By Candace Sofianos King

With outdoor living a firm favourite pastime, external timber decks have become one of the most used ‘rooms’ of the home.

If applied and treated correctly, timber decking has the potential to be lavish and long-lasting. To realise the maximum enjoyment from your deck, you should first consider the elements of your yard as well as what is going to best suit your style of living and your budget, recommends Somerset Timbers sales manager, Derek Robb.

Outdoor timber decking is an economical and appealing outdoor feature. Credit: Malaysian Timber Council

Robb continues, “Depending on your taste and the area available, timber decks have the flexibility to be designed around a variety of site conditions. They can crouch low to the ground or rise high above it, be built on a steep slope, or conform to its contours with many levels.

“Today there are more choices than ever before – from SABS pressure treated South African (SA) pine decking to imported hardwoods. However, your budget will greatly affect the decking materials you choose, as well as the size and intricacy of your design.

A well-designed deck can make an ordinary yard extraordinary. It can extend your living space and increase your home’s resale value. But perhaps the best of all, a great deck provides a place to sit back and relax after all the decision making and construction is behind you,” enthuses Robb.

Timber is a living and natural material, which means it reacts to environmental conditions in a variety of ways, says CEO of SADRAM Loga Kisten. “By defining much before the buying process of what is required or needed or wanted from the deck, the right decking material is easier to specify. Most popular timber decks are related to their maintenance side as well as outlook and price.”

Trends and challenges

Kisten says in the decking business the hype is to use composite decking due to its maintenance free lifespan. Kisten highlights that the industry has become more environmentally conscious and want something new.

“Thermally treated decks are growing in popularity as they are more dimensionally stable, and less cracking compared to untreated hardwoods and other timbers. In addition,

Regardless of the type of deck, it’s crucial to oil decking once installed. Credit: Creative Commons

thermally treated decks are very lightweight with a unique and consistent dark colour.”

Robb says SA pine remains a favourite decking as it is economical, sourced from sustainable plantations, and when correctly treated and maintained it has a comparable lifespan to other decking products. “When choosing hardwoods, garapa and jatoba from Brazil and balau from Indonesia are very popular. It is vital that the consumer purchases legally sourced hardwoods where a certificate of legality can be supplied.”

Robb says challenges creep in when one chooses an inexperienced installer which is sure to result in problems. “Shortcuts in installation such as incorrect fasteners, poorly designed supporting structure, wider than specified joists are some of the problems encountered. The top two problems are: wider or poor joist installation and skipping fasteners to try and save money,” notes Robb.

Long live sustainability

Timber decking boasts exceptional sustainable attributes.

“Solid timber decking is a natural product. Unlike composite or plastic decking, it has not gone through a chemical process which results in a greener footprint. If purchased from reputable suppliers who supply legal timbers, the buyer can be assured that by choosing solid timber they are choosing the greenest decking option,” says Robb.

A living and natural material, timber is an attractive and eco-friendly material. Credit: Creative Commons

Kisten says apart from it being the only decking material that is renewable, timber’s most sustainable attributes really come into play when, “we look at how the timber deck is manufactured, from where it is sourced and what is the lifespan/maintenance requirements. Fully sustainable timber deck is sourced from 100% PEFC or FSC certified forest, is manufactured using energy efficient processes and requires less maintenance in order to serve a lifespan of 15 to 20 years or more.”

To maintain your deck, Robb recommends that your timber deck is oiled at least once a year. An easy method to check whether oiling is required or not is to simply throw a cup of water on the surface – if it beads up, you’re fine – if the wood absorbs the water, it’s time for a re-coat. Ensure that the deck is clean before re-coating.

The future of decking? Robb says specialised installation systems continue to be introduced from different fasteners to aids in sub structure installation. He adds that legally sourced timer decking will continue to be a growing trend as consumers demand natural products.

Timber decking benefits

  • Minimal waste if properly planned.
  • Minimal disruption to the ground below – only the post supports are in the ground. If your deck is low to the ground it can also be supported on pads.
  • Cooler in summer than composite or plastic decking.
  • If legally sourced decking is used, timber is a greener alternative.

Best practice when installing timber decks

  • Prepare the ground and ensure that all vegetation is removed.
  • Map out the area where the deck is to be installed. Mark where posts are to be planted. If poles are used as posts, ensure that they are treated in accordance with SABS specification.
  • If a treated pole is planted in the ground, it is important to allow for drainage. If you intend using concrete, ensure that the concrete forms a collar around the pole with the end protruding through the concrete.
  • When installing a deck that is low off the ground it is advisable to first lay PVC sheeting with a layer of stone to prevent weeds from growing under the deck.
  • Install the substructure – it is a requirement that all exterior SA pine is SABS H3 CCA treated.
  • Choose the correct fastener for the timber.
  • When installing pine decking, it is advisable to oil all the decking prior to fixing.

 Key procedure pointers

  • Area – Choose your location, ground condition, sunny or shady area, exposure to the wind.
  • Design – Plan the deck to suit your needs. Consider furnishings and accommodate for traffic flow.
  • Cost and materials – Pressure treated pine is very popular and considered one of the most cost-effective ways to go. Once you have planned your deck, determine what dimension timber is to be used for the sub-structure, the fixing accessories required as well as the type of decking to be installed.
  • Painting and maintenance – It’s important (regardless of the type of deck) that you oil the decking once installed and thereafter stick to a maintenance programme.