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Outdoor living integration

Now that spring has arrived, homeowners are calling contractors to pursue long-awaited home improvement dreams. One of the more popular remodels involves outdoor living spaces. Demand for residential decking and railing products in North America reached a factory gate value of about $3.75 billion in 2013, up 4.8 percent compared to 2012, according to the Quakertown, Pa.-based North American Deck and Railing Association’s Residential Decking & Railing 2013 regional market data report, which was developed from Principia’s Residential Decking & Railing 2013.

Part of developing a comfortable outdoor living area is bringing common interior amenities to the outside. Whether this be through opening an entire wall with a folding door or by adding interior features such as kitchens or fireplaces, outdoor living spaces continue their popularity.

Decking decisions

When it comes to decking, customers typically choose between wood and vinyl. Vinyl decking boasts a maintenance-free life and maintains a cooler temperature for those who like to walk barefoot on their decks in the heat of summer. Wood, however, can offer design diversity and a flair for the exotic, particularly if a hardwood such as ipe is specified. Tom Cattany, AIA, LEED AP, lead architect at Boulder, Colo.-based Melton Design Build notes, however, hardwoods can be more difficult to install because of their hardness, which is difficult to drill into.

Another outdoor living decision homeowners must make is whether they prefer a deck or a patio/hardscaped surface. “I think the hardscape is a more substantial solution that will last longer and be less maintenance, depending on the material,” Cattany asserts. 

Climate also contributes to this decision. In Arizona, for example, where Cattany lived for many years, he mentions the intense sun exposure might make a deck less practical than a patio. “The sun will beat them up; decks just don’t make sense there,” he says. Arizona’s housing aesthetics also tend to be more one-story, whereas in Colorado Cattany works more with two-story homes. “In Colorado there is more opportunity and possibility to do a deck off an upper level, such as a raised deck above the main floor level,” he says.

Cattany says second-story decks are supported the same way grade-level decks are – with support posts buried into the ground. “That’s the only way to support a second-story deck, unless you cantilever it, but that is complicated and potentially problematic,” he says. “You’d have those structural joists extending from the inside to the outside and being exposed to the elements. It’s not an ideal situation.”

Seamless transition

Cattany and the Melton Design Build team recently completed a remodel that involved designing a kitchen for entertaining and to provide ample access to the new ipe deck. The team created a large outdoor living space by installing a wall of accordion doors between the family room and outdoor living space. 

Part of making the indoor-outdoor transition smooth was ensuring the floor surfacing remained continuous despite the material change from inside to outside. The folding doors’ track system served as the transition element. “We recessed the structure so it could sit in the floor and be flush with the inside and outside floors,” Cattany remembers.

Cattany describes the pass-through bar as a “fun solution to opening the house to the patio. Where we were putting the kitchen became part of that outdoor living space and they wanted to open it up as much as possible; linking the seating bar to the interior was a good solution.”

The low-sitting deck also boasts a concrete gas-burning fire pit with a seating area around it. “That’s a good example of something you can’t build on top of the deck because of weight issues,” Cattany says. “The fire pit was built off the ground with the footing and a foundation. The deck then was designed with an opening to bring the fire pit through so its weight wouldn’t be bearing on the deck’s framing.”