How to Get a Beautiful Deck

 In Tips from the Trades

A big deck with a view of the mountains can truly be a thing of beauty for any Vancouver homeowner who wants to enjoy a long summer evening; our reward for the dark, cold and wet days we endure throughout the winter months.

Contemporary Home in Dunbar with Grey Stucco Exterior Walls and a Newly Stained Deck, Best in Neighbourhood

A gorgeous wood deck might be inspired by the view but it requires the proper materials and good construction to build it right. Just like paint alone can’t fix a bad drywall in interiors, when it comes to deck, no stain out there can fix a badly built deck.

To get the right answers and advice on deck building I went to Ryan Winchester, owner of Winchester Decks in Vancouver. Ryan is a deck specialist and has designed and built showcase decks for fine homes throughout the lower mainland. His work has been featured in Professional Deck Builder.

The Right Wood

I asked Ryan about what he likes and recommends in wood materials that can handle our rainforest climate.

His answer didn’t surprise me. Like most deck specialists Ryan loves to use Ipe (pronounced ee-pay) or as its more commonly known, Brazilian Walnut. Known for its exceptional hardness (it has a Janka rating of more than 3,600), this tropical hardwood is beautiful and durable. It also offers many benefits like long life expectancy, insect resistance, and a tight grain which means no splinters in bare feet. If you are using this stunning wood for your deck, make sure you read this article by our friends at Topcoat Review on proper deck finishing for Ipe.

The downside to Ipe is cost. It isn’t cheap.

Ryan offered some alternatives, “There are some other hardwoods that I have been pleased with, like Balau. Nothing quite as dense and as durable as Ipe, but more affordable.

By far, though, the most popular wood for decks is our own local Western Red Cedar. Far more affordable than Ipe, cedar still has some price options. “Clear cedar is the nicest as it will last the longest and look nicer, but it often not in the budget of a lot of people. What we use most often is knotty cedar (STK) but contains more knots and more sapwood than clear cedar” explains Ryan.

Ryan pointed out that “cedar is a beautiful wood but it is also very soft. It will wear more under heavy traffic and is easier to mar, which adds to the character of the wood.
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Warline Painting Employees Working on a Deck.

Space to Breathe

Nothing is worse for wood than not giving it space. Wood expands and shrinks as it cycles between wet and dry. Not providing enough space between boards can lead to warping, splitting and eventually rotting. The debate rages on just how much space you need between your boards. The bigger the space, the more room for water to run off of and less for dirt to accumulate but bigger spaces don’t provide the same aesthetic appeal.

Generally, boards should never be spaced less than 1/8″ apart but Ryan notes that the actual gap width should be dependent on the size of the board, the moisture content when installed and where the deck is being built. For example, if you are building your deck surrounded by tall trees that get a lot of needle fall, it won’t take long for the gaps to get crammed full of needles and dirt. This “gunk” retains water and this can lead to lots of problems, the worst being premature rot.

At Winchester Decks, Ryan and his team will work with customers to determine the best gap width for the project. They often us 3/16″ spacing and sometimes up to 1/4″.

Remember the gap spacing isn’t just important for side by side panels. Joints and wood borders along the edges also need the same amount of spacing. Those end cuts are where the most amount of moisture is absorbed.

What’s Happening Underneath?

A deck can look perfectly fine from above and be a disaster waiting to happen underneath. Decks need to be a minimum of 18 inches off the ground and don’t lay plastic on the ground to keep weeds from growing under it. The plastic will allow for water to pool and on a warm day you will create a sauna effect under your deck. Try landscape fabric instead.

Good airflow is essential for decks to let the breath so even if your deck is high enough from the ground, if you have enclosed it from underneath to keep critters away you might still be creating a sauna and helping your deck rot from below. Use a lattice to enclose area instead of paneling.

Finally, speaking of the ground, wood should never be in direct contact with earth. As nice as this deck is in the image below, its exposure to the ground will shorten its life dramatically.

A great deck starts with the right materials, a good design, and proper building. Then, leave it to us at Warline Painting to take care of it so you are only left to enjoy it and those long summer days.

Heidi Nyline
Wonder woman at Warline Painting, an exceptional painting company. Loves colour, food, wine, dark rum, beaches, dogs and family. Not in that order.
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