Decking Options

When it comes to redoing a deck; homeowners have a ton of attractive options. Before deciding between the many different systems available in Canada, it is important to establish how you use your deck, what your climate is like, how much maintenance you are willing to do and what you plan to do with the space below your deck. We are going to explore some of the many options are available to you based on your current deck configuration.

When a deck is on ground level:

When your deck is on grade (ground level) and does not have dry storage beneath it, waterproofing your surface is not a necessity. In cases like these, you have a plethora of options. One of the most common styles of deck for low patios is the classic deck-board system which is available in the form of treated planks or composite planks. These can be installed over your deck frame (your joists and posts must also be pressure treated). The deck boards provide a comfortable, safe, and attractive finish that can be stained to suit the exterior design scheme of your home. The primary pitfall of the deck board system is that they do require regular re-staining or re-painting which is not ideal if you are not willing to invest some TLC into your deck. Failure to maintain your surface could result in rot, splintering, and a tired-looking surface. Like most systems, poor maintenance ends up costing the homeowner more in the long run – so make sure you’re ready to make a commitment if you decide to go this route.

If maintenance isn’t your thing, consider a composite-based deck board system of which there are many brands. They offer a wide variety of different colours and wood tones. Do they look natural? They’re not bad, but most discerning eyes will know plastic from wood. In addition to that ‘manufactured’ aesthetic, homeowners must also contest with heat. If your deck sees a lot of sun for a lot of days and if your summers are scorchers, keep the flip-flops close by because composite deck boards can get very hot in direct sunlight. All that being said, the planks require very little maintenance and can simply be pressure-washed to keep them looking fresh and new.

If your deck is on grade but exists in the form of a concrete slab, all you need to be concerned about is protecting that concrete surface from the elements, diverting water off the deck surface (there should be at least some slope on your pad) and choosing a slip-resistant finish that you like. In cases like these, you could go ahead with a urethane-based membrane-like Flexstone – which when paired with an epoxy primer/sealer – will provide a tough and flexible surface that will last decades with little maintenance. If urethane is being used; however, homeowners would be wise to ensure that some kind of sealer is applied to the concrete beforehand to prevent blistering (water from the ground/concrete will try to evaporate and a flexible surface will blister without an inflexible barrier).

The third option is perhaps the most attractive of them all; tile. Tiling your deck surface can create a stunning exterior aesthetic, but there are some important things to consider. First, unless your deck is covered, slip resistance is important. Going with a tumbled natural stone or slate is a good option, but keep in mind that slate is easy to chip and damage. Granite or marble are more expensive options but are incredibly durable and well suited to areas with a lot of weather fluctuation, the pitfalls, however, are that they are often very slippery when wet and are porous – so re-sealing it every few years or more (depending on your climate) is a must.

Finally, one of the less intuitive, but sensible options is porcelain – that’s right, they aren’t just for bathrooms. The reason porcelain is used for bathrooms is that they are clay-based and baked in a kiln, making them extremely durable and not porous. Therefore; porcelain tiles do not need re-sealing and can withstand extreme weather conditions. All that being said, polished porcelain tiles can be extremely slippery, so despite the low maintenance, they can be hazardous in rainy or snowy conditions.

While tile is undeniably attractive, it is also only as good as the grout being used. Ensure that you do not cut corners in this department or you’ll have tiles popping and grout chipping after as little as one season. Do your research and ask your contractor what he or she recommends before pulling the trigger.

One material that should be avoided for any exterior use (despite the array of attractive finish options) is epoxy. Epoxies are not designed to be exposed to UV light and will crack over time. They also require re-coating annually (typically). Although many companies offer great-looking exposed aggregate finishes that are slip-resistant and strong – the epoxy used to keep them together won’t last long, so you can expect chipping and cracking.

