A robust low-maintenance aluminum deck

A bit off topic right? Well, putting in a deck is still technically working by hand, so here it is. A few people have emailed me about my experiences with LockDry Aluminum decking, so I thought I would write up a post. I initially posted a comment on www.ahousebythepark.com last December which prompted the initial request.

When we moved into this house in 2001, I naively installed a 10 x 12 deck with a cedar top. After about 3 years of yearly maintenance, I decided to nix the cedar in lieu of Ipe. In 2004, Ipe was still an “exotic” and somewhat unknown quantity. I ordered mine from “Oliver Lumber” who generally carry the best supply of Ipe (and probably the best price in southern Ontario). I installed the deck thinking that it would be “low” maintenance, and look beautiful if I maintained it. After 4 years of cleaning and oiling twice a year, I had had enough. Left to it’s own devices, Ipe will naturally turn gray – that’s quite fine, but I guess I thought I could keep it the rich dark reddish-brown colour of newly-milled lumber. The truth of the matter is, and something only experience and trolling through forums will tell you is that there is no finish, not Messmers, not Penofin, not Australian Timber Oil that will last – well not in Canada anyways. The brochures often show beautiful decks with rich colours that hold up to the elements…  in Arizona, or California or where ever they don’t get 3-5 feet of snow a year. Snow compacts on a deck and ends up rasping off any finish. If you put in a deck made of exotic wood and aren’t prepared to let it go gray – then you will be re-finishing it twice a year. The benefit of Ipe-like woods is that they pressure-wash really well, but tropical hardwoods also build-up a film of gunk due to leaves falling, pollen and all the wonders of nature. And the end of freshly cut hardwood should be waxed to avoid end checking. Ipe has the same fire-resistance as concrete, and is wickedly bug resistant. I also used Ipe on my front porch (deck and railings), and with a quick clean and oil with Tung oil, it looks great – but it is covered.

So in 2008 I look for options other than exotic wood. One of the requirements for the deck replacement was that it was waterproof – I needed water away from the house, and some provision for storage underneath. A closed deck would also prevent the messy build-up of flower buds, leaves and sticks between the boards. I don’t like composites, so I decided not to go that path. At the end the best option seemed like aluminum. The problem with many of the products available in the US, is that they are not always available in Canada. After some deliberation, I decided to go with LockDry. As to why LockDry? A local distributor. Couldn’t find one for the LastDek waterproof product. The look is great, I went with the beige type colour… easy to maintain, doesn’t matter how much snow sits on there (it’s easy to clean off using a plastic shovel). I did the steps (24″ wide platforms really) going off the deck as well.

LockDry deck during construction – facia on the PT sub-structure is cedar.

We’ve had the LockDry deck for over 4 years now. Couldn’t be happier with it. Because it is metal, it will expand and contract, so it will occasionally make the noises associated with this, however there have never been any leakage problems… as long as you seal between the deck and house properly. In the summer it is cooler than a hardwood. Installation-wise it slopes away from the house so water runs off from the house out. My joists were running perpendicular to the house, so I had to block in between them because the LockDry runs perpendicular as well. No big deal though.

Some FAQ:

  • Is it DIY?  Certainly – obviously easier if you build the deck base from scratch. Once the first piece is installed, the rest snap into place easily, and are held down with stainless steel screws.
  • Is is really waterproof?  Yes… so far anyway. Any water that does penetrate the deck passes down one of the channels and out the end. I have watched the deck from underneath during summer downpours and no issues. The one problem area is where the deck joins the house. I used silicon, and a piece of angled aluminum along the wall to ensure no water seeps through. The deck slopes on an angle, so all the water naturally flows away from the house.
  • Is the deck loud?  I would say not really, and I have listened to it during downpours. It probably depends somewhat on the distance of the deck from the ground. My deck is less than 2 feet  off the ground, and therefore the  noise is likely dampened by the constrained space underneath (closed off somewhat as well).
  • Is the deck low maintenance?  Ab-sol-ute-ly. The deck does get dirty over the winter months, and I clean it  once in May and again in August. A scrubbing brush, some washing detergent and 30 minutes brings it up as good as new.
  • Is the deck hot in summer?  No hotter than hardwood, which itself can get quite hot. It is cooled by the baffles underneath, so it maintains a reasonable temperature. (check here for some experimental testing on how hot decking materials get). A lighter deck colour also reduces the ability to absorb heat.
  • What about snow load?  Not a problem. I usually push the snow off the deck with a plastic snow shovel before it compacts and turns to ice. Just personal preference.
  • Is the deck slippery? No, these decks usually have a non-slip coating.

I can’t find the distributor I used anymore, but I been told that a similar product is sold by Craft-Bilt in Ajax.

