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Outdoor Living Spaces

Decks, Decorating, Green Lifestyle, Landscaping, Outdoor Living, Outdoor Living - Directory, Patios, Porches and Gazebos, Swimming Pool, Water Gardens & Ponds March 21, 2008 admin

The hearth shown is the 44DV XXL by Fireplace Xtrordinair.

Photo Courtesy: Travis Industries

There’s nothing like a breath of fresh air or the feeling of sunshine on your face. Whether it’s summer, winter, fall or spring, most homeowners want a relaxing spot to enjoy the outdoors—and one that’s not too far from home. Today’s decks and patios can provide that sought-after restful retreat. According to the American Institute of Architects, in 2006 almost two-thirds of architects reported an increase in outdoor living spaces. Architects saw significant increases in patios and outdoor kitchens and also in upscale landscaping and outdoor features. Modern materials and amenities can transform those outdoor areas into year-round, multi-functional living spaces perfect for dining and entertaining.

Deck Specs

Decks are among the most popular outdoor features, and rank high on the “to do” list of many DIY’ers. The straightforward method of construction, from the support frame to the decking boards, make building a deck a doable project for many novice carpenters, as long as they’re willing to do a little research and get their hands dirty. But material choices greatly vary, from traditional pressure-treated lumber and exotic Brazilian woods to low-maintenance composites.

Many homeowners agree that for decks and other outdoor structures, wood is not just good—it’s the best. Pressure-treated lumber is widely available, easy to work, relatively inexpensive and can be stained, refinished and repaired for years to come. Similarly, an exotic hardwood such as Cumaru can provide a beautiful appearance and is naturally impervious to rot, decay or termites. But, exotic wood tends to be very pricey. California Redwood is a beautiful, long-lasting solution for your deck, fence and landscaping projects. Redwood heartwood is naturally resistant to insects and decay. Western red cedar is another popular exterior wood. Cedar offers low density and shrinkage factors, and is easy to cut, form, glue and finish. Cedar contains natural preservatives that resist moisture, decay and insect damage. Cedar also makes a great all-weather material; it’s naturally at home in the sun, rain, heat and cold. Still, wood is wood, and all wood will wear over time and require routine maintenance.

Features such as built-in benches and dining nooks can take your deck to the next level.

Composite deck boards hold the title of Next Big Thing in the decking industry. Once marketed as “maintenance free” alternatives to wood, such claims have been revised to “low maintenance” alternatives, because you still have to clean them. Composites install much like wood decking, and most high-quality composite products are virtually resistant to stains, insects, snow, moisture and mold, and can be cleaned with a garden hose. However, not all composites are created equal. One of the largest composite decking manufacturers is currently engaged in a lawsuit regarding mold issues in the material. Such problems can arise when low-quality core ingredients are used to produce the composite material. Although composite deck boards can look like real wood, they are made from a blend of plastics and wood pulp. The type and quality of the wood and plastic can vary among manufacturers. When choosing a composite, do plenty of research into the product you’re considering. Ultimately, a quality composite material can make an excellent low-maintenance deck that resists fading, cracking, splitting and rotting. However, keep in mind that composite deck boards cannot be refinished, they can only be replaced. Some manufacturers offer a 30-year residential warranty on their products, but here’s the rub: The composite deck boards still require treated lumber for the support framing, so if the framing materials don’t last 30 years then neither will the deck.

If the look of wood is not a prerequisite for your deck, then consider this often overlooked alternative: Aluminum. Some aluminum systems install directly over PT joists to form a continuous locking seal for a gapless deck surface that is completely waterproof, which protects the wood framing. Aluminum decking installs with standard wood tools and is powder-coated with a non-slip surface that eliminates painting, staining and waterproofing. Aluminum stays naturally cool to the touch—cooler than wood or concrete—and some systems are available with a limited lifetime warranty.

Patios make great areas for dining and entertaining guests.

Patio Perspectives

A patio is another favorite for an outdoor lifestyle. Often built of concrete or brick pavers, these structures provide a flat, finished surface to host picnics, watch the kids play, or to rest with a good book. Much like a deck, a patio is usually adjacent to a rear or side door, but it can also be freestanding or connected to the home by a walkway.

In its simplest form, a patio is little more than a strategically placed concrete slab. But with a little imagination and the right materials and techniques, you can make creative artwork of your concrete surface. Say goodbye to the days of a dull, gray slab and make use of concrete stencils and stamping tools to give your slab the look of flagstone or tile, or create your own custom design with “found” objects. Use stains and colorants to give the patio surface a red, golden, brown, blue or black tone. Choose from a wide assortment of colors and textures to enhance a concrete patio, even when resurfacing an existing slab.

Stylish brick pavers can also create a handsome façade for a patio. “Pavers create patios and walkways of limitless design that are distinctive, functional and perennially beautiful,” says Shelley Ross, director of marketing for Boral Bricks, the largest manufacturer and distributor of bricks in the U.S. “A homeowner can stretch their imagination to mix and match paver colors, or to create designs with pattern styles like herringbone, running bond or offset basketweave.”

Made from fired natural clay, brick pavers are available in colors ranging from deep brown and burgundy to light tan and gray, and the color never fades. Brick pavers also come in three distinct styles. The beveled or straight-edge styles complement formal or contemporary designs, while Boral’s Antique Pavers have an aged look with soft, worn edges.

A brick patio can be built with two methods of constructing the sub-base. A patio with a rigid base has pavers that are mortared in place. A patio with a flexible base is built with sub-layers of compacted gravel and sand. For a step-by-step guide to building a paver patio with a flexible base, visit check out EHT‘s online article, “Build Your Own Patio.”