May 29, 2008
Cost of Premium Deck Wood Pays Off
By Gene Austin
Q. I plan to build a simple deck at the back of my house this summer, using pressure-treated wood. What should I look for when buying the wood? Also, how much space should I leave between deck boards for drainage? - Ralph
A. You should shop for premium-grade wood that has been properly dried after the preservation treatment. Using premium wood will result in less shrinkage, warping, cracking and other problems that often result when very wet wood is used. Look for a grade stamp on the wood with the initials KD (kiln dried) or KDAT (kiln dried after treatment).
Premium grades of pressure-treated wood are usually easier to find at lumber yards than at home centers. In addition to being drier, premium wood generally has fewer knots, resulting in a better looking deck. Kiln-dried wood is also lighter in weight and easier to handle than moisture-soaked boards. This top-grade wood will cost more, but the problems you will avoid will make it well worth it. For more information on what grade stamps can tell you when buying pressure-treated wood, visit www.southernpine.com and click on Pressure Treated, then User Guidance.
Some deck builders leave a small space of about 1/16-inch between deck boards, using a nail as a spacer. However, I recommend butting the sides of the boards together, not leaving any space. Even if you use kiln-dried wood, it will contain enough moisture to shrink after installation, which will automatically open up a small space between boards for drainage. If you start with a space, shrinkage can sometimes make it so wide that the space can catch sharp heels and cause tripping.
Q. Should we seal the two vents in the walls of the crawl space under our house? The space has a dirt floor covered with a vapor barrier and the ceiling is insulated. We have had conflicting advice about whether to leave the vents open or close them. What do you think? - A. Moser
A. Whether the crawl space should be vented depends on the climate in your area. The purpose of the vents is to allow outside air to circulate in the crawl space, reducing moisture condensation that could cause mold and rot. This works well in many areas, especially in drier northern climates. However, if there is often high relative humidity in your area in summer, the outside air that enters the crawl space can actually increase the chances of condensation in the cooler crawl space (this happens in some southern states).
Automatic crawl space vents that open and close with changing humidity are available, but they are rather expensive and hard to find. Since you are in doubt, try this: If you have been leaving the vents open in summer, examine the crawl space for signs of mildew or condensation on cold metal surfaces. If the space appears dry and mold free, I think you should continue to leave the vents open. If you find traces of mildew or condensation, try closing the vents for a few months. Examine the crawl space periodically to see if the problems have ceased (existing mildew can be removed with a chlorine- bleach solution or one of the special mildew cleaners sold at home centers). Monitoring the crawl space should help you determine how to adjust your vents. You might also consult with local building- code officials to see if there are any special recommendations for your area.
A clever and practical suggestion for eliminating dog scratches on hardwood floors came from Carol L., who owns a dog named Maggie and whose house has hardwood floors throughout her home. She said Maggie dons rubber-soled dog boots when she enters the house, and the hardwood floors remain undamaged. The dog also doesn't slip on the slick wood surfaces. Dog boots can be bought at some pet stores or at www.petboots.com.
Questions and comments should be e-mailed to Gene Austin at [email protected] Send regular mail for Gene Austin to 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, PA 19422.
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