While living in Europe, I had the great honor of contributing a little sweat to the upkeep of one of my friends’ summer homes. Located in a beautiful area known for its rough winters, this home was mainly used between May and September, and was left alone for the rest of the year. It had plenty of deck space, but its owner didn’t have a lot of time, so the house needed a deck that could last for years with very little maintenance work. In my opinion, if a deck can go without regular pressure washing, sanding, and sealing, and still keep its color and stay free of mold and splinters, then it’ll make ideal decking for a summer house. The trick here is to avoid wood and go with something engineered to be easy. Fully capped composite decking works exceptionally well in a summer house location, as it’s durable and extremely low maintenance.
What to Look for in Decking for a Summer House
There are a few main qualities that really make some decking materials optimal for a summer house. Apart from being beautiful and sturdy, the most important qualities are those that reduce the maintenance load and bring peace of mind while the homeowner isn’t around.
- Easy to clean: Having decking surfaces that are easy to clean is the first step in easy maintenance. It also indicates that many of the moisture-based problems that decking boards tend to have will be minimal. A coated, non-porous surface is the easiest kind of surface to keep clean.
- Doesn’t mold or mildew: When a surface is exposed to a lot of moisture and spends time in the shade, mold, and mildew will begin to proliferate. If left to their own devices, they will work their way more and more deeply into the board. While some common measures are frequent power washing and chemical treatment, for a home that isn’t occupied much of the year, it may be even easier to simply invest in a decking material like composite that doesn’t mold or mildew.
- Doesn’t require regular sealing, staining, or sanding: In order to be protected from the elements, most decking boards require regular application of a stain and sealer– generally every other year or so. This is needed more often in tough environments like very cold areas or beachside locations where salt, sand, and sun will weather the wood quickly. The reapplication process generally requires the surfaces to be given a good cleaning, as well as a sanding of any dead wood near the surface.
Wooden Decking Maintenance
If sanding, power washing, and sealing aren’t what you’re looking for, then a traditional wooden deck may not be ideal. Keeping a summer home’s wooden deck in good shape generally will take some periods of work in the springtime and the fall. If there are cold or rainy months at the beginning of the year, mold and mildew will frequently form, dirt particles will fill any porous or low lying parts of the deck, and boards may warp or crack and need replacing. For a summer house whose owners might not be able to get to it during these seasons, this translates to hiring the work out, ideally to someone who can take care of it year in and year out. Otherwise, that regular maintenance is on the shoulders of the homeowner–who might not want to do a lot of sanding while on vacation.
Low Maintenance Composite Decking
I’ve become a fan of composite decking for summer houses, as high-quality, fully capped composite decking has a non-porous surface that is easy to clean, doesn’t readily provide a home to mold and mildew, and never requires an ounce of sealer or stain to be applied over its long lifespan. What makes this possible is the rubbery, enhanced resin capping material that encases the composite board. When you choose a good quality composite, the capping ensures that there is no chance for mold, sun damage, or water absorption to take place. That means that the only real maintenance on composite decking is a light cleaning whenever needed, which can be done with a mop, a rag, or just a broom. All of this makes composite decking the perfect decking material for beach houses, mountain cabins, or even hot and humid areas like Florida and Georgia.
The Aesthetic Benefits of Composite Decking
Despite its low maintenance benefits, one of the primary objections to earlier versions of composite decking was that it wasn’t much to look at. Over time it would lose its coloring and often appeared fake and plasticky. That’s changed quite a bit over the years.
- Colorfast: While early generations had a problem with color fading, the best new lines of composite decking have solved that problem, and provide boards that can sit in full sun for years with minimal change at worst.
- Realistic look: Manufacturers of composite are paying much more attention nowadays to creating a board with a subtle but noticeable wood grain pattern that’s as realistic as possible. Some makers even produce boards that come with a hardwood grain on one side of the board and a distressed wood pattern on the opposite side. They’re also being careful to avoid creating boards with the shiny, plastic look that so many early composites had. Today, some lines of composite decking look just like ipe in color, grain, and even tactile feel.
- Wide choice of colors: Having a variety of colors to choose from makes it simple to find the right look for your home, yard, and environment, and composite boards don’t require any staining or painting to get them looking that way (or staying that way).
Near the end of my time in Europe, I worked on a couple summer homes all the way up north in Finland, and while up there it is considered almost a crime to use something other than wood, the pragmatic homeowners instead opted for composite decking, which to date has only required some gentle sweeping and mopping when the summer season opens up in May.
A line of composite decking that fills out all the above low maintenance requirements is Infinity Decking, produced by Fortress Deck. It’s pretty unique in the composite decking world, being made of bamboo and plastic, instead of sawdust and plastic. This makes it extra moisture resistant and strong. This type of decking is also fully capped, and Fortress uses a capping that’s slightly ‘grabby’, making it easy on the feet, harder to slip on, and much more natural looking than most composites. All these plusses mean that this decking is at the top of my short list when it comes to composite decking boards. And since I usually do larger projects, my needs extend beyond decking–if yours do, too, check out Fortress’ full line of building materials for whatever needs doing on a project. They’ve got ultra-tough fencing, railing, and ornamental hardware for use on almost any property, including vacation homes.