After spending the past few months at home in lockdown, a lot of people have realised a hard truth: their outdoor space could use some love.
When done right, decks, screens, garden beds and patios can expand a living space outdoors and bring the outside in.
Whether you want to repair a tired looking deck, create an open-air sanctuary, or add value to your property – the following should be considered when looking at enhancing your outdoor space with a deck.
When it comes to building a deck, the most frequently asked question, these days, is whether to use timber or composite decking materials.
A few years back, most decks were built from Merbau and other hardwoods, through to pine products. These days, more and more customers are asking about composite materials for decks. Why? There are many reasons, including low maintenance, ease of installation and composites just last longer.
The frame / substructure and labour required to install a composite deck is the same as a timber deck. While there is an initial increase in upfront costs with Wood Plastic Composite (WPC), however, as there is no painting/coating ( up to 3 coats), installation time is less, and minimal ongoing maintenance costs, these make WPC far more economical.
WPCs are made from HDPE / PVC and wood fibres, that can be extruded into decking boards, solid or hollow square section screening, sleepers, cladding and fencing systems. WPCs will never rot, require almost zero maintenance and will last practically as long as your house. Plus, WPCs cut cleanly and don’t splinter!
But which option is the most eco-friendly is debatable. If the deck is never replaced, composites are generally considered the most environmentally friendly. Wood can be sustainably harvested but it needs to be replaced every couple of decades. Composite manufacturers typically use recycled plastic and wood fibres, so it’s easier on the environment than manufacturers who make PVC boards.
Doing it yourself
If you’re thinking of building a deck on your own, the good news is that it’s not rocket science. If you feel comfortable around power tools and have a basic knowledge of construction terms and techniques, a deck can be a straightforward project.
A big reason: The construction requirements (size of boards, spacing, depths of footings, etc.) are fairly standard and you can use existing span tables to plan your project. As long as you’re following your city’s code requirements, the building part isn’t terribly complicated.
Council approval process
Before you add a deck to your house, you’ll need to check if planning approval from the Council is required. To begin, find out the key facts about your property, including zoning, overlays, lot size and if your property is included in a neighbourhood plan. In Brisbane, a PD Online property enquiry can help you determine if your proposal requires Council approval. You can also phone 07 3403 8888 to speak to a town planner.
Building approval is separate from planning approval. Licensed private building certifiers or building consultants can provide advice regarding:
- building work for an existing dwelling house, or a new dwelling house, including any demolition works
- required building approvals.
You can find private building certifiers and building consultants using the Queensland Building and Construction Commission’s Find a local contractor search.
Hiring a builder
It’s a good idea to be honest with yourself about your circumstances. If you’re time poor or lack the skills to build a deck, it’s best to get a few bids from qualified builders. This is especially true if you have a tricky site or want to build or repair a large structure. Bad things can happen if you build a deck wrong, so vetting a good builder is crucial. Navigating the permit process can also be complicated, so it’s usually worth hiring someone to get your plans approved.
If you expect to invest in another home building project down the road, a deck can be a good way to test-drive a builder. Deck builds usually take a week or two, and they’re fairly self-contained, so it’s a low-risk way to see if you like their work and if they bill fairly.
Annual Deck Inspections
As an example, Brisbane Council’s annual ‘Check your deck’ campaign reminds residents to have the structural integrity of timber decks, balconies, balustrades, stairs and handrails checked.
If you have a timber deck or balcony, Council encourages you to arrange a professional structural safety check. It is important to get your deck checked by a licensed building professional. You should not attempt to check your own deck as a visual inspection will not highlight serious underlying structural problems.
Lack of maintenance is a primary cause of deck failure however, there are a number of other causes including:
- corrosion or rotting timbers
- water exposure or termite attacks
- too many people on decking areas
- poor construction techniques used in self-made decks, or not having regular professional checks.
Deck or balcony checks by a professional licensed builder or structural engineer should be low-cost, quick and easy. Refer to the following organisations to find a licensed building professional:
- Housing Industry Association
- Master Builders
- Australian Institute of Building Surveyors or Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)
- Engineers Australia
- Australian Institute of Architects (Queensland Chapter).
Details for local services are also available in the Yellow Pages.
If you have any questions about deck safety checks, or would like further information, phone your local council.