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Todays decks are outdoor living spaces

Once upon a time, the backyard deck served up predictable and pleasant fare: a 12x12 square decorated, perhaps, with patio lanterns, folding lawn chairs and a barbecue smoking in the background. There wasn’t a thing wrong with those pleasant, but humble decks, but thank goodness for progress! Today’s decks are true outdoor living spaces, designed to make the most out of warm weather months and offer homeowners a backyard getaway.

Professional Builder reports that outdoor living is one of the fastest-growing segments in residential construction, with homeowners seeking more sophisticated spaces and filling them with outdoor appliances and electronics, fire features and comfortable, beautiful furniture.

“I think people are realizing their home is the best investment they can make,” says Jim Cadman, owner of upscale outdoor furniture company Jordan Cast & Wicker. “To some extent, people are rethinking cottages. Maybe they don’t want to make that three-hour trek. And they are investing that vacation property money into their own backyards. They do the deck, the landscaping, the water features. People are definitely trying to create an outdoor oasis at home.”

CHOOSING MATERIALS

A backyard oasis starts, of course, with the deck space itself. There’s a multitude of products to choose from (see sidebar), including traditional cedars, tropical hardwoods, pressure-treated lumber and modern composites.

The choice of materials is personal and probably depends on your budget, how much upkeep you’re willing to do, and the lifespan you expect. Natural wood products are cheaper than modern composites, but require more upkeep and have a shorter lifespan. Modern composites are more expensive, but they tend to live and look better for a longer period and require less upkeep.

Nico Poulos of Weston Premium Woods is the Canadian distributor of Thermory thermo-treated wood, a product that is treated to be impervious to rot or decay and is can be installed with almost no wastage. He says his product contains hidden savings for both the customer and the environment.

“This lays down like flooring. The end pieces match and lock together, so you don’t have to always land the join on a joist. What that means is there’s almost no waste. We have a customer that did a 1,500-square-foot deck. He could fit the leftovers and waste in one small shopping bag.”

Low waste and easy installation make for a hidden cost saving buyers might not notice when comparing sticker prices. Bottom line: read all the fine print before you choose a product.

When it comes to trends in deck design, let your imagination be your guide. Poulos says ramping up a deck into a full outdoor room with framed walls is popular. Big decks are in, Split-levels are trendy, and curved faces are also in style. Additionally, it’s a must to have the deck wired for sound and even video.

GETTING WIRED

“The vast majority of what we do in terms of outdoor entertainment is based on audio,” says Ryan Peddle of Lipton’s Audio Video in Newmarket. “This means installing outdoor, all-weather speakers. Different companies make different shapes and sizes and they’re wired into the house.”

Lipton says Sonos is his most popular family of products, starting with the Sonos Connect: “The best way to describe it is distributed audio with wireless controls. It’s a networking product so it can read music stored on your iPod, for example.”

Outdoor video is popular, too, with companies like Sun Brite making TVs that can stay outdoors all winter long. “They have their own little eco-system with built in cooling and heating,” says Lipton. All you need is electrical wiring, cabling and a wall mount.

Tips: Lipton says wireless does not include speakers. Speakers need a lot of power; they can’t run on batteries and they must be hard-wired into the house. As Lipton puts it: “Wiring is critical. Everything else is easy.”

FIRE IT UP

“A lot of clients are looking for a fire feature for the deck for heating as well as a gathering place,” says Josh Malcolm of Classic Fireplace. “It creates a focal point. And it also gives you a light – a really beautiful and functional light.”

Malcolm says customers are interested in everything from moveable gas fire pits to stylish linear fire tables to full outdoor fireplaces. Some larger features require installation, while others –like a gas or propane fire pit – just need to be turned on.

Tips: Be aware of the clearances required for the fixture. Don’t put these features in tight spaces or underneath awnings, and read the instructions carefully.

GET COMFY

When it comes to furniture, comfort is king.

“The biggest staple most people are looking for is the outdoor sectional in resin wicker,” says Jim Cadman, owner of upscale outdoor furniture company Jordan Cast & Wicker. “The resin wicker is popular because it’s more design based. It gives you that feeling of luxury and comfort and great design, with the traditional-looking rolled arm. And it’s durable. You can leave it outside all year long.”

Cadman says a cast aluminum extension table with butterfly leaves that easily expands from a six-seater to a 10- or 12-seater is also hot: “People are familiar with this design in teak. It’s great to have an outdoor option.”

ROLL IN STONE

Mike Stachowiak, owner of London Ontario’s EcoCreations, sells unique, whisper-thin designer stone panels which can be used outdoors.

“The onyxs are translucent so they can be lit up and you can use them as an insert, a privacy screen or an accent feature on an outdoor bar,” says Stachowiak. “We also have a very thin veneer slate which we’ve used to wrap outdoor posts in a gazebo.”

Stachowiak says the stone veneers give you that elegance and wow factor that you might not otherwise see on a deck. “We’ve done some very unique installs, onyx lighting around an outdoor TV and outdoor shower features,” he says. “It’s only limited by your imagination.”

LET’S TALK DECKS

Thermory: Thermo-treated wood

Thermory brings the interior design feel to the outdoors with thermally treated North American hardwood which is modified to take out all the moisture and make it impervious to decay. It looks like real wood because it is real wood, and is end-joined for easy installation and minimal waste.

Fiberon: Composite decking

This natural looking, hard-wearing composite with beautiful graining and streaking comes in a variety of specifications and multiple price points as well as a wide colour palette.

Trex: Composite decking

The company that invented wood-alternative composite decking uses 95 per cent recycled materials to create a variety of composite products. These products have deep, natural looking grain wrapped in a protective shell and are available in a variety of colours.

Latitudes: Composite decking

Easy to install, this strong, functional composite employs “Strandex” technology; each strand of wood fibre is encased in high-density polyethylene, resulting in a weather- and decay-resistant product. Some products are wrapped with the same durable technology used on golf balls to ensure performance and longevity.