Category Archives: Decking Installation

Ground-Level Deck

8 Things to Consider when Planning a Ground-Level Deck

Ground-level decks are a popular option when designing backyard landscapes. But if you don’t take certain precautions, your dream outdoor living space can quickly become a maintenance nightmare. To ensure you get the most out of your ground-level deck, here are several things to keep in mind during the planning stage.

1. Ground-Level Decks Lack Ventilation

The number-one reason ground-level decking projects fail is a lack of ventilation. We always recommend at least 18 inches of ground clearance to allow for good air flow, but ground-level decks, by definition, flout this rule. Therefore, we don’t usually recommend building a deck at ground level.

So what happens? The deck boards cup. Moisture on top of the boards can evaporate thanks to its exposure to open air, but moisture under the boards is trapped. Since wood shrinks as it dries out, the tops of the boards contract. At the same time, wet wood expands, so the bottoms swell out. These two opposed motions cause the boards to curl upward—better known in the decking world as cupping.

There’s very little you can do to improve air flow in a ground-level deck, but there are some steps you can take to minimize the negative effects of poor ventilation.

2. Use Strong Hardwoods

South American hardwoods, which include species like ipe and cumaru, are some of the strongest decking materials in the world. Their dense grain structures resist cupping better than softer woods like cedar or pine. They also contain natural oils that help them to resist moisture and the problems associated with it.

3. Use Thicker Boards

It’s easy to roll up a single sheet of paper, but try doing it with an entire ream! The thicker your material, the harder it is to bend—or in our case, the less likely it is to cup. So when choosing your decking material, thicker boards are better. 5/4x or even 2x boards may be more expensive, but the hassle they’ll save will be well worth the extra cost.

4. Use Narrower Boards

4 Inch Ipe Decking
4-inch deck boards are more stable than 6-inch boards

Similar to the above point, a narrow board is less likely to cup than a wide board. Going back to the paper analogy, it’s generally easier to fold a piece of paper perpendicular to its long axis than its short axis, and the same principle holds with wood. Also, because the board is narrower, any cupping that does occur will be less extreme, simply because there’s less material to expand and contract. So when planning your deck, choose 4-inch boards instead of the typical 6-inch boards.

5. Oil the Boards Before Installing

As stated earlier, all of our hardwood decking species contain natural oils that help them resist moisture-related problems. But you can further protect the wood by coating each board with a special oil-based finish prior to installation. We recommend Ipe Oil, since it was specially formulated to work with Brazilian hardwoods. Be sure to coat all four sides!

6. Use Wider Gap Spacing

For ipe decking, we typically recommend 3/32-inch gaps between boards, and a 1/4-inch gap for our other decking species. Slightly increasing this gap can improve the air flow, even if only by a little. It won’t have a huge impact, but every bit counts!

7. Oil Regularly After Installation

South American hardwoods are known for being low-maintenance, but with a ground-level deck, you’re going to have to do some work. Annual oil coatings, using the same stuff you used prior to installation, will maximize the stability of your deck boards.

8. Build a Ground-Level Deck with Deck Tiles

While the above tips will help, traditional ground-level decks never come with a guarantee. At the end of the day, you’re still fighting against wood’s natural tendencies when installing so close to the ground.

Ground-Level Deck Tiles
Deck tiles are designed to work well at ground-level

But there is one other option. Hardwood deck tiles are made from narrow slats of wood and pre-assembled to resist cupping. They are designed specifically for ground-level use! As a bonus, deck tiles are also a lot easier to install than traditional deck boards.

Conclusion

It should be repeated that we usually try to steer customers away from ground-level deck projects because the risks of moisture-related problems are too great. But if your heart is set on a deck at or near ground level, then these tips will give you the best chances at success.

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4 Inch Ipe Decking

Best Decking for Extreme Climates and Projects

Building a deck in a climate that sees extreme weather such as extreme heat, extreme cold, hurricanes, lots of rain, ice and snow requires some extra planning to ensure your deck will last and resist unwanted movement such as warping, cupping, bowing and twisting.

Dry Climates

In dry climates like Arizona, wood decking materials will shrink due to the lack of moisture. All building materials will expand and contract with temperature and humidity changes. Composite decking materials generally expand in the warm temperatures and shrink in the cooler temperatures.

Wet and Humid Climates

Climates like Florida that see extreme heat, rain, humidity and hurricanes are some of the harshest environments on homes and the materials they are built with. Constant rain and humidity will cause wood decking to expand, composite materials will also tend to swell in these climates.

These climates also tend to promote the growth of mold and fungi, especially in the areas that do not see full sun all day. This can also lead to faster degrading, rot and decay of building materials.

Extreme Sun and UV Rays

Many areas such as Florida, Arizona, California and more see extreme sun and UV rays. The UV rays from the sun are one of the harshest elements that attack many materials and building materials like decking are no exception.

The UV rays will fade most materials including wood which will eventually turn gray and composites can significantly fade from their existing color that you loved originally.