When a deck is above dry-storage or living-space:

When a deck is above grade, there are two categories we need to divide them into – above storage or living space or no storage or living space below. For a deck above grade with no storage or need for waterproofing below, you can get away with a deck-board system. Simply install your wood or composite deck-boards atop of your pressure-treated joists and voila! You have a deck with built-in drainage (between the boards) that looks great and should last a long time with regular maintenance (ie. Re-sealing wood boards).

Decks above grade with either living space or dry-storage below are a very different story. Waterproofing and surface durability/longevity becomes the primary concern of homeowners. Installing over a shed or just a storage nook will still require a waterproof membrane. Inexpensive urethanes and vinyl will work, but don’t expect a long life. Generally speaking, cheap products don’t last and often end up costing homeowners more in the long run; as they need to be replaced sooner than higher quality material. This also applies to the inherent thickness of products employed. For example, if your deck surface requires one or two rolled-on coats – it simply won’t last. Look for materials with a minimum thickness of 60mils (however, more is often better).

When it comes to installing decks over usable living space, the options become even narrower. In Canada, any deck over living space is rightfully considered a ‘flat roof’, and thus – requires CCMC (Canadian Construction Materials Center) approvals as a flat roof. There are only a handful of products that meet these requirements. 

  • Some 80mil vinyl membranes. Vinyl decking is very common because it has been around for a long time. The industry moved away from liquid-applied membranes in the 90’s due to faulty products and a slew of failures, so vinyl membranes became the de-facto waterproof membrane for decks. Although a good quality vinyl is fairly reliable, customers must be okay with visible seams, which also act as weak-spots that could open up as time goes on. Additionally, vinyl is glued to a plywood substrate, so the quality of the adhesive becomes a factor in how long the membrane will last. Vinyl is often supplied and installed at anywhere between $6.00 per square foot to $15 per square foot depending on your area, the brand, and the installer.
  • Torch-on membranes (2 Ply SBS) are asphalt-based rolls that are installed using torches that bond the seams and the base of the rolls to ensure adhesion to a plywood substrate. Although reliable and long-lasting, torch-on SBS can be expensive due to high insurance costs associated with flame-applied membranes. Furthermore, torch-on is not a pedestrian surface so it must be topped with either concrete pavers or deck boards which are also very expensive. What should also be considered is repairs. If a seam is improperly torched or the membrane is punctured somehow, repairs can be very difficult because of the aesthetic topping. A torch-on SBS system with pavers or deck-boards can cost customers upwards of $25 per square foot.
  • Flexstone Coatings, as of 2014, is the only liquid-applied membrane with CCMC approvals as a flat roof – a groundbreaking building-material that exceeds the durability, flexibility, and longevity of any other urethane. Flexstone is built upon the foundation of a thick water-catalyzed urethane base coat which is installed at 80 mils over plywood or concrete. Beyond the base-coat, the system is topped with a coloured urethane adhesive coat, one of four blends of acrylic paint chips, and finally a UV stable urethane clear coat – giving the system flexibility, UV stability, and a permanent bond to the substrate. Flexstone is designed as a traffic coating, so once it’s down; customers no longer need to worry about re-coating or spending time maintaining the surface. Flexstone is generally installed anywhere between $11 and $16 per square foot depending on area, finish, and the region it is installed in.

Any one of the above options is a good choice for a deck over a living space. It is important to take into consideration your budget, desired longevity, aesthetics, and the amount of maintenance each system requires. 

Building, restoring, refinishing or waterproofing a deck can be a daunting undertaking. It is important to do your research and use common sense when choosing the right materials or company to employ. While there are hundreds of different options available, make sure – if nothing else – to check for CCMC approvals and ask a professional for advice. Also, ensure that your needs are met by defining what type of deck you have (or are building) and what is happening under it, because your options vary dramatically depending on what lies beneath your surface. As a final reminder, cheap products give consumers a false sense of cost savings. Use only reputable products and reputable installers to ensure that you and your deck are covered for years to come.