Decking – do your homework


Sarah Francis of Arbor Forest Products gives an insight into how to spot quality decking products – both in terms of timber and composite options.

Despite our changeable weather, we Brits are a nation of garden-lovers: even if it’s just for a few weeks of the year, there’s nothing we like more than soaking up the sunshine in our own home.

Increasingly, gardens are seen as an extension of the indoor space, as is proven by the trend for bi-folding doors and decking – both of which help to blur the lines between the interior and exterior of the property. What’s more, research by the Homeowners’ Alliance has shown that installing decking in a garden can add thousands onto the value of a property – so it’s definitely a worthwhile investment.

However, when it comes to decking, there are many options to choose from, and not all boards are created equal, so it’s worth doing your research to find the right product for your project.

The rise of the deck

The popularity of decking has been on the increase for some 30 years now, ever since Alan Titchmarsh and his Ground Force team first extolled its virtues back in the 90s. Since then decking has gone from strength to strength, with homeowners and developers alike recognising its positive points. Then, as now, decking was seen as a cost-effective and long-lasting solution, a way of adding an extra dimension to gardens of any size.

At first, softwood timber decking conquered the market, and for many people, its natural feel and appearance, ease of installation and relatively low price point makes it the first choice even now.

However, homeowners’ leisure time is becoming more and more precious, especially for young couples who may be buying their first home – those buyers are unlikely to want to spend their weekends cleaning and maintaining a deck. Luckily, the decking market has broadened considerably, with composite decking launching in the UK nine years ago.

Unlike softwood decking, composite decking doesn’t require sanding and re-coating, and if installed correctly, it will look just as good in a decade as it does the day it is installed.

Composite decking is usually made from a combination of recycled plastic and wood fibres, and it’s not subject to rot or mould like timber decking, and they won’t fade or stain either. Good quality composite decking usually requires just a wash with soapy water to bring it back to its best, and leading brands will even offer 25 year warranties for domestic decks.

The choice of which deck to install isn’t quite as straightforward as opting for timber or composite, though: much like choosing carpet or wood flooring indoors, there are many options on the market, and developers need to consider what their buyers are looking for before making their selection.

Not all created equal

Purchasing from a reputable supplier will set housebuilders off on the right path, as a knowledgeable merchant will be able to advise on the quality of the product and how suitable it is for the house or development.

That said, there are some pointers on what to look out for when specifying a decking product. This is relatively simple for timber decking: high-quality timber decking boards tend to be heavier as they will be made from mature, slower grown timber. They’ll also have fewer knots and be free of issues like splitting or rot – all flaws that will be obvious to the naked eye.

With composite timber, it becomes more difficult, and specifiers can be at the mercy of sales pitches where brands promise the earth, but don’t deliver. As composite decks are factory-made, the quality of the product is hidden in the decking board’s core, and its manufacturing process. There are more than 40 composite decking brands available in the UK, so it might seem impossible to establish the quality, performance and expected service-life for each one before it’s installed.

However, there are some simple visual checks specifiers and installers can perform to discover whether or not the product is up to scratch. For example, a co-extruded or shelled deck board would perform better than a non-shelled, and a solid board would be better than a hollow product.

Overall, when it comes to composite decking, it is important for specifiers to do their own research and look for the brands that have been proven to stand the test of time.

Installation matters

While decking is still seen as a job for a keen DIY-er, when looking to add value to a development or property, a well-installed deck can make all the difference. Whether it’s a softwood timber or composite deck, using a qualified installer is always the best option.

Some composite decking companies offer dedicated training and initiatives, in which experienced decking installers receive an accreditation from the decking company in recognition of the standard of their work. Commissioning an experienced installer will mean that the deck is installed correctly, on time, and to the highest possible standard – helping to add the all-important ‘wow factor’ to properties and developments.

Taking the time to properly research the decking market and working with suppliers and installers who know their stuff will allow developers to add real value to properties and effortlessly extend a home’s living space into the great outdoors.

Sarah Francis is product marketing manager at Arbor Forest Products