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Outdoor Wood Decking
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

Judging by the growing number of elaborate wood decks in the area a new design concept is evolving in outdoor decking, one that could be described metaphorically as Designing the Backyard (W)hole.

?It?s like adding a room on the house without the tremendous cost of a total room,? said Butch Reed, owner and CEO of Reed Fence and Deck.

?It?s very much a plan,? said Southwest Fence and Deck owner, Jamie Turrentine. ?And that?s why they have landscape architects and people like that because when it is done, it gets to be a work of art, yet something that?s very functional and usable.?

?But a lot of people don?t go and get someone to really design and put together a really good plan for them. And they end up with things, whether in the near future or the long term, end up with things that cause them grief and have to be redone or reworked.?

?Plan it out if you know what you?re going to accomplish and what you?re looking for,? Turrentine said. ?Design a full plan?everything?where the sprinklers need to go?everything?so that in the long term, you?re not double spending that money.?

?Everybody, if they know what they want to do with their yard and they have to do it in stages for economic reasons, they should still do an overall plan but do it in phases, meaning know what elevation the pool is going to be and put it in later. People have to plan and trust the person they?re working with instead of piece-meal it and have each individual do their part. You need an overall plan so that everything will fit together properly.?

?Decking materials?when I say decking, I?m talking concrete, pavestone, wood, all of that combined,? Turrentine said. ?There?s a reason for all of them. And when I think of wood, I think of it for a couple of reasons. One is you?re building around trees. It is more elegant than anything else out there. You?re trying to create a different elevation. You have a tremendous slope that you?re tying to compensate for. Those are some of the reasons for doing wood when you?re doing decking because you are able to cantilever out and get some nice level area but still be 10 feet over the ground. You?re able to plant around trees so as not to disturb the watering and root system of the trees where as concrete and harder structures have a tendency to do that. There are so many reasons. Wood decks are absolutely spectacular. It is my favorite form of decking because I really like the elegance of it and the comfort. When you?re sitting on a wood deck, there is nothing more comforting and relaxing.?

?When you find older areas of town that have existing roots of trees that cannot be disturbed and that the elevation of the soil around those trees has to be maintained, wood decking is the perfect answer because it allows the trees to breath and the water to get to the roots? Turrentine said. ?And if a person takes time and sets the posts properly, they won?t disturb the roots at all. Wood decking allows you to get closer to the trees, surround them and bring them into your living room?that is a feature of wood.?

?If there is a great elevation change, then wood makes the perfect material to make those changes in elevation or to compensate for them,? Turrentine said. ?As the ground is falling off, with wood, you can build level without building great retainer walls and back filling and all that.?

Designing the deck also includes the running direction of the boards.

?It?s funny how people?s eyes will (follow) the line. And if you want to direct somebody?s attention to something, all you?ve got to do is run that board towards that (item). It?s like putting an arrow. People will walk out on a deck, especially if it?s their first time, and they?ll really look around. But you?ll catch them looking the line of the board. So, it?s very, very important that you know what you?re trying to accentuate and develop overall.? Pots and furniture, the benches and framing make the decking beautiful, but the trees that the deck encompasses all come into play.

Style also considers the species of the wood?Brazilian hardwood, redwood, cedar, or composites. Treated pine is not recommended because the wood cracks and splinters and doesn?t age well and because of the arsenic content in the treatment formula. Arsenic treated pine is being phased out of the market, according to Tommy Hollis, owner of Lone Star Decks. It will be gone by 2004 and replaced by a non-arsenic treated pine.

Treated pine does play an important role in deck building by providing the support substructure, according to all the decking companies contacted, Reed Fence and Decks, Lone Star Decks, and Southwest Fence and Deck.

?It has the longevity,? Turrentine said. ?And if it cups or bows or moves just a little bit, you?ll never know. It?s forgiving to mother nature. And in this area, we have to be forgiving because of the fluidity of the soil.? Normally, the treated pine substructure is covered by other decking material and does not come in contact with people.

Wood as decking material runs in spurts of popularity, according to Turrentine. For, Reed Fence and Deck and Lone Star Decks, the demand for wood is currently down, in comparison to other decking materials. But for people who choose to build wood decks, they are going for the more elaborate designs. And they are putting wood deck on the front of the house in an old fashioned porch, according to Hollis. As a front porch, decking takes on the characteristics of the porch and has railing, column or post, and sometimes a swing.

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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