Farewell To Wood

from Garden, Deck & Landscape
While wood decks are traditional, new materials can make building and maintaining an outdoor living area easier.

The redwood deck that Judi and Dan Van Elderen attached to their newly built house in 1986 served them well at the outset. Over the years, though, three children became six, and the demands of entertaining surpassed the deck’s capacity. Meanwhile, the elements took their toll, and the natural rot resistance of the redwood was finally overwhelmed. The wood fell victim to the deck’s location (north side of the house under the shade of trees); the cool, wet Northern California winters; and built-in planters filled with damp soil. When the rot could no longer be ignored, the Van Elderens saw an opportunity to start fresh with a deck that would meet their current needs and their approach to outdoor living.

A Focus on Entertainment
“We have a large family and a large extended family. When we have parties, it’s not five or six. Often, it’s 20 or 30 or 40,” Judi says. “When we had large groups on the old deck, it always seemed like a bottleneck.” Working in collaboration with builder Keith Neumann, owner of KN Construction in San Jose, California, the Van Elderens began by extending the deck in the direction of a recently departed oak tree, increasing the deck area by about 20 percent.

To make the most of the space, Neumann suggested that the hot tub be pushed to one side and that built-in planters be left out of the new design. (“Those planters ate up a lot of space,” he says.) He also proposed building benches that, rather than being fastened to the deck, could be moved. Judi is thrilled with the newfound flexibility. “The deck is really very basic,” she says. “There is nothing but the deck, and everything but the hot tub can be moved around depending on the kind of event we're having.

A Demand for Less Maintenance
The Van Elderens could have extended the life of the old deck if they had paid more attention to maintaining it, but that wasn’t among their priorities. “When you have only so much time and energy and you have six kids, dealing with the deck is one of those things that never gets off the bottom of the list,” Judi says.

Faced with the prospect of watching a second deck succumb to rot, the Van Elderens asked Neumann to build their home’s new deck with Trex decking, a brand of composite decking they had used for the deck of their vacation home.

Composite decking is noted for decades-long durability, and it does not require stains or sealants to protect it from sunlight and moisture. That is not to say that composites are maintenance-free. They must be washed down periodically to remove dirt and debris, and composites are subject to staining. But for the Van Elderens, occasional cleaning is preferable to refinishing. “Dan likes to wash the deck,” Judi says. “He doesn’t like to sand and stain it.”

A Desire for Harmony
In addition to more entertaining space and less maintenance time, the Van Elderens wanted the new deck to blend with the house and existing landscape. The selection of Trex decking proved fortuitous in that regard. First, one of the standard Trex colors matched the siding of the house almost exactly, eliminating the need for painting or staining. Second, the plastic in Trex decking allows it to be bent to make curves. Neumann observed that the retaining wall next to the pool below the house had a gentle curve, so he suggested that the deck above and one of the benches be given a similar arc. And when Judi understood that she wasn’t limited to hard angles, she hit on the idea of repeating the curve in the staircase that connects the small upper deck off the house with the main deck below.

For the deck railing, Neumann proposed the use of metal balusters to pick up on the wrought-iron railings used elsewhere around the house. But in place of wrought iron, which would rust, he suggested aluminum balusters. “They won’t rust, and they’re powder-coated, so they won’t peel or flake,” Neumann says. They are durable, and — music to the Van Elderens’ ears — they shouldn’t require maintenance.

The final means of integrating deck and landscape was inspired, again, by the retaining wall beside the pool. The concrete wall is dressed up with a covering of manufactured stone veneer that looks like real river stone. Neumann brought the same look to the skirting of the deck, where lattice is traditionally used, reinforcing the impression that the deck was built along with the house, not installed years later.

The Van Elderens’ new deck is large enough to accommodate lots of people; it fits perfectly in their landscape; and it doesn’t require large outlays of time, energy, or money to keep it looking neat and inviting. “One of the best things is to see people enjoying a fun place and having a good time together,” Judi says. “We don’t want to be fussing over things or worrying that a toddler is going to drop his hot dog on the deck. We want to enjoy life.”

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