There are more choices for your outdoor deck than ever before. Years ago there were very few choices and most builders utilized pressure treated pine for their outdoor decks. This choice, over time, left many homeowners quite unhappy. But the decking industry has come a long way. Your choices can be quite varied between different hardwoods, different composites, and now different PVC decking materials. Although I still prefer a beautiful hardwood Ipe deck over anything else, the recent interest shown in PVC decking is cause for review.
PVC decking is installed very similar to the way hardwood decking is installed. You want to start with a sound foundation and make sure there is a ground clearance of at least 12" to allow adequate air flow and ventilation. Next, you will want to choose your joist spacing. This should not exceed 16" on center when your deck boards are perpendicular to joists and 12" on center if building for commercial use. I do not recommend that joist spacing exceed 12" when deck boards are built on a 45 degree angle.
One difference between hardwood decks and PVC decks is the actual movement the boards will make over time. Hardwood decking expands and contracts on its width, while PVC decking expands and contracts more on its length. Hardwood decking's movement is primarily dependant upon moisture content and PVC decking's movement is primarily dependant upon changes in the temperature. This information is helpful when choosing how to install your deck. If you choose to face screw your deck down, which I do not recommend, the natural movement of your deck boards will cause them to loosen and pull away from the joist. I highly recommend using deck fasteners with stainless steel inserts. By using a hidden deck fastener with PVC decking and inserting a stainless steel screw straight down through the fastener and into the joist, this will hold the deck board in place and tight to the joist while allowing for its natural movement. Not only does this allow for the natural movement of the board, but it also eliminates the unsightly mushrooming effect caused by face screwing.
Now that you have a little background on PVC decks, let's talk about installation. You will want to have your deck boards pre-grooved or be prepared to use a standard biscuit jointer or router to accomplish this task yourself.
Using stainless steel screws, countersink and face screw your first board to get started. You can purchase plug cutters to cut your own plugs from scrap pieces to plug over these holes. If the deck board is running parallel to your home you can place the deck board right up against the structure. However, if you are running your deck boards perpendicular to your structure, then you need to leave a gap space to allow for the natural movement on its length.
Next, insert a deck fastener into the groove of the deck board above each joist. Run the stainless steel screws straight down through the center of the hidden deck fastener and into the joist. This will hold your deck boards in place while still allowing them to move with temperature changes. A screwgun with a clutch setting works great for this as you can adjust the clutch for the amount of torque needed. Fasten each board using one fastener and one screw per joist.
If pre-grooved decking is not being used, you will need a biscuit jointer or router to cut a slot into the edge of the next deck board above each joist. Slide this board onto the hidden deck fasteners that are protruding from the previously fastened deck board. Continue this process until you have reached the end of your deck.
On the last deck board it will be necessary to fasten the outside edge by countersinking and face screwing this deck board down, just as you did with the initial starting board.
Your deck is now complete and ready for you to enjoy. Don't be intimidated by the new decking materials that are now available. PVC decking can be installed with as much ease as hardwood decks and composite decks. There is no need for additional tools or equipment. Just be careful about the deck fastening system you choose. Make sure you choose one that is edge mounted for ease of installation, contains a stainless steel insert for added hold down power and corrosion resistance, and one that will allow for the movement that will inevitably occur. Using the right deck fasteners with PVC decking is sure to give you a beautiful deck that will last for years to come.
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