After a long, cooped-up winter, nearly everyone yearns to be outside.
In truth, most people enjoy being outdoors whenever the weather is nice, which is why patios and decks are so popular. Add chairs, plus maybe a table and a grill, and these structures become outdoor rooms, expanding our living space.
Mike Lovewell, an owner of Lovewell Fence and Deck in Davenport, Iowa, sees the popularity of outdoor living spaces in his business, where construction of "low-maintenance decks and railings has grown by leaps and bounds" in the past several years, he said.
Pergolas provide shade
In the area of decks, a growing trend is the addition of pergolas, or slatted roofs, that provide shade, Lovewell said. The roof greatly increases the usability of a deck, particularly if it faces west or south, where summer sunshine can be especially hot.
"You can use the deck all day," Lovewell said. "The pergola increases its utility two or three times."
Howard Tyler of Davenport said the pergola on the deck he had installed on his home 2½ years ago "really dropped the temperature" in an adjoining kitchen and in a three-season room.
The three-season room, in particular, used to get so hot in the summer that he couldn't use it. Now he can. "It's at least 20 degrees cooler on a hot day," he said.
Lovewell began installing pergolas in 2006, and now they are included in about one-third of the decks the company builds, he said. He expects that to increase to about half of all decks in three years, he added.
The slats of the roof can be spaced differently to produce varying amounts of shade — 75 percent shade is standard, 90 percent is the high end and 50 percent is the low, Lovewell said. For added comfort, fans can be installed in the supports, and polyester "sunbrella" fabric shade can be installed on the sides.
Another trend in decks is the increased use of lighting. In addition to safety benefits, a lighted deck is attractive, Lovewell said.
"There's a 'wow' factor," he said. "Light adds character and charm. It makes a deck feel more like part of the home."
We're not talking stadium lights here. No, these are subtle LED lights — small circles installed in the risers of steps or under the lip of the stair treads much like under-cabinet kitchen lighting or in the cap of a post.
Advantages of vinyl
Lovewell specializes in vinyl decks with aluminum supports. "It's the best alternative for a low-maintenance deck," he said.
If the mention of the word "vinyl" brings to mind a slick, slippery surface, banish that thought.
The vinyl decking Lovewell sells is textured like wood and not slippery, even when wet. "It is ADA-approved," he said, referring to standards associated with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Unlike wood, vinyl requires no maintenance. And unlike the composite products that made such a splash in the market several years ago, vinyl does not mildew, Lovewell said. It is also fade-resistant.
Composites — because they are made of actual wood in addition to recycled plastic — are subject to mildew formation, and customers complain of fading, Lovewell said.
Everything will fade over time, but vinyl is resistant, he added. Also, it doesn't stain and is difficult to scratch. Materials come in various shades of brown and beige, cedar, gray and a sage green, "and you can order another 15," Lovewell said.
Tired of wood
About 90 percent of the company's deck business is at existing homes where people have become tired of their wood structures, he said.
"They're tired of staring at their old, rotting deck," he said. "Sometimes they don't even want to go out because they think about how much work it is going to be."
This is exactly why David and Gretchen Horan of Bettendorf hired Lovewell to replace their wood deck.
"We had lived in our home for seven years and the original cedar deck with wood railing just needed to be replaced," he said.
The new deck was built on the same footprint as the original, but the Horans decided on black aluminum spindles, gray decking and white posts for a complementary tri-color scheme.
"It's a nice house and we want to keep up the value," he said.
And the underside of their deck has a water collection system that funnels water to a gutter rather than allowing it to drip through the deck to the patio below.
Tyler invested in vinyl for the same reasons as the Horans: low maintenance ("All you have to do is wash it") and the value it adds to his house.
He admits to "sticker shock" when he was first quoted a price, but he believes vinyl offers a better value in the long run, and Lovewell's bid was in line with others he received.
In addition to pergolas, privacy screens are another popular addition to decks. Because Lovewell does its own fabricating, it can customize the size and shape of the screening.