Decking outside adds life to home

There are a variety of deck materials available for your home add-on.
If you are one of the millions of homeowners deciding what to do next to enhance your home, experts agree it may be time to look out the window and consider "decking out" the outdoors.
Adding a deck is considered one of the most functional, financially feasible and prettiest investments a homeowner can make these days, and choices of deck materials have increased.
"It is absolutely a growing trend that has grown in popularity the last few years," says A.J. Lomax, who owns Archadeck, a Berlin, Conn., franchise that specializes in custom decks, porches and sunrooms. "People are staying put in their homes because it has become too expensive to replace what they have. So they are adding on by going outside."
Paul Smith, who owns Deck Specialists in Manchester, Conn., says business began increasing about five years ago, when interest rates began to drop and people were re-mortgaging or taking home-equity loans to fix up their homes. That, combined with the post-9/11 desire to spend more time at home, fueled interest in making the best of one's home, inside and out.
"Families want to spend more time together, they want to be outside, and they want to do something to their home that is measurable in terms of adding space and making it look nicer," Smith said. "A deck fits all those criteria."
New materials
A new wave of synthetic and laminate materials has eliminated some of the drudgery once associated with decks. Homeowners are no longer limited to the high-maintenance, pressure-treated, raised pine rectangles that were the standard when decks began popping up years ago. Today's materials include exotic woods, plastic and vinyl, as well as new, safer, pressure-treated woods that no longer include the potentially toxic inorganic arsenic, used until just recently as part of the pressure-treatment process. New choices are stylish and convenient.
"It's all about the easy maintenance," no rotting floorboards, no staining, says Mark Gluhosky, branch manager of Kamco Supply Corp., a commercial and residential supplier with four stores in Connecticut. "Many of the new materials are made of recycled plastics, so they are environmentally friendly." And you don't get splinters.
Those conveniences come at a cost, though. A pressure-wood deck will cost an average of $22 to $25 a square foot. The synthetic deck products can cost an average of $35 and up per square foot.
"For us, it was worth it," says Jessica Martin, whose family recently added a 20-square-foot vinyl-and-plastic-blend stepped deck, manufactured to look like stained redwood, to their home. Martin says she can't wait to take full advantage of the new space.
"It will be a great place to entertain," she said. "And my husband loves the fact that the only thing he is going to be responsible for is power-washing it once a year. In fact, now he is talking about replacing the wood fence with the synthetic ones that are available now."
Some manufacturers of composite decking now offer dozens of colors as part of the spring line. Trex Decking, one of the first companies to offer the synthetic product, has "Brasilia," fashioned to look like rain forest hardwoods.
There are no repeated patterns in the floor or railing pieces, giving it a more natural look.
Composite decking pieces are usually screwed together or put together with special fasteners like the Tiger Claw, a deck fastener that is manufactured in Bristol, Conn.
"You need to have some carpentry skills to put up a deck, but using fasteners or screws rather than nails does make it a little easier," Gluhosky said.
Fans of real wood also have choices beyond the pressure-treated stuff.
"Real wood is still in demand, especially some of the tropical woods like teak and ironwood," Smith said.
Tropical ironwood, also known as ipe, is a dense, rot- and mold-resistant wood that is reddish brown but weathers to a silver patina.
"It is beautiful," says Smith, who admits it is pricey, at about $55 a square foot, but it will last for at least 25 years and has a natural beauty that cannot be replicated by a composite.
But whether the planks are real or artificial, a deck can offer a fun and financially sound way to extend your home.
"We are so excited about the deck because it will be something for the whole family," says Melinda Rose, who recently had a deck added to their East Hampton, Conn., home. "For entertaining, for grilling outdoors, just to be able to walk outside and enjoy the outdoors, it was all worth it."

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