#1-Do you (Summerstone) recommend a particular stain or preservative for decks?
Cedar wood has a natural resistance to rot. Decks built with it don't require any stain or preservative. I haven't observed that stain extends the life of the wood by much. However, it is useful to maintain a colour in the wood. Left untreated, cedar will turn to a silvery gray over the first few years. It can be very beautiful like that, and in an appropriate situation, doing nothing is the best ( and by far the easiest ) solution. However, if you require stain, here are my recommendations;
--Consult a good paint store for their recommendations. The formulas for stains seem to evolve and change frequently.
--Wait at least 30 to 60 days to apply anything. The wood needs to dry out and stabilize.
--Avoid stains that sit on the surface of the wood. Use nothing that is gloss or semi-gloss. They always peel off eventually. Use a penetrating -type stain.
--Be prepared to maintain the stain regularly. You can expect to have to redo it at least every two years, especially in the high traffic areas. Vertical elements , such as railings or skirting boards will require less maintenance.
#2-Does a deck require a building permit? How much cost does that add?
Most decks and porches do require a permit. There are exceptions, mostly for small and low decks. Should an accident ever occur on your deck, your insurance company will investigate whether or not a permit was issued. Also , when homes are sold, most buyers require a home inspection , which usually includes determining whether permits were issued for any upgrading. For an average deck, creating the necessary working drawings and obtaining a permit adds from $500.00 to $1000.00 to the cost. More ambitious projects will cost somewhat more, rarely more than $1500.00.
#3-- Will the pressure -treated framing material pollute the soil under the deck in any way?
As described in our Deck Specifications, we usually use pressure -treated wood to frame decks and porches. This is a cost saving step. It is possible to frame a deck with cedar. It would add about $1000.00 to an average size deck.
Pressure-treated wood formerly contained quite damaging preservatives. The chemicals used now are more innocuous. However, it is recommended, for instance, that pressure-treated wood not be used in a vegetable garden, and it should not be burned. So we can't consider it completely harmless. If you have concerns, perhaps about children playing under the deck or a similar situation, I recommend that you consider using cedar to frame the deck.
#4-- Why do a deck at all? Why not some other material or method?
Decks and porches are most often used when there is some height involved. They are usually the most cost effective way to get from a high door to the ground. They are also used simply because people like wood. Often clients have a strong feeling that they want to be on a wood structure. My impression is that many people associate a deck or porch with some good time in their past. Sometimes people like the feeling of sitting in a high place.
#5-- How long will the deck that you builds last?
A reasonable life expectancy for a deck in our climate would be 20 years. With good maintenance, which would include replacing boards as required after the 15 year period, a life of 25 years could be expected. A porch that is covered by a roof and is 2 feet off the ground will last much longer.
#6-- The railings that I see in your pictures are too high for me to see over when I am sitting down. Can I get a lower railing?
Railings are covered by the Building Code. There are a number of required specifications for them.One of them is a minimum height of 36". Decks lower than 24" above grade may use lower railings or no railings at all. Whether or not the deck is being inspected, these specs need to be followed, both for safety and for insurance liability reasons.One possibility is to build railings that replace the wood balusters with transparent material , such as tempered glass, or one of several plastics.
#7-- DoesYou build composite (such as Trex) or Ipe ( a "50 year" tropical wood) decks?
Yes , we can use either of these materials, but don't recommend either one. They both add cost and have structural limitations. Neither of these materials is used to build the frame of a deck. So the life of the deck will still be determined by the life of the framing.
Composite decking usually costs 2-3 times as much as cedar for the decking material, usually adding 30-40% to the total cost of the deck. There have been many problems with all the brands of composite decking. Fading, staining, and physical deterioration are the most common complaints. Search for "composite decking complaints" or "composite decking warranty problems" to get an idea of the current situation.
Ipe decking costs 5 times what cedar decking costs. It will do a good job and does not need to be stained to be stained to last in Canadian conditions.
The installation also will cost somewhat more than cedar.