Guide to Modern Deck Building

A lot of advancements have been made in the world of deck construction. Here's what's new and improved in deck construction.

Man screwing down into deckboards
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What's new in decking?

There are tons of new decking products on the market, and building methods continue to evolve and improve. To keep up with the changes, we traveled to builders’ shows and deck expos to meet with tool and product manufacturers and get advice from top-notch deck builders. Here are some of the best tips and products we put together to make sure that you are up-to-date on all the latest and greatest.

a spacer placed between deck boards
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Smart spacing

These yellow deck board spacers can be used to space boards either 1/8 in. or 3/16 in. apart. Our experts like large spacers like these 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 the Johnson DeckMate spacers at some home centers or online for about $5 each.

Looking at a decison making program
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Decision tool

Besides picking the color of the decking, you’ll 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 free app for the iPad that can help.  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. Check it out at azek.com or through the App Store on iTunes.

Visualizers like this are super handy, but our experts still recommend a hands-on experience before you make your final decision. Go to the supplier and check out a sample of the actual product. Pick it up and feel the texture. If there’s a display, take off your shoes and walk around on it.

Flashing on top of a ledger board
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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. Of course make sure the local building official approves.

  1. Install house wrap on the wall several inches higher than where the top of the ledger board will be.
  2. Install a Z-flashing approved for pressure-treated lumber where the bottom of the ledger will be.
  3. Cover the top of the Z-flashing with house wrap tape.
  4. Fasten the ledger board over the Z-flashing.
  5. Install flashing approved for pressure-treated lumber on top of the ledger.
  6. Cover the top of the flashing with window/door flashing tape.
  7. Install house wrap over the flashing.
  8. Fasten the house wrap to the wall with house wrap tape.
  9. Install the siding…finally!

decking composite side view
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Tougher decking

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 AZEK, TimberTech and Trex. It costs about $5 to 10 per sq. ft. Paying more usually gets you a thicker or tougher cap, plus deeper texturing and blended coloring for a more natural look. The decking shown above, Trex Transcend, is made from 95 percent recycled material and includes a 25-year fade and stain warranty.

deck boards running into fascia
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Hide ugly 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 (Photo B). 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 2x12 joist.

Another way to hide the ends is to install a border/perimeter board around the outside edges of the deck (Photo A). 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.

Fastening options for attaching deck boards to framing
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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, but our experts avoid the kind that require fastening from underneath. They also prefer fasteners that don’t require removing half the deck in order to replace one damaged board in the middle.

long spanning board supported by a few posts
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Longer spans, fewer posts

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.

putting down flashing tape
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Avoid 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. A 4-in. x 50-ft. roll of flashing tape costs about $15 at home centers.

blocking on the underside of the deck
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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, our experts always attach blocking perpendicular to the joists. They also install diagonal blocking to keep the entire frame from racking. Use narrower lumber (2x8 blocking on 2x10 joists) so the blocking looks less conspicuous from a distance. Once everything is secure, our experts run a string on the top side of the joists and plane down the remaining high spots.

No-dig footings
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No-Dig Footings

Our experts gave up concrete deck footings a couple years ago. Instead, they’ve been 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 and costs about $125. 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.

Water-shedding deck
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Water-shedding deck

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. Click here to find more information on DuxxBak and to locate a dealer. Expect to pay about $9 to $10 per sq. ft.

Screw Sinker
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Perfect 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. It also has a free-spinning collar with a rubber bumper to prevent marring. You can get one at decksdirect.com for less than $20.

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