What's new in design and materials

A good deck transports you to another world, or at the very least extends your living space outdoors. It allows you to project yourself into a landscape without destroying it ― for example, by doing away with the need for fill around trees, which a terrace would require. A truly great deck is suited to the site and delights the eye. As these examples show, a deck can capture a view, turn even a tiny sunlit space into an outdoor room, and expand the feeling of spaciousness by helping the boundaries between indoors and outdoors disappear. With so many materials and techniques now available, the only limit is at the edge of your imagination.

New materials

The old Western standards of cedar and redwood have been joined by imported lumbers: jarrah (a member of the eucalyptus family) from western Australia, ipé from South America, and mahogany from Central America. Look for FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification–it means these imported lumbers have been sustainably harvested.

Traditionally, pressure-treated lumber often has been used in the supporting framework for decking. For years this lumber has been treated with a chemical containing chromated copper arsenate (CCA), which is now being phased out. New compounds make treated lumber more user-friendly. Look for the new treated wood at your lumberyard.

Choices in environmentally friendly wood alternatives are also expanding, such as ChoiceDek, Trex, and TimberTech. These products reduce the impact of logging by blending plastic with wood fiber.

The other news in materials is hidden fasteners ― deck clips, metal brackets, and biscuit joiners ― available at home improvement centers. These products, while often expensive and labor intensive, result in a deck surface that is unblemished by screws and nails and is easier to refinish. MAINTAINING YOUR DECK

An annual maintenance check is essential to keep a wood deck looking good.

1. With a screwdriver, remove debris. Reset nails or screws that protrude.

2. Apply specially formulated deck cleaners to remove gray wood fibers. (Ideally, do this on an overcast day.)

3. While deck is still wet, scrub with a stiff-bristled brush, working with the grain.

4. Rinse deck using a garden hose with a spray nozzle or a pressure washer with a wide spray head.

5. If nails leave rust marks, countersink them below deck surface and remove rust with a dilute mixture of oxalic acid.

6. Let deck dry for two days before applying a clear wood preservative with mildewcides and ultraviolet-light inhibitors. Use a sprayer and roller to apply the product, then brush it in.