On a sunny afternoon, there’s nothing quite like stepping out onto your deck, firing up the BBQ and putting your feet up with a cold drink. A well-built deck gives you a comfortable place to enjoy the view of your garden and is a good, solid platform to keep garden furniture so the lawn can be reserved for kids or pets to safely run around. If you’re keen to build a deck but are worried about the effort vs. reward, keep in mind that a good, low maintenance garden deck can add value to your home, as long as prospective buyers can see it as a practical extension of your living space.
Here are some tips and ideas for building the perfect, low maintenance garden deck for your home this summer.
Choose the right decking materials
Picking a material for your deck isn’t just a material choice; it will have a big impact on both its lifespan and maintenance needs for as long as you have it.
For example, pressure treated wood is generally the cheapest option for building your deck, and offers the attractive wood finish that you won’t get from metal or vinyl. However, a deck made from pressure treated wood is only expected to last 10-15 years, and will need to be treated every 12 months.
Solid timber is a lot more durable, but to enjoy its full lifespan of 15-20 years, it will also need to be routinely cleaned, oiled and stained.
For a long-lasting, low maintenance, wood-effect deck, it’s usually worth investing in a composite material. Although they’re more expensive than pressure treated wood or natural timber, the combination of natural wood fibres and plastic means that it won’t ever need to be painted or treated, and will last between 25-30 years.
Not fussy about wood-effect decking? Vinyl is a popular choice and can be good for an equally low maintenance garden deck as composite materials. However, unless you’re prepared to splash some cash, vinyl decking looks unmistakably like plastic, so make sure it works with your overall garden aesthetic.
Finally, there’s aluminium, which ticks the boxes for durability and affordability. The main complaint with aluminium is that it can be very noisy underfoot, and it’s also quite easy to dent. So, for a high-traffic area, or a household with children or pets, aluminium decking might be more of a headache than a haven.
Take extra time to plan
You know that phrase, “measure twice, cut once”? Well, when it comes to building a low maintenance garden deck, you should apply it both figuratively and literally. Getting the right positioning, layout, structural support and planning permission (if necessary) will all contribute to the longevity and overall enjoyment of your deck.
Choosing the position of your deck
It seems obvious, but do take a moment to think about where your deck is going to be in the best position long-term. With a lifespan of 15+ years, it’s worth thinking not only about the layout of your home and garden now, but also about how it might look in a few years. Are you hoping to build an extension, or reposition windows or doors? What about railings, or steps – you might not need them now, but children or elderly people might be grateful in the future.
Design for drainage
Over time, the biggest contributor to your deck becoming dirty and damaged is going to be rainwater. Sitting water can weaken wooden boards, make screws rust, attract mould and make your deck dangerously slippery. Take care of water runoff in the design of your deck, and you’ll have a truly low maintenance garden deck for years, if not decades.
The first tip for preventing water sitting on your deck is to build it at a very slight angle towards the ground – dropping about 10mm every metre. It’s also a good idea to leave5-8mm between each decking board for drainage.
Another important thing to consider is the direction of your boards. Although this is an aesthetic choice too, it’s important that any grooves in your deck run away from your home, so water doesn’t flow across the deck and cause damp issues with your building. Of course, building the deck at an angle will help with this too!
It might seem like overkill, but working all of these drainage techniques into your design will go a long way to prevent water collecting on your deck. And what does less water mean? Less maintenance!
With a bit of DIY know-how, you can build a deck yourself, but if you’re not sure what you’re doing then hiring a professional will help ensure your deck stands the test of time. If you do choose to build it yourself, it’s worth incorporating a few low maintenance garden deck features to save yourself some extra effort later down the line.
- Concrete foundations will be more sturdy than building directly onto the soil, and will give your deck the strength for heavier items on top. If you want to create a BBQ area, or install a hot tub, definitely think about this.
- Laying a weed-control membrane made of fabric or plastic over the ground will restrict light and make it harder for weeds to grow where you can’t see/reach them.
- Don’t seal off the underside of your deck completely – allow airflow to reduce damp.
- Using stainless steel screws or galvanised screws might cost more initially, but you won’t get rust stains appearing over time.
- Also, when you’re tightening screws, try to keep them flush with the surface of the deck so they don’t create little indents for water and dirt to collect in.
- Trim back nearby bushes and trees so they don’t drop leaves and sap on your deck, which will be a pain to clean off and attract more dirt if you leave.
Planning permission for a garden deck
Finally, do you need planning permission for a garden deck? Usually, no – but there are some triggers that take it from ‘permitted development’ to a project that needs planning permission. Here’s where you’ll need to check in with your local authority:
- If your deck is 30cm or more off the ground
- If it extends past the front elevation of your home
- If it results in more than 50% of your garden area being covered
- If it’s part of a larger extension, like a conservatory or lean-to, that needs planning permission.
Clean quickly to clean less
Even the most low maintenance garden deck will need the occasional cleaning. The trick to keeping it casual is to take care of spills or spot cleans (like bird droppings) as soon as possible so they don’t stain. The same goes for brushing up leaves or snow before it settles – take care of build-up quickly and you won’t be scrubbing at stains later.
Routinely check that drainage routes (grooves and gaps between boards) are clear for pretty much the same reason.
Other than that, it’s good practice to clean your deck twice a year, using a bucket of warm water and washing up liquid, with a soft brush. Wipe off the light layer of dirt that’s accumulated, make sure nothing is lodged in gaps, and rinse the deck down afterwards.
Again, the secret is really to plan your cleaning sessions at the most effective time for whatever else is going on in your garden. Look out for seasonal mess like blossom, leaves, DIY debris, kids toys – you get the idea.
These are really the secrets to having an amazing, low maintenance garden deck that you can enjoy at any time of year. So, what are you waiting for? Start planning now and you could be ready to put your feet up when the sunshine comes!