Renovation & Design

Working with new product demands diligence

Extra time required to finish deck while learning to install different composite material

Photos by Marc LaBossiere / Winnipeg Free Press

This composite deck was built using a light brown Fiberon top-decking and a darker two-tone brown fascia.

The top-decking picture-framing is mimicked on each of the two stairs.

As a contractor, dealing with familiar product lines is as important as the reliability of relationships forged with the suppliers I’ve worked with over the years.

Although my composite deck-building acumen has grown consistently, it most often encompasses one specific brand. Last month, a client provided me an opportunity to work with another comparable product.

This deck design is very straight-forward: a 12-by-17-foot rectangular deck, adjacent to two exterior walls at the rear of the house, roughly 24 inches above the ground. The deck would require no railings and only two stairs before the final step onto the top-decking surface. Although a completely wooden deck was discussed for budgetary reasons, my client opted for an entirely composite Fiberon top-decking surface, as well as fascia. And for effect, a darker-brown, two-tone fascia would contrast the light-brown top-decking surface. Accustomed to the Trex composite product lines, I was eager to work with Fiberon.

The framework would entail the usual approach. In this instance, rather than using posts and pads below the beam, three pre-installed eight-foot screw pilings would be positioned along the outer edge of the deck’s footprint. A 17-foot, triple-laminated two-by-eight beam would sit atop all three pilings, providing a rigid surface on which the joists rest. Once the stringers for the short staircase were cut onsite and firmly secured to the framework, vertical studs were then affixed to the frame’s exterior all along the outer perimeter of the deck at 24-inch centres, providing a fastening surface for the fascia boards.

Because the top-decking would lip over the edge in this design, it was easiest to first install the fascia along the entire perimeter of the deck, including around each stair. To ensure horizontal consistency, it was also important to start with the highest row set parallel to the top of the joists and work downward until reaching ground level. In this case, a low half-row was introduced to finish the fascia — the client intends to build up the ground surface slightly to hide any exposed gap at the base of the finished deck.

With all fascia in place, the top-decking could begin. To hide any board ends when doing an overlap edge, it is necessary to create a picture frame with the initial top-decking boards along the exposed perimeter of the deck, including each stair. The stairs were completed first, to give easy access to the deck’s top surface area. Before completing the top-decking of the main deck, two oversights presented themselves: one that involved a lack of familiarity with the product and the other would prove to have been an outright error on my part.

When building a composite deck, the joisting must cater to the composite boards’ load-limit as suggested by the manufacturer. For instance, most "all-lumber" decks are built with joists at 24-inch centres, when two-by-six boards are used to top it.

For composite decking, the standard for most top-decking boards requires 16-inch centres. For this deck, my client had specifically requested 12-inch centres.

During the framing portion of the build, this request had completely slipped my mind. And although 16-inch centres were suggested by the manufacturer, the client’s wishes would supersede. As such, a remedy was required. It wasn’t possible to change the joist spacing, as most everything had been completed other than the top-decking. So, as a compromise, a joist was added between every existing joist — the only deck I’ve ever built with joists on eight-inch centres. Very sturdy.

After adding the joists to address my error, the other oversight quickly reared itself. Accustomed to Trex specs, I mistakenly assumed that the Fiberon top-decking boards were the same as a two-by-six — 51/2 inches wide. The Fiberon top-decking boards are actually 51/4 inches wide, which, when picture-framing around the deck, caused the 16-foot-long boards to be about a half-inch too short within the picture-frame of the 17-foot deck. To remedy this issue, a double picture frame was the only solution.

Although this did negate the missing half-inch, it also introduced the need to cut the length of every board, to make them fit within the double picture frame. The framing had been designed so the boards could have just been dropped into place — surprising how much extra work that missing half-inch caused. Despite following my usual protocols when preparing for a deck build, these two oversights lengthened the build by roughly half a day. Luckily, that only meant completion of this deck occurred on Friday afternoon, rather than Friday morning... ready for my clients to use that weekend.

There is a learning curve to using unfamiliar products. And although there were a few unforeseen hurdles on this one, I can attest that the Fiberon composite product is not only easy to install, it also looks fantastic. And during my next Fiberon build, I’ll know exactly what to expect and know how to prep accordingly.


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