The nails, screws, and other fasteners that hold a deck in place are the most underappreciated parts of a deck. These are small pieces of metal that must stand up to the fury of the elements all day, every day. If they don’t, you’re left with a rickety pile of debris instead of a usable outdoor structure. Whatever your fastener system is, it needs to be strong and durable in order to secure your deck boards firmly to the substructure.
Your deck board fasteners also need to provide a smooth surface. A deck is, after all, a walking surface, and nails or screw heads that have ‘popped’ due to moisture or freezing cycles can injure bare feet. Boards that are pulling loose can be a trip hazard even for the shoed. In creating a smooth walking surface, composite deck boards have an advantage. They don’t splinter the way wooden boards do, and a hidden composite deck fastener system can be used between the boards to make the deck even smoother. Composite boards installed this way are especially barefoot-friendly decking compared to boards installed with traditional fasteners.
Standard Surface Deck Fastening
Surface fastening is the most common way of anchoring boards to a deck substructure. It’s a technical description of the familiar task of driving a nail or screws through a board and into the material beneath. The technique is also used to attach deck boards to light gauge steel framing. To attach boards to a metal substructure instead of a wooden one, all that needs to change is the type of screw. Attaching wood boards to a substructure this way is simple, you just drive a screw or nail directly through the board. Properly placing a screw through a composite board is only slightly more complex.
To attach a composite deck board to the deck substructure using a screw, a pilot hole has to be drilled first. This helps prevent pressure cracks from forming in the composite and ruining the board. Care must also be taken to avoid over-tightening the screw. If a screw is over-tightened it can deform the surface of the board, causing a bulge of material to rise up around the screw. As long as all the manufacturer’s steps are followed, though, these problems are easily avoided and the process isn’t much different than attaching regular wood boards to a substructure. However, there are some disadvantages to a surface installation of composite across the entire deck.
Disadvantages of Surface Installation of Composite
The typical pattern of fasteners in a surface installation is two in every board where it crosses a joist. The end result is a deck with regular lines of fasteners crossing the surface of the deck. Where there is a butt joint—where the ends of two composite deck boards meet—there are four fasteners, two in each board. Composite boards are nearly universally installed with screws, and these tend to be a lot more noticeable than nail heads. A great many homeowners find these repeating lines of fastener unpleasant to look at, and there is a practical objection to this method as well.
Composite deck boards are made up of a blend of natural wood or bamboo byproducts and plastics. These are then usually wrapped in a moisture-resistant cap that keeps water from getting to their core. Driving a screw into through the board penetrates the cap and opens up a potential path for moisture to get at the core of the board. Over time, particularly with lower quality composites, this can begin to damage a board, and when there are several screws in each board, the risk of damage due to moisture penetration rises. Although high-quality composite decking shouldn’t run much risk of damage due to the use of screws, limiting their use is still wise, and to address both the practical and the aesthetic concerns composite manufacturers have created fastening systems that don’t penetrate the board.
A Hidden Composite Deck Fastener System
The solution to both of these problems is a hidden fastener system that hold boards securely to the deck without requiring hardware to actually enter the board. Composite deck boards can be purchased with a groove in the side. A clip slides into this, and that clip is screwed to the deck joist. The next board in the series slides onto the same clip, and another set of clips go onto the other side of the board. This is repeated until the deck is fully covered. The end result is a smooth deck in which the fasteners are hidden away so that they aren’t able to damage either the board or people’s feet. This method does require that the outermost boards on the edge of the deck are screwed down, but the remainder of the boards can be attached using hidden fasteners.
By limiting the number of places the moisture resistant cap is compromised, this installation method reduces the chances of moisture damaging the board. Other features, like a full cap and a dense core that uses bamboo flour, can further enhance the longevity of a deck installed with hidden fasteners. When choosing to install decking with hidden fasteners it’s important to look at the quality of the decking itself along with the fastener system.
The sole disadvantage of the hidden fastener system is that if a board installed with this system is damaged, then replacing it usually requires either cutting out the board or removing the entire sequence of boards to replace that one board. The Hulk Fastener hidden clip system that works with the Infinity line of composite decking from Fortress Deck is an unusual product because it works slightly differently. It’s designed around a hidden clip that can be extracted through the space between installed boards, making replacing a single damaged board easy and quick. To find out more, contact Fortress Deck or locate a builder or dealer near you. For other thoughtfully engineered products, check out Fortress Building Products’ full catalog.