Say goodbye to deathtrap decks and get something that will survive an Irish winter

The builder’s take: The Irish winter takes its toll on outdoor spaces but they don’t have to look battered

At this time of year we are on the positive side of the solstice and eyes are casting out beyond the kitchen sink to the sprouting daffodils and spring. For some of us, what catches our eyes as we do this is a tired and grey looking exterior, generally comprised of a timber deck that has the most elegantly poised of us looking like Bambi on ice as we try to negotiate our path to the clothes line.

And the lawn, well that also looks like it is in need of some attention. If there are kids about, the lawn is used as a multifunctional playing surface and by now looks like it has done 12 rounds with British boxer Tyson Fury.

The Irish winter takes its toll on our outdoor spaces, which end up looking battered, bruised and threadbare. Unless you are an avid gardener and DIY all-rounder, then it will look shabby at this time of year.

Bleak wasteland

How can we avoid this bleak wasteland? Many people end up in this situation because they aren’t inclined to do any maintenance or gardening inclined. Or if they are, maybe they don’t have time to apply themselves.

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So what can we do? We can look at alternative materials. One of the advantages of decks is that they can be raised up to the floor level of the house quite easily by means of timber joists. If we changed a deck to a paved or stone area, it would involve carting infill material, such as hardcore, to raise it to the required level. If you have no external rear access, then this isn’t going to be a pleasurable experience. There are other deck alternatives however.

Composite decking is now making a name for itself, it’s made from recycled wood and high-density polyethylene (HDPE).

According to Mark Richardson, sales manager with Composite Decking Ireland, composite decks have many advantages over traditional wooden decks. He cites: longer life span, low maintenance, no splinters, eco-friendly, colour options, heat resistance, no visible screws and slip resistance. He says, "Prices start from as low as €45 per sq m for hollow boards to €72 per sq m for solid boards. With an expected lifespan of more than 25 years, it really is a sound investment." Prices for timber decking are about €20 per metre. Install rates would be similar.

Modified wood

Accoya decking is another option you may want to consider. This is modified acetylated wood, in essence a wood that has its chemical structure modified to make it almost immune to further absorption of water. It is now being used in many external applications, including decking. I have seen a small piece of Medite Tricoya MDF, which I picked out of a jar of water, in which it was submerged for over a year, and it was still solid with perfect edges. Amazing.

In terms of the lawn, astro turf is an option. Granted, nobody wants their garden to be mainly made of plastic. I abhor the stuff as a building material, but a small area of synthetic grass can be handy.

If you only have a small area of outdoor lawn space, or if you have children and require an all-weather clean surface, or if you are at an age where mowing is stretching your physical capabilities, then it is a consideration. It really is a great playing surface for children all year round which saves on mud and grass stains too.

Rob Loonam from ArtificialGrass.ie, says he has seen the domestic side of the business grow well over recent years. He says people now have a mix of natural lawn and artificial grass. “People are putting real grass in the sunny parts of their garden and artificial grass in shaded areas that were previously subject to moss, or in areas where they have a dining table to keep it clean underfoot.”

Even coloured grasses are being used. “People are using them like garden rugs under dining tables,” Loonam says. “Expect to pay €20 to €35 per metre for the grass on say an area of 20sq m (215sq ft) and about €15 to €30 for the install, depending on site conditions.”

Loonam also says that they are covering more and more decks these days with artificial grass too for its non-slip properties. It seems the deck’s slippery days may finally be numbered.

Kevin Moran is a builder and contractor (moranbuilders.ie)