Rooftop decks provide peaceful outdoor spaces where family and friends can recharge and reconnect at the end of a long day. Decks also provide opportunities to host unique events like parties, barbecues and just soaking up the sun. Whether you are creating a new deck or upgrading your existing rooftop deck, learning what materials are best for a rooftop deck is an essential step in your design and budgeting process.
While your contractor may be able to provide some help to find the right material for your deck, it's also important to be educated to ensure that you are ultimately happy with your choice. Invest a little time and become familiar with deck materials and their performance history. Find reliable sources for information on the features and price points of different products. Do your own research, balance the costs, and consider the pros and cons of each material.
We'll be covering the following decking materials for you:
We have categorized each option referencing a Janka Hardness Scale. The Janka scale range spans from 300 for cedar decking all the way up to 3700 for Ipe decking (in the mahogany family).
Why should you care? Because a higher hardness rating equates to higher durability. Every time your kid's friends drag deck chairs across the grain on your wood floor, you'll be happy you learned what a hardness scale was for. Also, don't forget about your mother-in-law's spiked heels - those are the worst!
It's worth mentioning that this article explores just the finishing materials for decks. Deck structures (under the finishes) are almost always made from pressure treated framing lumber, which is generally the same as our first option; pressure treated decking lumber. The difference between the two treated products is negligible - only the dimensions are different.
Below is a list of popular rooftop deck options including the pros and cons of each. For your convenience, we have organized them in order of their purchase price, ranging from lowest cost ($) to highest cost ($$$$).
Pressure-treated Southern yellow pine is a chemically treated, weather resistant wood used in 80% of all decks built in the US. Sometimes referenced by the brand name "Wolmanized", pressure treated decking color starts as a greenish tone when fresh or "wet" and becomes more yellow after 6 months (as in the photo). After a few years in the sun, pressure treated wood becomes silver-grey.
You can periodically clean off the silver color and get back to the yellow tone with the help of a pressure washer, followed by an exterior grade penetrating sealer. This type of maintenance is typical for natural wood decks and required to achieve the full potential lifetime value; about 15 years. A poorly maintained pressure treated deck will often begin to splinter and a pressure treated wood splinter in your foot is not fun. This deck is not suitable for bare feet when the deck is newly installed because of the toxic chemicals used.
Many homeowners prefer pressure-treated wood for its affordability and good durability. Pressure-treated decking does have some disadvantages, so it's important to understand what you're buying before you commit.
Cedar is an attractive wood decking solution, best suited for lower traffic or less frequent use. With rich color tones, affordable price and durability, cedar is an option you should consider but it is a soft wood, so high heels are no good.
Cedar tends to last well as it is naturally resistant to rot, insect attack, and moisture. Cedar decking requires low to average maintenance and doesn’t warp or split as easily as pressure treated decking. This product begins life with beautiful light red tones, although if it's not regularly maintained and sealed, cedar decking will become a silver grey (which can also be attractive).
While some homeowners love the knotty appearance of the standard grade cedar deck option, some find it more attractive after its sanded, stained and treated with a beautiful finish.
Composite decking is long-lasting, low-maintenance and attractive. Higher -quality composite decking looks almost like real wood, even after many years of exposure to the elements. Unlike pressure-treated wood, composite decking needs no sealing, staining, refinishing or painting although mildew will grow on the deck surface, especially in the shade. Composite decking is much more valuable than pressure-treated decking because it is so easy to maintain. Unfortunately, this also means that composite decking is more costly.
Plastic decking can have a strong reaction with homeowners. Designers and homeowners either love it for it's lasting appearance in the elements, or dislike it because it seems like an unnatural material. Either way, it has been increasingly popular and worth considering. For most homeowners, it simply comes down to an aesthetic decision because the longevity is hard to beat.
Looks aside, plastic decking is waterproof, requires little maintenance, and is resistance to insects, mold, mildew, and rot. Compared to wood and wood composite, plastic decking is easy to clean and less susceptible to staining and fading. For these reasons alone, we have found the interest in plastic decking continues to grow as homeowners desire low-maintenance, permanent decking solutions that look just as good 20 years after installation.
These hardwood decks have unparalleled beauty at the time of installation. Ipe and massaranduba are in the mahogany family of hardwood and are lovely to look at and touch. The disadvantage of Ipe and Massaranduba, aside from the upfront cost, are the maintenance costs. Imagine a lovely piece of wood furniture that is left out in the rain! If you want this decking material to continue to look amazing, you will be saddled with high annual refinishing costs (pressure washing, sanding and re-sealing expenses).
Ipe and massaranduba has an unbeatable look but a high overall cost. Ask your contractor about various hardwood options, but either be prepared for maintenance or be ready for a weathered, grey appearance. Hardwood can also splinter, especially if it is allowed weathered to weather without maintenance - so be careful with bare feet!
When designing new or replacing existing decks, homeowners often initially think of wood decking options, yet aluminum decking can be a near-perfect solution for your deck! Aluminum decking has a powder-coated finish with the potential to last longer than any other deck material. It won't rot, rust, warp or crack, it's highly resistant to mold and is also slip-resistant.
Not only do parents love aluminum decks because they don't splinter and require almost no maintenance (unlike wood or composite decking), but we have found that barefoot kids and pets love aluminum decks too. Since aluminum reflects heat more efficiently than wood or composite materials (which tend to absorb heat), an aluminum deck should stay cooler in direct sunlight. No need to run to grab your flip flops! It's ok to walk barefoot on an aluminum deck as you won't burn the bottoms of your feet!
Even though aluminum decking is the highest cost, it gets our highest marks for value because of the fact that the decking looks just as good on the day it's installed as on the day you sell your home, 25 years later! Add that to the fact that you will likely have no maintenance or replacement costs for 30 - 40 years and you can see why we like it.
Fiberglass is not just for high-end shore houses anymore. Traditionally only used when extreme weather proofing was needed, fiberglass roof coatings designed as a walk-able deck surface are an attractive cost saving option when incorporated into a new roof structure as a primary water shedding roof surface for your home.
Fiberglass deck surfaces are generally not an option for a traditional deck replacement project because they are normally specified during a larger construction project as a substitute for the actual roof surface of your home on flat roof structures found in cities like Philadelphia.
One last thought! Keep in mind that the least expensive method of decking installation is to connect the deck to your substructure (deck framing) is through the face of the decking material itself. This will create hundreds of small but visible holes with screws in the walking surface of the deck. Instead, we suggest you consider one of many hidden fastener systems for decking installation. Hidden deck fasteners are compatible with many deck materials (aside from aluminum and fiberglass).
Composite decking fasteners are also available with a trademarked dual- screw design which partially covers the holes after they are screwed into the face of the material. This saves the cost of installing the hidden deck fastener and may be an acceptable option for you, but make sure that you understand the finished appearance that you are getting before you sign off on your selection and installation method!
A well designed home improvement project like a rooftop deck can add value to your home, apartment, or condo. However, it's vitally important to ensure that your deck is properly planned, permitted and well-constructed using the right materials. Your rooftop design must be engineered in order to be capable of bearing the weight of your deck, and educate yourself about the decking material options, installation methods and future maintenance. Be sure to order samples before you decide!
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