Everyone loves an outdoor deck. It’s a great way to expand your outdoor entertaining space or create a seamless transition from your indoor to outdoor areas. And it’s a perfect place to just sit in the sun and take in the views. If you’re thinking of embarking on a decking project, there are a number of things you want to consider. And one of those is longevity. You want to make sure that your deck is built to last.
While a good one, well built from premium timber or composite decking materials, can be expected to last for decades, a lesser quality deck can start to show signs of degradation within a few years. And that can mean costly repairs and upkeep.
If you want to make sure your deck is built to last, there are a number of factors that you need to consider.
1. Decking material
There are plenty of different decking materials available, each with their individual pros and cons. Some common and popular materials include tropical hardwoods like merbau, native hardwoods like ironbark or spotted gum, softwoods like pine, and composite decking products of varying quality and composition.
The material you choose for your deck will have a big effect on its longevity. Different products have different characteristics that can affect longevity, including strength, durability, pest proofing, moisture resistance, UV stability and more.
For example, premium tropical hardwoods, like merbau, can be expected to last several decades. Merbau is incredibly dense and contains natural oils that help to preserve the wood and prevent it from splitting and cracking.
With tough native hardwoods like ironbark you can also expect an incredibly long life with fairly low maintenance requirements compared with other less dense timbers.
Softwoods, on the other hand, come from fast-growing trees like pine or spruce. They are cost effective and the timber is readily available. However, softwoods are more susceptible to moisture damage and pests than hardwoods. They usually require chemical treating before use to prevent rot, fungal damage and pest infestations. They also have a much lower density than hardwoods, so they aren’t as durable, are susceptible to fading and won’t stand up to foot traffic as well. Without proper and high-level maintenance, softwood decking can be expected to have a much shorter lifespan than other materials.
Composite decking materials have been engineered to last. Made from reclaimed timber and recycled plastics, premium composite decking materials can be expected to last as long as the best hardwoods, with comparatively little maintenance.
And speaking of maintenance…
Regardless of what decking material you choose — whether it’s hardwood, softwood or composite decking — you will need to put in regular maintenance to get the best life out of the surface.
Decking maintenance is essential to keep the deck looking great and ensure it maintains its structural integrity. It will prevent moisture damage and rot, stop the boards from drying out, splitting or warping and minimise the risk of pest damage.
Maintenance generally takes three forms: cleaning, refinishing and repairing. Different decking materials, however, will require different levels of maintenance to ensure longevity.
All decks require regular cleaning regardless of the decking material. Regular cleaning prevents the build-up of algae and mould. Any kind of growth on the surface of the deck will affect the aesthetics, make the deck slippery and, most importantly, can start to degrade the surface over time. Mould and algae store moisture, which can penetrate the surface leading to rot and other damage. When cleaning timber decks, it’s recommended that you use a specific timber deck cleaning solution. For composite decking, warm soapy water is enough to get the job done. Pressure washers can be used to clean decks; however, you want to keep them at a low pressure setting to avoid damaging the boards and fixings.
Refinishing can involve staining or oiling (and sometimes some resanding) and is only necessary for timber decks. Oiling a timber deck is vital for the longevity of the timber. The oil penetrates deep into the fibres of the woods and prevents moisture damage. It also helps to replenish the timber, preventing cracking and splitting. Some timber oils also contain UV protection, which helps to prevent sun fading. Staining the timber is generally done to revitalise the timber colour, with some stains also containing the necessary protective oils.
Minor repairs are another essential part of decking maintenance. Moisture damage in timber can be insidious. Once a little moisture has a foothold inside the timber, then the rot can start to spread. This is why it’s so important to replace any moisture-damaged boards as quickly as possible. Any loose or damaged fixings should also be fixed immediately. Loose boards will have more freedom to move as they naturally expand and contract. This can increase the likelihood of damaging the timber and loosening other fixings. Running repairs will help to minimise damage and increase the lifespan of your deck.
If you want your deck to stand the test of time, then it needs to be properly installed. The installation process and the fixings and tools required can change depending on the type of deck being built. For example, composite decking installation requires specific fixings and specialised tools to cut the boards.
Timber decks can fail in a number of ways if not properly installed. For example, if you use nails instead of screws, the natural expansion and contraction of the timber can work the nails loose, leading to all kinds of problems.
While building a deck is within the realm of an experienced home handyperson, to ensure a long life with minimal repairs, you may want to leave it to the pros.
4. Local climate
Depending on where you live, the local climate can have a significant effect on how your deck ages. A range of climatic and environmental conditions can affect your deck.
In climates with high rainfall and humidity, decking materials will be more likely to incur moisture damage.
Prolonged exposure to the sun’s UV rays can fade decking materials.
Hot, dry climates can dry decking timbers, leading to splitting, cracking and warping.
Atmospheric pollutants can build up on the deck and, over time, the chemicals can do serious damage to the surface.
Snow or frost
Freezing and defrosting can put immense pressure on decking materials, causing the decking materials to crack and split and fixings to break or come loose.
Salt is mainly a problem in coastal areas. A build-up of salt can damage the deck surface and corrode fixings if not regularly cleaned.
To ensure the longevity of your deck, you may need to change up your maintenance schedule to best cope with the weather conditions. For example, in coastal areas or polluted urban areas, you may want to increase how regularly you clean your deck. Whereas in hot, dry climates, you may need to oil a timber deck more often to replenish the timber.
5. Exposure to the elements
After considering your local weather conditions, you might also want to think about how your deck will be exposed to elements. For example, if you live in a high rainfall area, but your deck is under cover, then perhaps moisture damage may not be such a big concern. Or if you live in a very sunny area but your deck has been positioned to get a lot of shade throughout the day, then you may not need to worry so much about sun fading.
On the other hand, if you live in a hot, dry climate and your deck will be exposed to full sun all day, every day, then this will definitely affect the longevity of your deck.
6. Use of the deck
Finally, what you are planning to use the deck for can affect its lifespan. If your deck is purely there for you to sit, relax and take in the views, then wear and tear won’t be a huge problem. A deck around a swimming pool, on the other hand, will have to deal with a lot of moisture and pool chemicals and maybe even children running and jumping. This will affect the longevity of the deck, leading to increased maintenance and repairs.
When it comes to building a deck, you’ll want to choose the right materials to ensure that your deck will stand the test of time. Considering the factors above will help you to determine what levels of wear and tear your deck will be subjected to and choose the best material, installation method and maintenance schedule to keep your decking looking great for years to come.
Julian is an editor and content creator with a background in industry journalism and technical writing. He’s an enthusiastic home handyman and gardener and collector of vintage books.