Extreme Cold, Ice and Snow

If your area gets very cold and see lots of ice and snow in the winter and then hot and humid temperatures in the summer.  Your deck is going to see the widest ranges of extreme conditions which means the most expansion and contraction.

Material Selection

All of these different climates can be harsh on building materials especially horizontal surfaces like decking. There are materials that have proven to stand up to these harsh climates better than others.

South American hardwood decking such as Ipe, Cumaru, Tigerwood, Garapa and Massaranduba have proven to last up to 75 years in some applications.

These hardwood decking species have shown to work in every climate from the dry dessert to hot and humid Florida all the way to cold and snow covered Buffalo, NY.

Sizes

The most common decking size is 5/4 x 6” which will have a finished dimension of 1 inch thick and 5.5 inches wide.However just like hardwood flooring the wider your deck boards are the more likely they will be to cup.

Use Narrower and Thicker Boards

The narrower a board is the less likely it is to cup so using narrow boards such as 1×4 (finished at 3 1/2″ wide), is not only more stable but it can save you money and give a more interesting look.

Thicker boards such as 5/4 x 4 (finishes at 1” thick and 3 1/2″ wide) are also more stable then 1 x 4 (finishes at 3/4” thick and 3 1/2″ wide) it’s a quarter inch thicker and gives you more stability.

Sawn Lumber Differences

Quarter Sawn Decking:

Quarter sawn decking comes at a premium due to the labor it takes to mill each plank. To mill quarter sawn wood, each log is sawed at a radial angle into four quarters. Then each quarter is plain sawn. This method of quarter sawing does leave some waste, but much less than rift sawn lumber.

This method of sawing produces a plank where the tree’s growth rings are near, or totally perpendicular to the plank’s surface. Quarter sawn decking offers even more stability and the following benefits:

  • Decreased expansion and contraction on the plank’s width
  • Twisting, cupping, and warping resistance
  • Ages evenly over time
  • Chances of surface checking are significantly reduced
  • More resistant to moisture penetration
  • More character beauty with ray flecks

Are Your Project Conditions Less Than Ideal?

We recommend a minimum of 18 inches of unrestricted air flow underneath your deck. Unrestricted means plenty of air can flow underneath your deck so it’s not completely sealed off with skirting.

Closing off the underside of your deck or not allowing enough air flow will change the moisture level on the underside of your deck boards while the top surface gets air flow and heated by the sun.

This creates two different climates for your deck boards and will cause the top of the deck surface to expand and contract at a different rate then the bottom and this will lead to cupping.

That being said some homeowners have projects like boat docks and ground level decks that can not meet the ideal conditions but still want a beautiful hardwood deck.

In these cases, even though we don’t recommend it unless you can create the ideal conditions we suggest using 5/4 x 4 decking or 5/4 x 4 quarter sawn decking. You should also take as many precautions as you can to mitigate any moisture issues or differences underneath your decking.

Oiling the underside of your deck boards before installing them can also help reduce moisture absorbing into your deck boards.

Projects that used our 4 inch wide decking for their projects

4 Inch Ipe Wood Decking
5/4 x 4 Ipe Decking was used because the deck is low to the ground, skirted off and sits directly on top of a blue stone paver patio.
4 Inch Ipe decking
Ipe Decking and Blue Stone Patio
4 Inch Ipe Decking
4 Inch Ipe Decking and Blue Stone paver patio
4 Inch Tigerwood Decking was used because the deck was skirted off and sitting on top of concrete.
4 Inch Tigerwood Decking
Ipe Decking Steps built using 4 Inch Decking because the deck sits directly on top of a concrete slab and has limited air flow underneath.
Ipe Wood Planter Bench
Ipe Wood Planter Bench
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Are Metal Joists A Good Idea For Brazilian Decking?

Brazilian Decking like Ipe, Cumaru, or Tigerwood is some of the longest-lasting wood around. Not only do these woods make your deck look absolutely stunning, they also last decades longer than other alternatives. Many customers ask if we recommend an alternative framing material, since they want their framing to last as long as their deck. Continue reading
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What’s the Correct Gap Space Between Boards?!

You’re planning to build your deck, you ask your buddies and read the thousands of deck blogs and everyone seems to give you VERY different answers about what is the proper gap spacing you should be using for all your boards. The reason there’s so many answers is because there are many variables that dictate what gap spacing to use. In short, there’s no one answer that fits all but here are a few things to take into consideration.

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Did You End Seal Your Entire Deck?

Something terribly wrong happened during the decking installation. Your deck looks shiny and is almost too slippery to walk on. Yes, end sealer was used instead of Ipe Oil.

We’ve actually seen this happen before. I’m going to help you resolve the issue so you can enjoy your deck the way it should.

This is not going to be an easy process, but your deck can be saved! Here’s what you need to do if you spilled end sealer onto your deck: Continue reading

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Why is Deck Ventilation Important?

A lot of people ask how much space they need under their deck, or if extra ground clearance is even necessary. At AdvantageLumber.com, we recommend at least 18 inches of open air under the joists. Anything less is risky. But why?

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