Deck Options

There are lots of options when deciding how to finish your exterior decks, porches and roof decks.  The function of the deck will dictate the options and applications available.  The first questions is what type of deck is it, a roof deck over living space or an open deck over exterior space.   We will discuss the roof deck over living space first.

Roof decks or porches are primarily flat roofs over living spaces.  There are several different roof deck waterproofing products in use today and quite a few older applications that are no longer commonly used.  In older homes, especially in the coastal towns, we find types of roofing materials;

1. Canvas- This product is really no longer used, and never really worked all that well to begin with.  it involved mostly copper flashing nailed over t@G deck boards, then coverend in a heavy canvas tacked down with hundreds of copper tacks.  This was then painted with some really thick marine paint and then painted again every few years, in the end, it leaks, cracks and requires entirely too much maintenance. This roofing is normally covered with sleepers and boardwalk decking.

2. Hot Tar and paper; This is a very common old style roofing product, it consists of layers of hot tar and tarpaper creating a 1/4″ thick layer or so of tar over flashings. Very ugly, not suitable for stand alone deck as you cannot walk on it. This deck has to be covered with sleepers and boardwalk decking.

3. Membrane roofing; there are several different versions of this style roofing, it is typically a roll of rubber membrane glued down with various adhesive sealers, the rolls are overlapped and sealed. This roofing is a very good water proofer, but again is not suitable for a deck as it is by no means good looking and is in most cases covered with sleepers and boardwalk decking.

All three of the above roofing systems are generally obsolete and not is use for decks over living areas. the membrane roofing is still a viable option for flat roofs not used as decks.

4. Fiberglass decking; Fiberglass chopped strand mat, polyester resin and gelcoat decks have been used on The Jersey shore for about 30 years now. I started working on Glass decks around 18 years ago when in my early 20’s. These decks consist of a layer of fiberglass chopped strand mat saturated with polyester resin then covered with Gelcoat. When properly installed these decks provide decades of waterproofing while providing a smooth attractive surface. In most cases, these decks are left uncovered by boardwalk, but in some cases, clients choose to cover these decks with exotic hardwood or composite board walk decking.

5. Polyuria; This is a relatively new decking surface. Finished product looks similar to fiberglass, but the application is entirely different. There is no chopped strand mat, or material flashing involved, but rather several layers of liquid coatings. This material is almost Identical to the bed liner in your pickup truck. The product appears to be a good cost effective solution, but in my mind the jury is still out on this one. I am not sure about how this will hold up over time.

Both the fiberglass and polyuria decking surfaces can be covered with sleepers and boardwalk deck boards. This application, although not necessary, provides the best of both worlds; the beauty and comfort of a hardwood or composite deck over a water proof deck surface.

Boardwalk Decks

1. Pressure Treated Lumber; This product has the lowest upfront installed cost, but is an unattractive high maintenance product that simply does not hold up well or look good doing so. We tear these decks up all the time.

2. Exotic Hardwoods; Ipe, Teak and Mahogany, these hardwoods are very durable, beautiful and will age gracefully. To maintain original color and finish is pretty easy with periodic application of preferred oils. Oiling deck brings back wood color and luster without waxy buildup or coatings. These deck boards are some of the hardest woods on the planet and will hold up very well with proper care. I found this site with details on most hardwoods available.

3. Composite deck boards: there are dozens of manufactures of composite decking. Every contractor has his preference so I will not get into brands. I have used most of the major brands and for the most part they all perform about the same. There are several advantages to these products; more consistent color and uniformity of boards, there are all straight and flat, no twists or cups, no crown. They all lay flat and they look very nice when installed properly. It is very easy to plan a deck out, and order 12′, 16′ or 20′ lengths of these boards. With the exotic hardwoods, you have to pay a premium to get the exact lengths you want. The manufactured material is almost as costly as the exotic hardwoods but has less maintenance over time and is a little cheaper to install.

There is much debate raging over the use of these composite deck boards and I guess eventually we will find out what is the most sustainable solution, but after installing ipe and composite, I prefer the look and feel of the ipe, but prefer the ease of installation of the composite. The composite is a much easier product to install and looks better after three years in sun without coatings. The ipe will fade to a flat grey in 1 summer, so be prepared oil it at least once a year. The composite on the other hand looks just fine after three years in sun, it fades, but not as much as bare wood.

I hope you find this entry useful. please do not hesitate to comment, call or email anytime to discuss.


Attic Insualtion, half the story

So a young couple just purchased a home. the home is perfect size for their growing family, needs just a little work to spruce it up, but there is one problem. the house is poorly insulated and has an electric heat pump. They called me for a consult, so I of course start in attic. So this is what I find; blown in loose fill cellulose insulation, about 5 “, deep. The cellulose had been disturbed, probable many times, so it was in heaps and valleys, no consistent blanket, and many places with almost zero insulation. Uninsulated attic stairs, and no air sealing. attic needs work. Next, I go down to basement / crawl, 2nd on priority list. Basement is semi conditioned ., has hvac equipment present, solid concrete walls, nice and dry no sign of moisture or drafts. Low priority here.

So here is the plan; Air seal, fix loose fill and install blanket of fiberglass. Air seal is listed first because it is most important. when budget constraints are tight, I always start with air sealing, it is by far most important step.


1.move loose fill cellulose, and air seal all vertical penetrations with can foam.

2. Install proper vents in all eaves, 60 of them. staple vent to outside wall plat, air seal to roof deck, to prevent wind wash from disturbing loose fill.

3. redistribute cellulose to even blanket between 2×6 attic floor joists.

4. build 2×6 deck around attic hatch for storage, insulate then cover with 5/8 plywood.

5. lay in R19 unfaced fiberglass across ceiling joists above loose fill creating a contiguous blanket.

6. Build attic hatch cover out of 2” polyiso foam board and air seal, R14 or so.


Not much to do here, half the house is on slab, basement is dry and semi conditioned. no real value to insulate, so we will just be putting foam board and air sealing the band joist.

all in $3200 to properly air seal, vent and insulate the attic and basement. that incudes building the storage deck in attic.