Buyers’ Guide to decking Choose decking for style and longevity. Here’s what’s good, in wood
Choose decking for style and longevity. Geoff Hodge looks at what’s good in wood – and the newer composites
Wooden garden decking reached its height of popularity in the mid-1990s, but then fell out of favour, as owners complained about its slipperiness in winter and the need for annual maintenance. Yet with the renewed interest in indoor-outdoor living and natural materials, it seems decking is fully back on trend – with more options than ever before. Beautiful, good quality decking adds a luxurious touch to the garden. It’s brilliant for making roof terraces and balcony flooring too, providing the perfect surface for all manner of outdoor socialising, entertaining, relaxing and even sunbathing. It’s also easy to adapt to suit a tricky slope or awkward shape. You can split the levels and include steps for further interest, create walkways around hot tubs and swimming pools (as long as you use low-slip boards), or use it to make boardwalk paths through the garden to create a seaside or grassland look and feel. There’s now a wealth of decking materials available, from traditional softwoods to harder-wearing hardwoods and the more environmentally-friendly composite decking boards, which are made from recycled materials and last longer. These are perfect for making larger areas, while decking tiles are ideal for smaller corners, as temporary flooring or even for adding inset details to a boarded deck.
For a more creative result, you can stain or paint your deck in a huge variety of colours, introduce a curved edge to create a softer finish, or lay the boards in horizontal, diagonal and herringbone patterns. When measuring up, make sure you’ve calculated the area accurately. If you don’t buy the right quantity of boards at the outset, you can find that matching them for colour, style and design is tricky. Once you’ve worked out how many square metres you need, add an extra 15% to allow for cutting and wastage during installation.
Softwood and hardwood decking boards both require regular maintenance to prevent rotting and can splinter and become worn. With softwoods, look for pressure-treated boards because these will last longer; guarantees can range from 10-15 years. (Pressure-treating involves forcing a wood preservative into the board to give added protection against rot.) If you want something more-or-less maintenance free that can last even longer, composite decking is your best bet; some have guarantees lasting up to 30 years. Hardwoods are generally long lasting, with a better quality look and feel, but have a price tag to match. GA’s design guru Dawn Isaac is a fan of close-grained, tropical hardwood decking, such as ipe and iroko. “They last well, you can treat them to keep them rich brown or just go lowmaintenance and let them silver down.” They resist warping, splitting and rotting. Softwoods need more regular maintenance, unless you look for slowgrown wood, which can usually be identified by dense growth rings. This means the boards will be strong, stable and less likely to twist and warp. Kiln-dried softwood has lower moisture content, further reducing the likelihood of shrinking, twisting and warping. Kiln-dried wood will absorb more wood preservative when pressure treated. Composite decking is made from a mix of wood (or bamboo) and plastic; both materials are often from recycled sources. This mix is extruded to form either a hollow or a solid-core decking board that’s durable. Composite boards won’t rot, split, distort, splinter or warp. They won’t fade in strong sunlight, never need sanding, staining or oiling and are easy to maintain – just wipe clean with warm, soapy water! It can be given a natural wood-grain pattern and colour to resemble natural timber. Hollow-core composite boards (pictured left) are lightweight, making them easier to work with and less expensive than solid-core boards. The latter provide greater strength and better sound absorption once laid.
Forest Ridged Deck Tile £6.49 Pressure-treated softwood; ridged surface; 50cm long x 50cm wide, 3cm thick; 15-year guarantee
STEPS WITH STYLE These low-maintenance hollow composite boards come in three colours. £10.43 per 2.2m long board, Cladco Profiles