Most new deck plans look pretty good on paper at first, but the real test of a deck is how well is lasts after it’s built. And the difference between a short-lived deck and one that keeps doing a good job for 25, 30 or even 50 years comes down to design details that aren’t obvious. And to be honest, most deck builders don’t understand these details because they have no vested interest in building the longest lasting deck possible. Why would they? What does it matter to them if your deck rots in 15 years or 50? Only the best builders care about such things.
The same goes for deck finishes. It’s easy to apply any old deck stain, but long finish life depends on much more than just sloshing on whatever stuff has the best label. You need to apply products with a proven track record based on independent testing, and this is why I spend so much time and effort discovering and gathering the best deck information possible. Here’s what you need to know in a nutshell:
How to Build Great, Regardless of Your Deck Plans
1. Build your deck so the internal framework dries quickly. Too many deck beams and posts and boards have large overlap areas that keeps wood wet for days after a rain. Spacers and design tricks that minimize wood-to-wood contact greatly increases rot resistance. Watch this video to see what I mean:
2. Don’t skimp on the foundation. While it’s easier to build a deck that just sits on the ground, a sub-surface foundation is so much more reliable. Why risk thousands of dollars of wood on a top-of-ground that might move and wreck your deck? Watch this video to see one foundation option I really like. It’s worth modifying your deck plans:
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3. Mill beautiful details. A router is a hand-held woodworking tool that shapes wood and makes it more fancy. And a little bit of router work goes a long way to make an ordinary deck look exceptional. The difference really is stunning, and it takes only a little extra time.
4. Consider composite deck materials. Although wood is still required for structural deck beams and posts and joists, many people are very happy with composite or plastic materials for deck surfaces. Freedom from finishing maintenance is the reason why. Composite materials cost more, but they save you the cost of finishing materials and refinishing labor.
5. Be informed about deck stains. If you do use wood for your deck surface, understand that film-forming finishes look terrific but pose the greatest refinishing challenges. Soak-in stains are easier to maintain, but don’t look as refined. There are also one-time deck finishing products that look much better than ordinary weathering, without much extra work.
Need more help with your deck plans? Check out my book, Love Your Deck. It’s the world’s most detailed digital course on building a durable deck and applying a finish that lasts. 66 pages, 11 videos and lots of illustrations and photos. Whether you’re hiring a deck contractor or building a deck yourself, this shows you how to do things right.