Decking building is one of my areas of expertise, and over the years I have re-built and built from scratch thousands and thousands of square feet of decks. One common thread I see in most re-builds is premature failure due to poor material choices.
Some 15 plus years ago I rebuilt the painted pine deck on my own home with Ipe, pronounced “e-pay”. This is a fire resistant and durable tropical hardwood. Ipe has the ability to last 40 to 60 years as a decking material. One of my concerns was: What other materials can I use that will prolong the overall life of my deck?
Stainless Steel Hardware for the Ultimate in Deck Durability
When I was re-building my deck I was still working as an engineer in the Biotech / Pharmaceutical industry (I was not yet a full time carpentry and tile contractor), my experience there told the voice in my head…Stainless Steel was the answer. Stainless steel hardware is moderately easy to find. It is used for screws and bolts and can even be found for joist hangers and nails. Stainless hangers are often used in marine locations where addition protection from salty air is needed. Since I was doing this carpentry work in the Denver, Colorado area and a thousand miles from the ocean, I just went with Stainless screws and bolts.
Stainless will cost a bit more than galvanized in the bolt department and chances are your local home center does not stock much if any. Stainless deck screws are much easier to find and I got my screws and bolts from an online retailer. Expect to pay 2 to 3 times as much over basic “deck” screws. If your budget is tight you can use “premium” deck screws in lieu of stainless. Examples of these are the ones from “Deck Mate”. These come in a reddish, green, or yellow type color for different types of lumber. If you want to get some life out of your project do not use “gold” cabinet or “drywall” type screws. These will corrode and fail…it's not so much a question of if as when. Just about every decking job I’ve rebuilt over the last few years was built with “gold” cabinet screws, these are a minor step above nails, but not worthy for the long haul.
Lumber Choices for Deck Durability
Decks are built from two basic materials…framing and decking. In the decking arena Ipe is my first choice, as it is a nice looking natural material. There are dozens of other choices from softwoods like pine, cedar and redwood, to many other synthetic or composite materials. Many of the synthetics are still to new to see how they compare in overall longevity, but in most cases they should out perform basic softwoods.
Framing lumber should be pressure treated…period. I have seen many decks built from regular dimensioned lumber; they have rotted prematurely. Code requires lumber used near the ground to be pressure treated. Builders that use regular lumber for framing above the code limit are just taking a cheaper alternate route. Last summer I rebuilt a redwood deck that was built over steel framing members…that project was a minor pain, due to the use of the steel but in all fairness it will most likely outlive me.