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Decking is an inexpensive way to extend your living space. Traditionally, timber decking was the only decking material available. Today, we have more choices. You can choose from a variety of species of timber decking, but also look into recycled timber, bamboo decking, composite decking and uPVC decking. One of these options may suit you better.
Your decking design, too, can be a simple flat, rectangular deck or a deck builder can make a more complex deck to suit your purposes. Here's everything you need to know about decking.
If you prefer the look of natural timber, your first decision will be what type of timber to use. Some of the most popular decking timbers include:
Treated pine is your least expensive option. It can be stained and polished to look like a more expensive timber. Pine is a soft timber and can become scratched and dented more easily than denser timbers. It can be a great choice, but may not stand up to rough treatment.
Merbau has been a popular decking timber for generations and can be less expensive than some other hardwoods. The disadvantage of merbau is that it is a tropical timber and you may not know if sustainable harvesting methods were used.
Blackbutt, silver ash and spotted gum are all Australian timbers and are sustainably grown and/or harvested. Spotted gum takes stains well, so is a good alternative to treated pine if you want to stain your deck. Ironbark is one of the densest timbers available and is rot and termite resistant. It is expensive, though. Jarrah is prized for its beautiful colour, but there is some concern that slow-growing jarrah stocks are being depleted too quickly.
If you live in a bushfire hazard area, read Choosing Bushfire Rated Building Materials. Some decking timbers can safely be used in bushfire areas.
Another option is recycled timber. Recycled timber has a number of advantages. If you're environmentally conscious, you know you're not using recently harvested timber. Recycled timber has had years to cure. It may look weathered when raw, but after it is sanded and sealed, recycled timber has a beautiful patina.
Any timber you choose will need to be oiled, sealed and/or polished. Oiled and sealed timber will have a more natural appearance or you can seal and polish the deck to give it a glossier look. Before the timber is sealed, all nail holes will need to be filled and the timber should be sanded.
Technically, bamboo is a grass, but is often treated as a "timber" decking product. Bamboo fibres are very tough. During the engineering process, bamboo is stained to resemble other natural timbers. Engineered bamboo comes in long lengths (up to 6.4 metres) and can be wider than natural decking timbers. Bamboo is fast growing and is often plantation grown, so can be considered a "green" alternative to natural timber.
While it is a durable product and is not subject to termite damage, bamboo has to be maintained in the same way timber does. It will need periodic cleaning and resealing. Pressure washing is recommended for bamboo, followed by resealing.
Read How Much Does Decking Cost? for information about the cost of timber decking. Bamboo decking costs about the same as better quality timbers.
Composite decking or wood-plastic composite (WPC) decking got off to a slow start, but is now a popular alternative to natural timber. Composite decking is a mixture of timber by products, plastic (sometimes recycled plastic) and chemical agents. It is manufactured in moulds and can have a natural timber-grain look. Colours vary from those of natural timber to a variety of stained effects.
Composite decking costs as much as premium timber decking, but is easier to maintain. It is UV-treated to resist fading and deteriorating and does not require periodic sanding and resealing. Composite decking will not rot or become termite infested and can be a good choice for decks that come in contact with grass or for use in wet areas such as pool decking or around an outdoor spa.
In the past, composite decking wasn't as hard wearing as it is today. If you choose composite decking, choose a product with a long warranty period. You will pay more for the better quality, but you'll be happier with your deck and won't need to replace it as soon as you may have to replace a product of inferior quality.
An alternative to WPC decking is uPVC (Polyvinyl chloride) decking. Early versions of uPVC decking were subject to cracking when exposed to heat, but newer uPVC decking has overcome that problem. Like composite decking, uPVC decking is termite resistant and easy to maintain. It is also more fade-resistant than in the past. As with composite decking, choose better quality uPVC decking that comes with a long warranty. If you live in a bushfire area, look for bushfire resistant uPVC decking.
A deck can be a fair-weather deck only or can be enclosed to allow you to enjoy your deck throughout the year. If you add bi-fold doors, your deck can become a home-extension.
Whatever type of decking material you choose, you have a range of design options. It's a good idea to choose your design before you choose your decking material. Timber is better suited to elevated decks. As long as the deck is high enough to allow the top and bottom of the timber to "breathe," the timber will be more stable and rot-resistant.
You can use timber in wet areas, but composite or uPVC decking may be a better choice. Natural timber around a pool or any other wet area will require more maintenance than timber that is covered or subject only to periodic rain.
A deck doesn't have to be one level surface. In many cases, installing a multi-level deck can create a more interesting and useful deck. For example, you can use the upper level for relaxing or entertaining and the lower level for another purpose. Installing a deck with more than one level is a good way to divide a deck into zones and can be the perfect solution if you want decking over a large area.
If you have a concrete patio and wish you had installed decking instead, you can install decking over concrete. Our article, Decking Over Concrete explains the basic things you need to know about installing decking over concrete.
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