workers were respectful of the property and its residents and if you can see either pictures of the job or the deck in person.

Once you’ve narrowed your list of contractors down to three or four, schedule time to meet with them in your home. This will give you a chance to ensure that both parties can communicate effectively about the project – a key factor since you will need to communicate regularly about the project’s progress and any issues that arise. If the initial interview process is strained or leaves you feeling uneasy, it may be a sign that this isn’t the contractor for you.

At this point, investigate the contractor’s background including checking with consumer agencies (Better Business Bureau, etc.) to determine if any complaints have been filed against the contractor, criminal background checks on each individual who will be working on the project and (if it’s a large company) the employee work history of the person that will be supervising your job.

Logistics

In the category of logistics, there are a few things to consider when choosing your contractor. The first is whether or not he or she will secure all the necessary permits to build your deck. Generally, contractors are much more familiar with the various building codes and permits that will be required in your particular case so having the contractor take care of them makes a lot of sense. However, if everything else is pointing you toward a specific contractor, but they don’t take care of permits, it shouldn’t be considered a deal breaker since you can absolutely handle the permit process yourself.

The second thing to consider is your builder’s familiarity with the kind of materials you have chosen. If, for example, you have your heart set on using composite decking, but the contractor has little to no familiarity with the various brands and types, you could be setting yourself up for disappointment.

Finally, it’s important to know if the contractor will be hiring any subcontractors to complete more specialized work and what specifically they will be working on. If there will be subcontractors, make sure to consider them in the background checks.

Cost

The final consideration when choosing a contractor to work with is cost. Because of the potential for vast differences in labor and material costs, make sure to get quotes from at least three contractors for your project. However, don’t automatically decide to go with the lowest price. Consider all the other factors we’ve discussed, and any other criteria that are important to you, to make your final decision.

Working With Your Contractor

A positive, efficient and effective relationship with your contractor will help your dream deck become a reality faster than anything else. To establish and maintain a good working relationship:

  • Communication is key.
    • Meet with your contractor regularly to go over progress and any issues that haven’t already been addressed. In the initial stages of the project, it may be beneficial to meet daily – allowing you to catch any problems before the work is completed – saving you time and money. As the project progresses, you should be able to move to a bi-weekly or weekly meeting schedule, depending on your comfort level.
    • Be clear in your expectations and how you communicate them. One of the biggest sources of stress between contractors and homeowners is miscommunication.
  • Track all changes in writing
    • It is very likely that there will be changes to the initial project as you go along. Ensure that you get to sign off on any change that will add costs to the bottom line of the project and the process will go much more smoothly.
  • Be a good customer
    • Make decisions quickly and ensure payments are on time.
    • Be friendly and accommodating to the workers. One thing many homeowners overlook is designating a bathroom that they can use.

If you follow this advice, the relationship with your contractor will be much more positive.

Stay tuned for our next installment in this series designed to help you navigate what can be another pain point in the deck-building process– Budgeting for Your Deck.
 Or, if you can’t wait, download our free white paper, What to Expect When You’re Decking.