15 Modern Deck Building Tips and Shortcuts
There are lots of new decking products on the market, and deck building methods continue to evolve and improve. Here are some of the best tips and products for a great looking deck that will last decades.
Every editorial product is independently selected, though we may be compensated or receive an affiliate commission if you buy something through our links. Ratings and prices are accurate and items are in stock as of time of publication.
Deck Board Spacers
These yellow deck board spacers can be used to space boards either 1/8 in. or 3/16 in. apart. Large spacers work well because they’re easy to grab and pull out, and less likely to fall down between the boards. They’re also highly visible, which makes them less of a trip hazard. You can find deck spacers at some home centers or online.
Choosing Deck Materials
In addition to selecting the color of deck boards, you’ll also have to decide on the color of the fascia boards, railings, spindles, hardware, posts and caps. And those aren’t easy decisions, especially when all you have to go on is a brochure with tiny color swatches. Azek has a new, free app for the iPad that can help. Check it out at Azek.com or the App Store on iTunes. The app allows you to change the color and texture on several different stock deck scenes, and once you find the combination that suits you best, there’s a place to keep notes so you won’t forget and have to start all over.
Visualizers like this are super handy, but nothing beats a trip to the supplier to check out samples of the actual products. Feel the texture of the materials and if there’s a display, take off your shoes and walk around on it.
Photo provided by Azek
Best Way to Flash a Ledger Board
Deck ledger boards are a common source of water infiltration, and it can be years before you discover the damage caused by water finding its way behind the ledger and into your home. The process below may seem a little excessive, but the extra time spent following these steps may save you thousands of dollars in repairs.
- Install house wrap on the wall several inches higher than where the top of the ledger board will be.
- Install Z-flashing approved for pressure-treated lumber where the bottom of the ledger will be.
- Cover the top of the Z-flashing with house wrap tape.
- Fasten the ledger board over the Z-flashing.
- Install flashing approved for pressure-treated lumber on top of the ledger.
- Cover the top of the flashing with window/door flashing tape.
- Install house wrap over the flashing.
- Fasten the house wrap to the wall with house wrap tape.
- Install the siding.
Just a few years ago, most manufactured decking was “composite,” typically a combination of wood fibers and polymers. Composite was a big improvement over wood, but today most manufacturers offer something even better: “capped” or “shelled” decking. The core of capped decking is similar to composite or made from cellular PVC, but that core is covered with a layer of denser, tougher polymer. That means better resistance to scratches, stains and fading. Brands include Fiberon, Azek.com, TimberTech.com and Trex.com. Paying more usually gets you a thicker or tougher cap, plus deeper texturing and blended coloring for a more natural look. The decking shown, Trex Transcend, is made from 95 percent recycled material and includes a 25-year fade and stain warranty.
When to Use Structural Screws
Structural screws work great for hanging a ledger board and fastening thick framing members. The main advantage of structural screws over traditional lag screws is that they don’t need a pilot hole, which cuts the installation time in half! The Strong-Drive TIMBER Screws shown here have a low-profile head and are driven in with a large Torx bit. An 18-volt impact driver or 1/2-in. drill should be enough to get the job done.
Hide Ugly Deck Board Ends
The ends of manufactured deck boards are ugly, and you don’t want to leave them exposed. There are a couple ways to hide them. The easiest solution is to raise the fascia board so the top is flush with the top of the decking (top). But keep in mind that most fascia/skirt boards are 11-1/4 in. wide, which means they aren’t wide enough to fully cover both the deck boards and a 2×12 joist.
Another way to hide the ends is to install a border/perimeter board around the outside edges of the deck (bottom). This method can really dress up your deck, especially if you choose an accent color for this board. The downside of a perimeter board is that it requires extra framing underneath.
Engineered Lumber for Outoor Use
Engineered lumber has been used inside buildings for years because it’s stronger and straighter than regular lumber. And now there are versions for outdoor use. It may not be cost effective to frame an entire deck with engineered lumber, but installing an engineered-lumber drop beam is a great way to reduce the number of posts and footings needed to support a deck. The one shown here is made by Weyerhaeuser.
