Most of the condos I’ve worked on are really not so different than the houses I’ve worked on. The main difference is that when I’ve been called to fix some decking at a condo, it hasn’t just been a few boards or a 4×5 pad by the back door; instead, I’ve often been part of a big team doing many units all at once, and since the work and materials were going to add a nice big chunk to everyone’s condo fee, it was important to put in something that really worked and looked great.
Whether it’s a short-term or a longer-term investment property, value retention and overall sturdiness are crucial qualities in decking for condos. While it can be tempting to install simple cedar and pressure treated decking, these surfaces will require a maintenance load that is not always attractive to prospective residents. A longer-lasting material that takes less maintenance—and is also incredibly beautiful—will serve to raise the value of the condo and make it more attractive to potential buyers.
Ideal Characteristics of Decking for Condos
As with any other structure or addition, determining the best material for the job requires balancing a few different considerations. Finding just the right balance is the art and science of good design work.
- Aesthetics: First and foremost, condo decking ought to look fantastic in a way that probably won’t go out of style. If put in by a developer, it always behooves the developer to create as attractive an atmosphere as possible. Where an owner or resident is concerned, beauty has never hurt the resale value. I go for a classic look and tend to avoid anything too trendy—if you choose a good material, it’ll be there a while and you don’t want it to ever look out of date, or put off a buyer who isn’t into a particular trend.
- Durability: This has always seemed like an obvious one to me. Buyers today are savvy (the internet helps with that), and they can tell if what you’ve put down will look great for two years and then will need to be torn out due to deterioration. They can tell if you’ve skimped up front, and they know that the replacement cost will fall on them.
- Ease of Maintenance: Besides the longevity of the decking itself, buyers are also looking for low maintenance overall. Does the decking material mold or mildew? Does it need to be pressure washed? How often? After washing, does it need to be sanded, oiled, restained, resealed, or repainted? Do nails and screws need to be resunk? Will cracks form that need to be filled with wood putty?
The Best Decking Materials for Condos
There are certainly plenty of viable material choices for condo decking, ranging from uber modern and minimal to classic. The final decision really hinges on the look that a property owner or developer is going for and how much maintenance buyers can live with. The following are a few of the materials I see as the best options for condo decking:
- Wood: There are obviously many different varieties of wood, from cedar and redwood to ipe and teak, and the variation is so great that to describe their virtues thoroughly would really take a book. Generally speaking, all wooden decks need to be stained and sealed on all sides before fastening them down, and if the rain and sun are intense in the deck’s location, then cedar and ipe alike both require more frequent sealing. When wood isn’t properly sealed, moisture will find its way into the board, causing the board to expand and to rot or mold, possibly causing structural problems. Wood also has the tendency to splinter and, as the boards swell and shrink with the weather, they tend to force nails and screws up and out, where they can stub toes and snag shoes. Wood can give a deck or balcony an exquisite, luxurious, and highly-finished look, but will take work every year to keep it that way.
- Concrete: Concrete is perhaps more common for ground floor decks and patios, and in upper floors isn’t something I see frequently put in during remodeling projects. However, it’s becoming a more popular material for good reasons. It’s relatively inexpensive and very long-lasting, and in covered areas, it can be transformed into a luxury material through polishing and stains. For all of its virtues, however (I personally love concrete), many simply haven’t warmed up to the look of concrete. In some ways, too, it can be more of a pain to clean than a wooden deck. A pressure washer is the best way to clean concrete, but too small a nozzle (and holding the nozzle too close to the deck) can blast off the sealant and create streaks.
- Composite Decking: Many contractors still haven’t figured this out yet, but the best lines of composite decking can match ipe, teak, and other rainforest hardwoods in sensual beauty, and keep the look with virtually no maintenance (while ipe turns from beautiful brown to gray no matter how often it’s oiled). Of course, composite decking hasn’t always been a viable alternative to other materials. Most in the construction industry remember the first generation of composites, with their reputation for warping, losing color, chipping and crumbling, and looking artificial. We’ve come far since those days. Today, the best examples of composite decking are able to perform much better than wood and look great doing it. That’s because the core of the decking board is moisture resistant and dense, and is further protected by a capping material that wraps entirely around each board. The best capping material I’ve seen is made of an enhanced resin which utilizes technological advances first pioneered by the automotive industry. This makes it very tough, as well as slightly grippy for a non-slip deck surface that feels much more like real wood than most composites. There is a wide range of quality within the field of composite decking, but if you get the best decking available, it will look and feel good while outlasting wood—without the typical maintenance that wood requires.
I use various types of wood, concrete, and composite decking in my current construction projects regularly. However, of late, the material with the sweet spot combination of good aesthetics, durability, and easy maintenance has been high-quality fully-capped composite decking. Once I discovered composite decking that really looked as good as ipe (and doesn’t everyone love that rich, elegant ipe look?), but required less than half the maintenance, composite became one of my primary go-to’s.
When I recommend decking to my clients, the first decking I suggest is made by Fortress Deck, as their Infinity decking is perhaps the most moisture and UV resistant of any composite on the market, and combines that protection with a very realistic look and feel (just the right amount of wood grain, and it doesn’t look slick and shiny). If you’re looking to add value to a condo, in my opinion, a solid composite like Infinity is the way to go. In addition to their decking, I’ve also used some of their other products, like railing and fencing, which you can take a look at here.