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A patio or deck should be the place where family and friends enjoy the outdoors within easy reach of all the comforts of home. But that's not always possible. Some patios and decks are awkwardly shaped; some are small and unattractive. Others would be just perfect with one or two amenities, such as shade or lighting. Yours may be adequate, but what would it take to make a big difference?

If your outdoor living area isn't user-friendly, if it's not an inviting place for entertaining or relaxing, then we can help. Allow our Master Carpenters walk you through designing or changing the design of your deck to make your backyard the best part of your house.

When planning a deck or other outdoor gathering area, there are several things to keep in mind. Specific purposes have distinct space requirements. What exactly will be happening on your deck - is it simply for lounging or cooking? Do you need enough space to have a table and chairs? How much room is needed for walk space?

Each of these questions are equally important when planning the size of your deck. Not to be forgotten, however are the small details of where you and your guests are going to be looking, as well as how the area is affected by sun and shade. You will also need to note the way the winds blow in the future deck area and how much privacy you may want.

There are ways around climate problems as well as some privacy issues. You may want to plan for these issues when you are beginning your deck planning. With these concepts in mind we can help you achieve the look and style you desire.

Wood used in exterior structures must be rot-resistant. Pine, hemlock, or fir will start to fall apart after a few years if not treated or painted. These woods are fine if a painted surface complements your overall design and if you like how paint looks. But if you want the beauty of wood grain revealed, you need a naturally-resistant species or pressure treated wood.

Types of Wood

Beautiful and expensive, redwood is often used when cost is not an issue. There are many grades of redwood, each grade based on the larger number and size of knots that denote its strength.  Be careful! Not all Redwood is long lasting. Dark heartwood will resist rot and insects, but cream-colored sapwood can be seriously damaged in just a couple of years. "Common" redwood, often sold as "construction common," is partially composed of sapwood. Grade that use the term "heart," such as "B heart" or "construction heart" are heartwood grades with some knots and are as rot resistant as heartwood grades that are "clear." Common redwood that has been stained or painted is nearly as rot-resistant as pressure treated lumber.  If you use heartwood, you can let redwood "go gray," meaning that you apply no stain and let it weather to a silvery color.
Less expensive than redwood, cedar has a lighter color and is generally regarded as less attractive. If you let it "go gray," it will not have quite the stately sheen of redwood. Because cedar does not have as many grades as redwood, its quality will vary within a grade. Do not rely on grading alone as an indication of quality. Inspect every board for knots and imperfections. Only the darker-colored heartwood is rot resistant. Unfortunately, most of the cedar sold today is sapwood, and many homeowners dismayed to find their cedar deck rotting on only a few years. If you use cedar for decking and rails, make sure it can dry out between rainfalls, and give it a thorough coating of sealer/preservative.
If you have the budget, consider South American lumber species, such as ipe' wood. It wears like iron, is extremely resistant to warping and rot, and requires little maintenance. A 1X4 of ironwood is actually stronger than a 2X4 of conventional wood such as fir, pine, or hemlock.
Usually Douglas fir, Southern pine, or hemlock treated with chemicals under pressure is the wood of choice for most decks and other outdoor structures. For posts and any structural member within 6 inches of the ground, get lumber with a "CCA" rating of .40 or greater or labeled for "ground contact.  It will resist rotting even if it is continuously exposed to moisture for years. Most pressure-treated wood has a green tint and, if left untreated, turns a dirty, not shiny gray. However, you can purchase stains that are surprisingly convincing at making pressure-treated lumber look like cedar. You can also purchase treated lumber that is brown, tinted to look like cedar.

What is Pressure Treated Lumber

Lumber's greatest enemy is biological attack - destruction by termites, fungi, marine borders, and bacteria. After more than half a century of scientific tests and practical experience with CCA, this preservative has been found to be the safest, most effective weapon yet formulated to protect wood against insects, rot, and decay.

1. What is CCA Pressure treatment and how long is it effective?
It's the most practical, reliable wood preservative method now in use. CCA treated wood remains in service more than 50 years protected against all the major forms of destructive attack. The same untreated softwood species commonly used in construction have an average life of less than five years in contact with the ground. The lumber goes through a rigorous treatment process, finishing with time in a conditioning building. We use only wood that has been treated in this manner with an EPA-registered pesticide.

2. What is CCA?
Chromated Copper Arsenate - three active ingredients each of which performs an important function. The chromate "fixes" the other two elements chemically to the wood. When the chromate penetrates the wood cells, it reacts making it safe for people, pets, and plants to come in contact with the wood. The copper is a potent fungicide preventing decay caused by various fungi. The arsenate, a natural trace element found in soil, water, plants, and animals (even humans), stops attack by termites, micro-organisms and fungi as well.

3. How safe is CCA?
Very safe. The mixture of stable metallic oxides injected into lumber reacts with the wood substance to form a permanent insoluble complex. It won't evaporate or vaporize. CCA-treated wood is clean, odorless, non-staining, safe to work with and handle. Its locked-in protection is non-irritating to children, adults, animals, and plants.

4. Why is treated wood banned from indoor use?
That's a misconception. Treated wood may be used indoors for any application except cutting boards and countertops. In those cases, most health departments frown on any wood as a cutting surface, not because of chemical danger but because knife cuts have been believed to more readily harbor bacteria. Picnic tables have often been treated with CCA or similar preservation techniques since they are primarily used for serving prepared food, versus a kitchen countertop or a cutting board which is used for unprepared food.

5. But I've heard that children shouldn't play on decks & playground equipment made of treated wood.
Relax! That's simply untrue. CCA treated wood is fully approved and widely used to build playground equipment. Extensive tests have been conducted to determine whether children who lick their hands after playing on treated wood expose themselves to carcinogen. Both the California Department of Health and the Consumer Products Safety Commission, in separate studies, found negligible risk. No form of CCA treated wood has ever been found to cause cancer in any human or animal.