Photo provided by Weyerhaeuser
Deck Board Fastening Options
Screwing through the face of the boards is by far the fastest, easiest and most structurally sound method of fastening deck boards. Modern deck screws have reverse threads to suck the decking down tight to the joists and specially designed heads to prevent mushrooming. Some face-screwing systems, like the Cortex system from FastenMaster, allow you to countersink the screws and fill the holes with plugs made out of the same material as the decking. Installing the plugs is time consuming, but the fastener locations are almost invisible.
Boards with grooves on the sides can be held down with hidden fasteners. Hidden fasteners are self-gapping and easy to install, and you can’t beat them if you want a nice, clean, fastener-free look. Each decking manufacturer has a recommended fastening system. Avoid the kind that require fastening from underneath. Also select a fastening system that doesn’t require removing half the deck in order to replace one damaged board in the middle.
Avoid Deck Rot with Flashing Tape
Pressure-treated lumber that stays wet will eventually rot. Flashing tape keeps water from getting trapped between doubled-up joists. If you’re resurfacing an existing deck frame, tape over any joists that have a lot of holes from the previous nails or screws. Buy black tape if you can find it; shiny silver and white tapes may be noticeable between the gaps in the decking. The tape shown will be covered by the perimeter deck board.
Blocking Keeps Decks Flat and Square
Manufactured decking isn’t as stiff as wood decking, so it allows joists to bow. And that leads to a wavy deck surface. To help keep joists flat, always attach blocking perpendicular to the joists. Also, install diagonal blocking to keep the entire frame from racking. Use narrower lumber (2×8 blocking on 2×10 joists) so the blocking looks less conspicuous from a distance. Once everything is secure, run a string on the top side of the joists and plane down the remaining high spots.
Maintenance-Free Deck Posts
One way to spruce up posts is to cover them with a maintenance-free material. AZEK makes a PVC Column Wrap that’s super easy to install. Simply glue together three sides, slide them over the post, glue and clamp the last side in place, and then never worry about painting or staining again. AZEK Column Wrap is available for 4×4, 6×6 and 8×8 posts. Order it at home centers and lumberyards that carry Azek products.
Maintenance-Free Deck Balusters
New metal balusters can give your existing wood deck a sleek, modern look. These two options are made by Deckorators. The Baroque Balusters are simply screwed to rails. The round Classic Balusters are held in place by hidden connectors that require no hole drilling. Deckorators balusters don’t need to be painted or stained, which is probably the most tedious deck maintenance task there is.
No-Dig Deck Footings
Some pros have given up constructing concrete deck footings. Instead, they’re using the Diamond Pier foundation system. To install a Diamond Pier footing, just drive in four pipes with a demo hammer. That eliminates a ton of digging and concrete work.
The standard deck model is the DP-50. Most home centers and lumberyards that carry this product will also have breaker hammers you could borrow or rent. Check out the videos at pinfoundations.com. The Diamond Pier system is relatively new, and you need to make sure it’s approved in your area.
Precision Deck Screw Sinker
When you’re screwing decking, this Smart-Bit Deck Screw Depth Setter is a great tool to make sure all the screws are set at a consistent depth. The type of bit can be changed to match the screws, and the depth of the screws can be adjusted. This tool also has a free-spinning collar with a rubber bumper to prevent marring.
Water-Shedding Composite Decking
DuxxBak decking is a unique composite decking that doesn’t allow water to pass between the deck boards, keeping the area under the deck dry. A dry space under the deck is a great place to continue your deck party during a rain shower, or to create some useful dry storage.
In order to channel the water away, the decking needs to run perpendicular to the house, so remember to install the framing joists parallel to the house. And make sure the substructure has enough slope to carry the water away.
Go to greenbaydecking.com to find more information on DuxxBak and locate a dealer.