A few summers back, a couple I know called in a favor and had me over to take a look at their deck and offer some suggestions. Their deck had developed an uneven surface with loose boards and halfway extruded screws, and their young children were starting to get a few too many cuts and scratches for their parents’ comfort.
While this is an extreme example of a deck gone wrong, the tendency for screws and fasteners to pop up is universal, and putting them back down over and over again is a common deck maintenance task. Some people, like me, might even find it a pleasurable ritual, but not everyone is crazy like that! If you’re busy or you have kids (and those two things often seem to go together), you probably don’t want to have to regularly schedule time to make sure your deck surface is safe. One way to avoid this maintenance while increasing your deck’s beauty and comfort is by using a decking system that is held together with hidden fasteners. If you want a smooth deck, and you don’t want to do a lot of work to keep it that way, read on!
Why Screws and Fasteners Come Loose
It is natural for decking boards, whether wooden or composite, to expand and contract with changing temperature and moisture levels–although some decking is more moisture resistant than others. This expansion and contraction of the boards has the tendency to push fasteners like screws and nails up out of the board. When decks are exposed to cold, snowy, and icy conditions, this action can be even more intense, as ice pushes into the gap between the fastener and the board, further loosening the connection between the screw or nail and the decking joist below.
Once a deck fastener begins to be pushed above the surface of the deck, it typically doesn’t stop, requiring hammering and screwing to replace the loose fasteners vying for the title of “best tripping hazard.” Unfortunately, after a while even this maintenance isn’t enough, and the fasteners won’t stay put anymore as their original holes in the deck and joist become widened from erosion and reattaching.
What’s So Bad About Fasteners Popping Up?
If a deck is pushing up its fasteners and you decide to avoid the maintenance and leave it, the consequences play out in different ways. Aesthetically, a deck will look unfinished, ragged, and wobbly. In a worst case scenario, the decking boards might also start warping as screws are pushed up in some places and remain firm in others.
Functionally, it’s easy to get tripped up or cut on the raised fasteners or on boards that have warped, and it takes away from the pleasure of having a deck surface that feels like a seamless extension of the inside of the house.
What Are Hidden Fasteners?
A hidden fastener system is essentially an internal clamp that links specially designed decking boards together in a seamless fashion. Frequently made of steel, these fasteners are either T-shaped and made to fit into grooved boards, or they are angled in order to guide a screw to be driven diagonally through the bottom of the decking board into deck joist below. The T-shaped clamps designed for grooved decking boards are the most common, and in my humble opinion the most effective. All of these clamps can be used with both wood and composite decking.
Once the deck is assembled, those using it are unaware of the fasteners, as they are entirely hidden. From an engineering perspective, these T-shaped fasteners essentially tie the deck together more firmly, making the whole structure stronger, making the boards less prone to warping out of place, and creating a smooth surface free of any sharp hardware or tripping hazards.
The Benefits of Hidden Fasteners
Besides the practical virtues listed above, a deck held together with hidden fasteners has a clean, streamlined surface which makes your deck feel and look more like the flooring you find on the inside of a house. This is a wonderful way of achieving the design goal of bringing the inside life of the house to the outdoors, creating a larger living area. Hidden fasteners also provide:
- Protection from the elements: Hidden fasteners are very effective at reducing weathering. Since there are no holes in the top of the deck produced by screws, there is less of an avenue for moisture to seep into the board. The expansion and contraction from temperature swings also doesn’t affect the structure of the deck in the same way. This is primarily so because the clips have larger surface areas than the head of a screw which distributes the forces over a wider area.
- A safer deck with fewer trips: With hidden fasteners holding a deck together, the tripping hazard evaporates, leaving a flat surface predictable enough to go barefoot on. And when younger children, toddlers, and pets are present, there is far less chance they will pick up scratches or punctures from errant fasteners.
- A clean, beautiful appearance: If you find a seamless look to be a beautiful one, then using hidden fasteners is a good place to start when it comes to your deck. Some of these systems can make a deck look as good or better than a beautiful interior hardwood floor, especially if you choose beautiful wood decking or durable composite decking that looks like wood.
Hidden fasteners are a great way of achieving a lower maintenance deck while also giving it an elegant, streamlined, architectural quality. One system that I often recommend to clients is the Hulk fastener system produced by the Fortress Deck company. Designed to be paired with special screws and composite Infinity Decking boards, the fasteners make for a sturdy deck that is both aesthetically pleasing and surprisingly maintenance free.
If you are looking for other products for your deck project, I highly recommend taking some time to go through Fortress’ catalog of other building products, including their railing, fencing, and ornamental hardware. Just like their invisible fasteners, all their products are carefully designed, durable, and innovative, so whatever work you do on your house, deck, or yard will look and stay beautiful.