Overview: Build your deck using composite and other low-upkeep materials
Your deck should be a place to relax, not a painful reminder of
those looming weekends you’re going to spend sanding, painting
and staining. So if you’re in the planning stages for a new deck,
consider alternatives to wood.
You can build yourself a low-maintenance deck using the same
tools as you would a wood deck, and similar techniques. But
there are differences between low-maintenance and wood products.
We asked our pros for some tips to help DIYers avoid expensive
Meet Our Experts
We asked Randy Moe from Decks Unlimited, and Bob Januik and
Matt Norden from Precision Decks, for some tips on working with
low-maintenance deck materials. Altogether, these guys have
built more than 1,000 decks, using every material imaginable. Ten
years ago, about half their jobs were wood. Today they install low-maintenance
materials on three out of four.
Flatten the joists to avoid a wavy deck
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Planning a deck joist
Stretch a chalk line across the joists to find high spots and plane them down.
Most PVC and composite
as rigid as wood, so
they don’t bridge
imperfections in the
framing as well. If
some of your joists are
higher than others,
you might end up with
a wavy surface. Our
pros stretch a string
across the deck joists
to detect high spots
and then plane them
down with a power
hand planer. This
might seem like a
pain, but it takes less
than an hour and pays
off with a better-looking deck.
When choosing composites, beware of dark colors
the sun is
you like to
Hide composite ends
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Hide composite ends by mitering joints around the deck perimeter. Add extra joists for support as needed.
Many PVC and composite decking products are not the same color
all the way through, so you’ll want to cover the ends. One solution
is to “picture frame” the deck by installing deck boards around the
perimeter. A picture frame creates a professional look but does
require some additional framing. One way to support the perimeter
boards is to add an extra joist 5-1/2 in. away from the outside joist
and then install a 2x6 on its side between the two joists.
Protect joists from rot
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Apply waterproof tape
Lay butyl tape over the joist tops to help prevent rot.
Pressure-treated lumber is rot-resistant, not rot-proof. Two
places our pros often see deterioration are along the top edge,
where the decking traps moisture, and in between two joists that
have been sandwiched together. Rolling butyl tape over the top
of the joists will add years to your deck’s framing. Choose a dark-colored
tape; shiny silver and white are noticeable between the
gaps. A 4-in. x 75-ft. roll will cost you about $20 at a home center.
Check your joist spacing
If you’re planning to replace
old wood decking with PVC
or composite, measure the
joist spacing first. Most
deck joists are centered 16
in. apart, which is the maximum
span for most low-maintenance
you plan to install your
decking at a 45-degree
angle, your joists may need
to be 12 in. apart. You may
also have to install more
stair stringers. Check your
product specs, and talk to
your local building official before you buy.
Avoid random splices
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Splice long runs
Use splice boards to eliminate random splices in long runs.
If your deck is 24 ft. long, don’t use random-length
boards and butt-joint them together.
Install a splice board to create two 12-ft. x
12-ft. spaces instead. Your deck will look
better and you’ll avoid the frustration
of trying to splice the decking over
joists. A splice board will also
require extra framing. Do it the
same way you would for the
perimeter boards (one extra
joist and a 2x6 on its side
between the outside joist
and the extra joist).
Hide the screws
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Hidden fastener system
Special screws, a screw driver bit and composite plugs make the fasteners invisible.
When it comes to fastening
PVC or composite decking, all
three of our pros like the Cortex
concealed fastening system.
You just countersink the screws
using the special bit included
with the kit, and hammer in a
plug that’s made of the exact
same material as the decking.
Screw holes virtually disappear,
and damaged boards are easy
to remove if you have to. A box
of 350 costs about $80 at
Stair rails made simple
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Preassembled aluminum railing
A preassembled railing simplifies the long, tedious process or rail building.
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You can “rack” the same railing to the angle that fits your stairway.
Stair railings are one of the trickiest parts of any deck
project. Some aluminum manufacturers offer a preassembled
railing that racks to whatever angle you
need. Just measure the distance between the posts,
transfer the proper angle and cut to length. If your rails
fit into a sleeve, you can cut them with a hacksaw, recip
saw or circular saw. If your rail ends will be exposed, you
may want to invest in an aluminum blade for
your chop saw. Either way, clean up the
ends with a file so you don’t
scratch things up during
Mix and match
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Deck/railing material options
You can mix composites with aluminum and other materials from various manufacturers. You can even use several composite colors.
You don’t have to stick
with one type of product
or one look for the entire
deck. Our pros mix and
match all the time: composite
posts with aluminum
rails with aluminum
spindles. And don’t be
afraid to think outside
the box when it comes to
color. You can install
perimeter boards the
same color as the railing.
Choose a post color
that’s different from the
railing. Have the spindles
be a different color than
the posts and rails. The possibilities are endless.
Connectors make railings easier
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Special connectors make difficult joints easier and stronger.
Creating a tight fit
between a composite
post and a rail is difficult—even pros struggle
with it. Railing connectors
make it easy. This
connector, made by
Deckorator, is screwed
onto the end of the rail
before being attached
to the post. It comes in
five colors. You can buy
these connectors from
the same place you get
your decking, or order
them through our affiliation with amazon.com for less than $10 a pair.
Dress up an ugly post
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Wrap a wooden post
Wrap a wooden post with PVC to improve appearance.
If your deck is more
than a couple of feet
off the ground, you may
want to wrap the posts
in PVC to match the
rest of the deck. You’ll
need two 1x6s and two
1x8s for each post. Our
pros avoid material
thinner than 3/4 in.
because PVC expands
and contracts more
than wood, and it’s hard
to keep the seams
together using thinner
material. Pin the boards
in place with a trim gun
before screwing them together.
Dark, round spindles improve your view
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Dark, round spindles
Dark spindles are less distracting and allow a more unobstructed view.
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White spindles tend to block the view.
Do you know why horse fences are usually white? It’s because dark ones are harder for horses to see. The same principle applies to deck railings
and people. If you want an unobstructed view, dark spindles are the way to go. And round is better than square. A 3/4-in.-diameter round spindle
stays 3/4 in. no matter what direction it’s viewed from, but a 3/4-in. square spindle grows to more than an inch when you view it at an angle.