25 Years of Innovation: Decks
As materials and construction methods evolve, designers are pushing the limits of form and function
Once little more than an architect's afterthought, decks today are the toast of many a backyard. The trend toward outdoor cooking has been the driving force. But decks are more than extensions of the kitchen. Good for entertaining guests, curling up with a book, or hanging out by the hot tub, they serve as a great room in the open air. And as deck materials and construction methods evolve, designers are pushing the limits of form and function further than ever before.
In the 1970s, you could have any deck material you wanted, as long as it was wood. Out West, redwood (shown above) and cedar dominated. In the East, pressure-treated pine was starting to edge out Douglas fir as the material of choice.
For all the lip service we pay the great outdoors, you'd think homeowners might have caught on to the potential in decks sooner. But 25 years ago most decks were still the postage-stamp variety—8-by-10-foot on-grade platforms tacked onto the rear of a house. Their functionality was scaled down, too. Families may have barbecued dinner on the deck, but chances are they still ate it inside.
Things started to change in the early 1980s, thanks to a handful of pioneering deck designers out West. "We started playing around with the rectilinear form, treating the deck not just as a strictly utilitarian space but rather as a legitimate architectural element," says Scott Padgett, a designer/builder based in Southern California whose decks have garnered national attention for two decades. By the mid-'80s homeowners were starting to think about decks as an extension of their interior living space.
Compared with the humble decks of yesteryear, you almost want to give today's versions a more distinguished name. They have truly achieved outdoor room status, as multifunctional as any space under the roof. In warmer regions, decks are even challenging kitchens as the family's primary gathering place.
That heightened visibility has spurred a rapid sophistication in design. Today's decks integrate naturally with the house and surrounding property. The more elaborate examples have multiple levels, innovative shapes, and natural elements like rocks, trees, even running water incorporated into the design. The simple barbecue is now a fully equipped outdoor kitchen, with cooktops, warming drawers, refrigerators—everything plus the kitchen sink. Decks are places to unwind, too, with amenities from hammocks to hot tubs. About the only thing people don't want to do on their decks is maintain them. The last decade has seen a boom in wood alternatives. All-plastic lumber came first, followed by composites, which mix plastic with wood fibers. Synthetics currently account for about 15 percent of the decking material sold in this country.
While the size of the average American property is shrinking (down by more than 1,100 square feet in the past decade), our appetite for outdoor living isn't. To compensate for reduced real estate, future decks will have to incorporate space-saving elements to remain multifunctional. Improved materials, meanwhile, will allow them to last longer and look better.
The News on Screws
As decking materials have evolved, so too have the fasteners that hold them together.
- 1970s: Steel hand-driven nails. Tended to pop up after one season, causing stubbed toes and, in extreme cases, failure of the deck itself.
- Late 1980s: Stainless steel deck screws. Resist rust and hold securely.
- Mid 1990s: Hidden fastening systems. Plastic ovals slip into slots in the decking and are screwed to the joists.
- 2002: Double-threaded screws. Prevent the mushrooming associated with composite decking.
- 2003: Super-strong fasteners with torque-resistant heads that won't strip like a normal screw. Suited for dense, hardwood decking.
Where to Find It
Padgett Design and Construction
California Redwood Association
Arch Wood Protection
Southern Forest Products Association
Eon, CPI Plastics Group, Ltd.
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
The Trex Company
Tauari Forest World Group
Santa Fe, NM
The News on Screws —
Swan Secure Products
EB-TY Hidden Deck Fastening Systems
Special thanks to: