Words: Anne Schauffer Images: Shutterstock

Outdoor living is like breathing to South Africans, and anything which enhances that experience, is king. Decking does that. All decks are not created equal, though. There are different materials, qualities, dimensions, durability, longevity, and of course, price tags. Maintenance, too, varies.

Different kinds

“The three main categories,” says Dustin Thomas, CEO, Durban Decks, “are pressure-treated and treated softwood like CCA (copper-chrome-arsenate) treated pine, accoya and Rhino Wood; hardwood like balau, macerenduba, garapa (most popular decking timbers because of their superior resistance to insects and wood rot); and wood, plastic and bamboo-plastic composites.

What to ask your contractor

Be proactive and ask questions. “For your preferred aesthetic, do some research and identify the material best suited to you. Each has their own characteristics and dimensions,” says Thomas. Choosing a competent, reliable contractor is crucial. “Ensuring the deck has been built correctly (and safely), is paramount to its longevity. Incorrect installation may cause strain on the timber and affect the lifespan,” he says. His estimates for lifespan always carry the rider “…provided the timber is from a reputable supplier and the deck has been correctly constructed”.

“Bottom line,” he says, “do some research on contractors’ previous projects, and get referrals. For example, from where does he source his materials – here, in KwaZulu-Natal, a reliable source like Coastal Timbers ensures the right standard.”

And then… to seal or not to seal – are you prepared for that maintenance? “If you choose a hardwood, you don’t have to seal. The timber oxidises to a beautiful grey colour with little maintenance without compromising its lifespan.” Most of Thomas’ customers who choose sealed decks, sign up for his maintenance schedule.

Longevity

Thomas says, “Composite decking may last up to 25 years, depending on the structural integrity. Composite, although strong, is less rigid than traditional timbers and requires additional support to reduce the span between structural joists. Composite suppliers have a guideline on the correct spacing between the support joists to allow the customer the guarantee of the 10 or 25 years (depending on the product).

“For hardwood and CCA treated woods, it’s very difficult to guarantee a natural product – on average, expect your timber deck to last upward of 15 years.”

Eco-friendly decking

“Composite decking or eco-friendly decking has become popular over the last couple of years,” says Thomas. He singles out Eva-Last, as a forward-thinking brand which is continually improving their product. “Eva-Last composite uses FCS (Forest Stewardship Council) approved timbers, a unique combination of bamboo and recycled plastics, and requires no sanding or sealing at all.”

Andrew Prior, sales director for locally sourced and manufactured modified timber product Rhino Wood, says “Rhino Wood is a combination of two materials – local SA pine and a unique locally-sourced preservation compound. The patented process involves thermally treating the timber, then impregnating it under pressure to ensure full treatment or saturation. It has all the hardwood properties of strength, dimensional stability and a durability rating of Class 1 – that’s important, as anything below can be susceptible to fungal decay and rot.”

Rhino Wood is a natural timber (albeit enhanced), not a plastic product. “It provides a proper eco-friendly solution to many of the readily available hardwoods, which are sourced from the ever-diminishing tropical rain forests around the world. Comparing it to softwoods, Rhino Wood is non-toxic and, other than the occasional cleaning, does not require maintenance to prevent it from rotting. It’s already treated. The boards will weather to that appealing grey/silver patina.”

Maintenance

Timber can be coated with sealant, left to age naturally, or oiled, while composite materials require no sealant. Sealed or unsealed decks can be washed off with water.