Bottom line – if you live in a more arid climate, tropical hardwoods are great, if you live in the big-white North, aluminum is king. It is low maintenance, doesn’t require refinishing, and doesn’t rot. Got a cottage – it’s apparently great for docks, and is not affected by the stuff that falls from the trees. More expensive yes… but what is the cost of maintenance or deck replacement? If the deck substructure cannot get wet, it can’t rot. I paid roughly $2800 for enough decking for a 12′ x 13′ deck and 20 ft² worth of stepping platforms (plus screws, and trim).

P.S. I turned the Ipe into wall cladding on either side of the deck. I have oiled it for two years (and vertical surfaces keep finish *better* than horizontal ones), but the past winter’s ice storm has started to strip the oil, and they are turning gray – I might just admit defeat – nature has worn me down!

P.P.S. Update June 2018. Eight years of the deck now, and it’s as good as it was on day one. A good scrubbing with a brush in the spring is all the maintenance needed. Aluminum decks are truly next-to-no-maintenance decks.

14 thoughts on “A robust low-maintenance aluminum deck

  1. jason says:

    Thanks for the post. I’ve been searching hard for DIY experiences with aluminum decking and found your blog. Your deck looks great!

  2. jason says:

    A quick question for you….how scratch resistant do you find your lockdry deck? I received a few aluminum decking samples from different companies and found that the paint can be scraped off by another piece of metal. Just wondering, under regular use, if you found any scratches on your deck after 4+ years.

    • spqr says:

      In the years we’ve had the deck, nothing has ever damaged it, certainly I haven’t seen any large scratches.
      I try to avoid leaving metal stuff on it. It’s pretty resilient, although I have noticed that there is some
      slight squeaking – likely due to the differential expansion between the wooden substructure and the aluminum.
      Some people reduce this by laying 3/4″ plywood over the decks substructure before laying the aluminum deck.
      However this reduces the airflow into the baffles of the underside of the decking.

  3. Westerhof69 says:

    Thank you for sharing your personal experience with this product. I am considering it for a cold climate also (northern Wisconsin), and I plan to have interior living space below the deck. Should I have any concerns about condensation or moisture with this specific type of application? It certainly would be nice if I did not have to waterproof the roof and then put a deck over the top if I can do it all in one step. I appreciate your input greatly!

    • spqr says:

      I watch the deck every winter, especially for any leaks that may occur, and throughout that time I have never seen any condensation on the underside of the deck. If it was heated, I’m sure that would change. You may want to check with specific manufacturers. If you can put plywood under the deck somehow and insulate under that to stop warm air escaping and collecting, you shouldn’t have a problem.

  4. leslie says:

    Hi. I know you’ve kind of said this already, but I’m needing some reassurance: My deck gets plenty of “nature” on it in the form of oak leaves, nuts, seeds, pollens, etc. My contractor installed a white aluminum deck for a person nearby–I will use gray–who’s had trouble with staining from leaves. What do you think? (I’m happy to swab the surface down occasionally, just don’t want to have to refinish it regularly.) Thanks.

    • spqr says:

      What I have learnt over the years is that there is nothing that doesn’t stain in one way or another. Got burnt with a beige Corian sink that stains on a weekly basis, although bleach or any Oxiclean – type product cleans it nicely. My deck is a light-tan colour, and has to deal with a 70ft Silver Maple dumping all its leaves and seeds every year. I probably scrub it twice a year, once after the winter, and then again later in the summer. I only use a good floor scrubbing brush and dish detergent – and it always comes up beautiful. No refinishing required. I’ll post some pictures of the deck as it is today, 5 years after being installed.

  5. AnnetteStephan says:

    a few more years have past and we are looking at installing aluminum decking – how is it holding up now? Still happy with it?

    • spqr says:

      Yes, still *very* happy with it. I scrub it in the spring using a eco-friendly car washing detergent, and it always looks like new. Over the years some creaks have developed, but that is more a reflection of the underlying P/T wooden structure expanding and contracting slightly – it’s not really an issue. I would still highly recommend it. Maintenance-wise it’s a no-brainer. I don’t know why it hasn’t caught on more here in Canada, except for the fact that people prefer to spend less $ on P/T lumber. Very few people take maintenance into account.

  6. Jason says:

    A quick update on my end…I ended up installing it in the summer of 2014. Got the materials shipped from Wahoo Decks to Canada. It’s still looking great! It definitely stays cleaner than my old vinyl deck, and it’s solid and impervious to leaks (my deck on the second floor). It’s a bit more expensive, but it’s the only permanent solution for a maintenance free, waterproof deck that will last forever. Cheers to aluminum decks!

  7. MG says:

    Halloo–would you be able to recommend a Canadian supplier that sells basic mill-finished (anti-slip coated) aluminum decking? I’m after a commercial look to compliment the existing galvanized guards. Also, I’d like to buy in Canada to avoid the customs. Thank you.

    • spqr says:

      The decking I used is sold by Craft Bilt in Ajax (https://craft-bilt.com). The supplier I originally bought from was in the Niagara region but no longer trades. It is well worth the money, as the maintenance is trivial… and frankly the cost isn’t terrible if you install it yourself.

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