Building your own deck is a difficult, time-consuming job. If you're ready to install your decking, congratulations. The hard part is over. Installing decking is much more forgiving than planning and building the deck support structure. There are, however, a few tips to keep in mind before you start your project. Following these guidelines will help your decking last longer, as it should after all your hard work.
Choosing the Wood
Selecting the right wood will ensure that your deck will last longer and stand up to the elements better. It might even make the decking easier to install. Pressure-treated lumber can hold more weight and span longer distances than other popular decking wood, such as cedar or redwood. If you are using pressure-treated lumber, select pieces that don't have a lot of heartwood, which is wood from the center of the tree, because it does not absorb the pressure treatment as well. Also, buy wood that has already dried. This will ensure that your wood is lighter and does not shrink and create gaps between the planks after you install it. Some people don't like the look of pressure-treated wood. If you would rather use a natural wood, nationally syndicated newspaper columnist Tim Carter also recommends vertical grain Douglas fir with a tongue-and-groove profile, which allows the planks to interlock the same as those in hardwood floors. Interlocking pieces will make your deck stronger and will also make it easier to nail the planks together, he says.
Treating the Wood
If you are not using pressure-treated lumber, you will have to treat the wood to withstand weather, fungus and insects. Carter recommends cutting each plank to the length you want it and then soaking it in a hot water and borate powder mixture for two minutes. Let the wood dry for two weeks before you use it. After it's dried, paint the wood on all sides before you install it. This will help protect your deck from water.
You will also need to put some thought into the tools you will use to install your wood decking. Carter recommends using double-dipped hot galvanized finish nails, which resist rusting. Stainless-steel spiral or ridge shank nails will give you a stronger hold. If you opt for deck screws, Mike French of Virginia Decking and Remodeling suggests using ceramic-coated screws instead of galvanized, because they won't rust and the heads don't strip out. You might also consider installing a vapor barrier on the soil under the porch to slow the vaporization for water that will rise and, over time, wear out your deck.
Lay your planks perpendicular to the house, or at least on a diagonal. While this might seem counter-intuitive, it's an important step in building a deck that is as water-resistant as possible. This way, water will be naturally conducted through the seams in the wood and off the overhang, and not on your house. Finally, you want to install the planks with the best side up, not the bark side, and don't leave gaps between the boards unless they are kiln-dried. Pressure-treated lumber will shrink over time, so gaps will naturally appear between the planks as they age. Kiln-dried wood won't shrink, so you will need to leave about a 1/8-inch gap between the boards to allow water to run between the boards.
Nailing It Down
If you run a strip of wood adhesive down the top of each joist before nailing the deck boards, you will have fewer problems with nails popping, according to Mike French of Virginia Decking and Remodeling. Predrilling the ends of the deck boards before nailing can help prevent splitting at the ends. Attach the planks to the joists with at least two nails or deck screws. Line up one end of your boards and let the other ends run over the edge of the deck as you build. When you have finished installing the last board, mark a chalk line on the boards that is flush with the outside of the joists and trim the boards with a circular saw.
- Photo Credit lumber image by Albert Lozano from Fotolia.com
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