Choosing the right decking material can be the difference between enjoying your outdoor space and spending all your spare time maintaining it. Caroline Birdsall from Millboard gives some practical advice on picking a long-lasting decking area for your property
One of the frequent concerns that homeowners have before installing a decking area is how much regular maintenance it will require. The honest answer is that nothing is truly maintenance free, but the degree of maintenance depends greatly on what you choose to install. Before embarking on your decking project, it’s sensible to get a good grasp of what is required to keep the material you are considering looking good over the long term, so that you can make an informed decision about what’s best for your particular set of circumstances.
Whatever decking material is used, it is always a good idea to observe a few rules and preventative measures all year round, rather than just once a year. These include using a stiff outdoor broom to remove debris from the surface. Algae will grow on surfaces where there is light, moisture and nutrition, so it’s best to avoid any build up in the first place. Like any surface, quickly remove anything likely to stain, such as cooking fat, berries or animal droppings. Also be aware that decking placed underneath trees may result in sap on the boards which is difficult to remove, as well as frequent bird droppings! Another suggestion is to cushion the feet of outdoor furniture, which can help prevent scratches. If having a firepit/chiminea/brazier on the decking area, use a scorch proof material under any hot equipment to prevent damage to the boards.
Timber is often the first material considered for decking projects and no one can argue with the aesthetics of quality timber decking. Be aware though that timber decking will fade, split and warp over time if left untreated – it is important to understand this from the outset as regular cleaning, sanding and oiling is not everyone’s cup of tea. If you are choosing wood, check how to maintain the specific type you have in mind – for instance, oil can’t be used on certain hardwood decking such as teak or balau wood. This is because it is already naturally oily and has a very dense grain that can be hard to penetrate.
If you are shying away from the idea of regular oiling and staining, a good quality composite decking could be the answer. Composite decking can look remarkably like timber, but is more capable of withstanding the elements. It has become increasingly popular with homeowners who value its durability, ease of maintenance and slip-resistant qualities.
As is generally the case, you pay for quality, so composite decking that genuinely looks like wood is more expensive than some of the cheaper alternatives. For instance, while many boards are created by extrusion – meaning each one looks exactly the same – some manufacturers offer boards hand-moulded from carefully selected pieces of oak, and each board is hand-coloured in realistic tonal shades to give a natural timber appearance. The end result is remarkably authentic. Composite decking generally only requires occasional cleaning – around twice a year – and just with soapy water, so it could be the solution if you have concerns about warping and fading, or if you don’t fancy doing regular sanding and oiling.
CHOICE & FLEXIBILITY
A further advantage of composite decking is that some manufacturers offer a range of colours and finishes, so if you have a particular design or aesthetic in mind, this is easy to achieve. When sourcing composite decking, look for a manufacturer that also supplies edging and fascia – this enables greater design flexibility, and the easy incorporation of finishing touches such as built-in planters, seating and under-lip lighting for a truly professional finish.
CHOOSE THE CORRECT SUBFRAME
When you are investing time and money into a project, it is important that the result lasts. The subframe of any decking structure is a crucial part of this. Timber is easy to work with and is a naturally strong product with a high strength-to-weight ratio. When correctly specified and installed, timber subframes can have a long service life but, all too often, a poor choice of materials and/or shortcuts in installation can create problems that are difficult or even impossible to sort out later.
In particular, ever-present moisture and lack of ventilation can wreak havoc with timber subframes. All-weather subframes such as Duospan, which combines the strength of aluminium with the flexibility of plastic, can be used in contact with the ground and even in water. This means the subframe is not susceptible to rot and can be installed without the need for airflow ventilation gaps. So, if your outdoor space is prone to waterlogging, or you want to avoid any concerns about your subframe slowly rotting away beneath your decking, alternatives to timber might well be the way forward.
A LONG-TERM INVESTMENT
Given its durability and ability to withstand the elements, authentic-looking composite materials can be an excellent investment over the lifetime of your decking when compared to timber. Just as a good proportion of any kitchen budget would go towards beautiful flooring that can withstand the rigours of time, your decking should be something capable of delivering enjoyment for many years to come. If you are considering a durable, less maintenance-heavy alternative, it is definitely worth taking a look at composite decking.
Caroline Birdsall is director of marketing at Millboard