For some time I’ve been working in a white hot city for building and remodeling projects. There are houses, apartments, and skyscrapers going up everywhere. For a variety of reasons, it’s also a city where remodeling is far more common than building a house from scratch. With limited space for new builds, my clients are looking to improve their properties wherever possible. One of the most common project requests I get is for the installation of rooftop terraces with the flooring made of some kind of decking material.
After doing a few of these projects, there are a few things I’ve learned that really help create the best possible rooftop deck. Ultimately, a terrace is meant to be a beautiful escape from the daily grind, placed above the hustle and bustle and the cares and worries of life. Good decking for a roof terrace won’t demand a lot of maintenance and will stay beautiful in the elements.
Keeping the Maintenance Down
A rooftop deck needs to handle the elements, and since it isn’t always easy to get tools and cleaning supplies up into such spaces, it’s crucial to use decking materials that are easy to maintain. Carrying things like pressure washers up these stairs is never popular and sometimes isn’t even possible. Some of the qualities which keep a rooftop deck low maintenance are:
- Easy Clean-up: Back to the old pressure washer issue. Neither I or my clients want to do too much schlepping of heavy machines up and down any type of staircase, and the narrow steps and quasi-ladders that are sometimes used to get to rooftop terraces make things even more difficult. What my clients are looking for in this situation is a decking material that doesn’t get dirty easily and doesn’t require anything bulky to get some cleaning done. It’s difficult to achieve this with wooden decking materials, as their surfaces are pretty porous. Depending on the exact situation, rooftop spaces collect debris like crazy–whether soot, dust particles, leaves, seed pods, you name it. The soot, dust, and dirt are probably the biggest contributors to a dirty deck as they easily cling to any porous surface. To counteract this, with a wood deck you want to apply a good strong sealer to reduce the porousness of the surface. Sealers require maintenance and reapplication, though. The bottom line is that in order to create a truly easy-to-clean rooftop terrace, you need to start with a decking material that has a dense, nonporous surface.
- UV Protected: Unless covered by a pergola or some other shade structure, a rooftop deck is normally a pretty sunny space. In order to keep the maintenance down, having a deck that doesn’t easily weather in the sun’s rays is very helpful both for the deck’s durability and for the way it looks. As wood ages in the sun, its color fades to gray, requiring fresh applications of stain and sealer every other year or so. This color fade is also a sign of more fundamental damage to the cellular structure of the wood. UV rays literally cook the wood, drying out and breaking down the cells, which leads to graying, peeling, splintering, and cracking.
- High-Quality Hidden Hardware: In my life, I’ve walked on more than a few decks with screws and nails sticking out of the boards, patiently waiting to snare the next unsuspecting victim. As decks age and weather, the same forces that are causing the weathering can lead to boards popping up due to loosened fasteners or to fasteners being pushed out of boards. Keeping screws and nails level with the deck’s surface can take a surprising amount of work in older decks. One way of keeping maintenance down is by using decking with a hidden fastening system, which not only frees one of the job of pounding down popped-up nails, but also creates a smooth-looking deck surface.
Aesthetic Considerations for Decking for a Roof Terrace
In a space where frequent renovations may not be desirable or easy, I always strive to fit my clients with materials and styles that fit versatilely with different design schemes and furniture, possess a perennial beauty of style and color, and will stay beautiful for a long time with as little work as possible. These are the things I look for:
- Beautiful Grain and Color: One of my favorite, albeit maintenance heavy, decking materials for rooftop terraces has always been ipe. Its beautiful grain and deep color are absolutely breathtaking. However, in light of its maintenance and environmental issues, I’ve begun more frequently using high-end composite decking that looks like ipe–this composite even has a similar grain pattern as ipe, and it comes in other colors as well. Whatever one chooses, grain pattern and coloration play a pretty large role in the aesthetic success of a deck, and it’s always wise to get a material that you absolutely love!
- Colors That Don’t Fade: Once a good color has been found, it’s nice to not have to keep reapplying that color over and over again via paint or stain. For some clients and in some places, this isn’t a big hassle, but on a rooftop terrace it is definitely to be avoided. This is another reason why I often utilize a higher quality composite decking material that maintains its color using a resin capping, so it’ll stay the same beautiful color that you first chose for years.
- Streamlined Look and Feel: An elegant streamlined feel works wonderfully in rooftop spaces. When using decking boards, clean lines and smooth surfaces bring an elegance that could be classic or modern, and helps with that feeling of “life, simplified” that people are looking for from their rooftop decks. One way I achieve this feel is by attaching the deck boards using the hidden fasteners I mentioned before. With no fasteners running visual interference, a simple deck is transformed into an elegant platform that’s also friendly to bare feet.
In my city-based building business, I’ve put in rooftop decks with concrete floors, tile, cedar, ipe, and composite. While all of these materials can be made to shine, I’ve found that the easiest solution for an increasing number of my projects has been to use a high-quality line of composite decking. While I would not have used most composite decking 20 years ago, nowadays there are lines of composite decking that look immaculate and are virtually maintenance free. With an enhanced resin protective cap that encases the whole board, these decks are well protected from the elements and able to keep their color for the life of the deck. The newest decks are even able to do an uncanny impersonation of the color and grain of tropical or traditional hardwoods.
There are a few companies at the top of my list, but the first one I direct people to is Fortress Deck. Their decks are both beautiful and durable, qualities which might come partially from their unusual use of bamboo in their composite boards. Stylishness and innovation are qualities that extend to all their other products, like fencing and railing, which I highly recommend checking out. You’ll have much more peace of mind relaxing on your roof terrace when you know your products are some of the most beautiful and well-designed in the business.