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Building Resilience (12): Decking that Digs in to the Landscape

Blurring the indoor/outdoor connection with a deck that runs into the ground, and a sunroom that looks like a porch
July 22, 2023

Last time on Building Resilience we were wrapping the house with AZEK’s ¾ inch PVC Sheets with PaintPro technology.

And while we stepped back to admire the clean modern lines of the new design. In the process, we dug in a little deep on the installation detailing, because there’s a lot more to it than screwing panels to the wall.

Michael Anschel: The process for installing the Tamlyn trims and the PaintPro panels is you start at the bottom, start at a corner, and move across in one direction. The process we used was really to attack one side of the house at a time. We did the south elevation, then we did the east elevation, then we did the north, and then we came around and did the west.
So we were very intentional about how that lays up.

This week we’re going to build a deck out back, install some TimberTech/AZEK PVC deck boards, and then explore how the design elements work with the rest of the house.

In order to not mess with the tree roots, Michael designed a free-standing deck that does not need below-frost footing protection, because it is not attached to the house.

MA: The reason that the deck isn’t attached to the house, isn’t because the deck ledger is complicated in this wall system. We’ve talked about it in the past and we’ve done it ourselves—deck ledgers in ZIP System R-12 are actually better because they’re hidden, tucked way back, and they’re actually waterproof before you attach any framing members. So, it’s an elegant detail.
But in this instance, if I attached the deck to the house, I’d be required to put in frost-depth footings for the deck. The deck was pushing into space where we didn’t want to disturb roots. So I thought to make it a floating deck. So instead of frost-depth footings, the whole deck is like a sidewalk, it’s floating. There’s a potential for it to move, but again, what’s our soil type? Sand.
And what’s the likelihood of moisture accumulation in the sand such that it would start throwing the deck around? Low.
So I feel pretty good about that. But if it does move, there’s about a 1/2 -inch gap between the decking and the house. So it’s got space to move.
And then, each of the deck joists is cantilevered over roughly 6 inches off the back of the beams.

The boys got to participate in the construction of the deck, it’s close to the ground, I felt pretty good about involving them. They were very excited to do it. So, installing hangers and hurricane clips, and all that stuff, they both got a lot of experience in that. Rigo got to help me move the PVC deck boards onto the deck, and he got a lot of experience putting in Cortex screws. And he got a lot of practice learning how to center a drill and drive it straight down vs. at an angle.

While Rigo was screwing off the deck, Michael took a break to talk about the groovy screws he’s using.

MA: Alright, we’re installing AZEK PVC decking. I’m on the deck right now, installing all these cool deck boards. But, I want to talk about these really cool screws that we use. These are Cortex screws, and that the Cortex screw does is, it not only keeps the PVC from mushrooming but also drills a hole at the same time. So we can put a little cap in the deck board. The face of that cap, the top, has a graining on it that matches the deck board as well. You can see there, where Rigo is standing, you can’t see any of the plugs. It’s the same material, the same installation method. Once you get a foot or two away, the plugs pretty much vanish. This makes for a super-clean install, and it keeps the fasteners protected as well, so no water is going to find its way into these things. Not that that would be an issue...
...Not that that would be an issue anyway.

They ran the decking parallel to the house, beginning with a full-width board at inner jog of the addition, gapped ⅜ of an inch apart, and working out to the acutely-angled outer rim.

As is typical in deckbuilding, the boards are run long and cut in place for a straight line.

The outer rim is finished with a 1-inch thick AZEK Paint Pro outer-band coated to match the orange band above the second-floor windows.

MA: Connecting spaces, right? I’ve got this band at the bottom and this band at the top, so it’s that asymmetrical relationship.

Speaking of connecting spaces, there was a very intentional choice of materials to create the flow from inside to outside.

MA: The Way that we constructed the deck, well, we had a couple of things that we wanted to achieve, right? I wanted to achieve this inside to outside visual connection. That was one of my big challenges on the design side—How do I blur the lines that define inside and outside? Skycove did it upstairs in the baby’s room. The big multi-slide door really starts to blur that inside to outside bit, but I wanted to take it a step further.
Using a combination of the AZEK porch product in concert with the AZEK decking product allowed me to have the same texture and color. One product references the porch, which is that in-between space, and then the other product—decking—looks like a deck. When the door’s open, you get that bridge across the two.
When people come through the house, when they’re in the sunroom area, their brains automatically switch to “underneath this area must be crawlspace or something, or nothing.” They don’t get the fact that the music room that I’m sitting in is underneath it.
The porch floor product really gets people’s brains to register “I’m outside” before you’re even outside.

The multi-door sliders and interior porch flooring bring people one step closer to the outside. The massive sliders open the space visually, while the flooring does it through continuity.

Stepping onto the deck does not represent the end of the inside to outside gradient, either. The organic shape of the deck and the extreme durability of the PVC materials allow the deck to blend into the earth physically.

MA: I wanted to preserve as much yard as possible while still providing an ample deck. Going straight off the house felt like it was cutting too much into the space, and I wanted to deflect that a little bit. So, adjusting the edges a little bit and running the back to meet, felt like it fit the land.

On the design side, there are things that we try to achieve where we have man-made materials, built environment meeting natural environment. There are some materials that are so appropriate for that usage. Using a PVC deck board that can take all of the weather, that you don’t have to stain—you don’t have to keep applying a chemical to—that’s awesome. And then to have the fascia/skirtboard make contact with the ground—visually is quite beautiful but also, it’s not going to peel, it's not going to rot, and it keeps all the framing protected as well.

And protecting the framing is what it’s all about. In addition to keeping the occupants protected, healthy, and comfortable.

That pretty much wraps up the premier Building Resilience project as far as the construction sequences and design details.

Next week, we’re going to recap the whole project by running through the checklist of Resilient Design Principles to see how it all came together and whether it stacks up to what we set out to do.

In the meantime, stay tuned and stay resilient.

See the whole series here.

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