• The decking market has benefited from the need to provide outdoor smoking areas.
• Joinery grade softwood is the cost-effective option for residential decking.
• Maintenance costs are a consideration for non-residential decking.
• Low slip options are in demand.

The influence on the design of outdoor spaces in the commercial and non-residential sectors has been driven by recent social and legislative step-changes.

For example, the ban on smoking in public and commercial enclosed spaces has caused leisure and hospitality facilities such as pubs, restaurants, clubs and bars to consider how to accommodate smoking patrons so as to maintain their custom. Likewise commercial organisations are increasingly under pressure to provide a dedicated space for workers to smoke, outside and away from their non-smoking colleagues.

Decking has played a large part in facilitating this change. By its very nature as a relatively quick and versatile way to transform any outdoor space, it presents a solution for commercial premises where budget and time are key factors in the decision-making process.

The development of new products in synergy with these trends has already seen considerable uptake, while 2010 is likely to see more success for decking, in particular in the commercial, retail, mixed-use, education, leisure and hospitality sectors.

While joinery grade softwood decking remains the cost-effective option for the majority of residential projects, those specifiers looking at landscaping on a larger scale are driven by a different set of considerations. Increasingly the range of decking on the market means there are now decking options that provide a quality finish for such higher volume projects, too.

Maintenance costs

A key specification requirement for any non-residential sector application is the maintenance cost involved with a new deck installation. Composite is made from recycled materials and is one of several products providing a solution.

Requiring little or no maintenance, the boards’ durability makes them a good choice for commercial installations where whole life costs and the maintenance requirements present key concerns and therefore specification considerations for both the facilities manager and the end user. Importantly, the boards widely carry a low-slip rating and can be installed by way of ‘secret’ clip and fixing to provide a flush, fix-free surface.

For all organisations providing a landscaped access route or a particular facility such as an outdoor seating area or smoking space, a duty of care prevails, especially where staff and visitors will use the deck on a regular basis. A low-slip option with hardwearing and durability characteristics is already proving very successful in a number of applications: access areas, ramps and even external steps. For example, the granulated rubber finish on Finnforest’s WalkSure deck boards provides a firm footing for users, even in wet weather.

Finally the aesthetic of the material or product is never far from any specifier’s mind. Having considered the performance characteristics required for the application in hand, it’s important to consider how the finished installation will appear alongside any other landscaping, such as block paving, gravel and planting.

Thermowood (either finished with a wood stain for the desired appearance, or left to turn an attractive silver-grey) provides another environmentally friendly alternative. The benefits of this are embodied in the method by which its rich colour and appearance, similar to hardwood, are achieved. By additional kilning processes set at high temperatures, the wood undergoes chemical and molecular changes, rendering it more durable and long lasting without the need for additional chemicals.

Hardwood impact

For very high-end projects, the specification of hardwood decking is being used to make a real impact too. More frequently used for the communal outdoor areas of premium apartment developments and mixed-use schemes, hardwood decking offers a depth of colour and tone that can be maintained with decking oil, while combining hard-wearing and durable characteristics too.

Decorative decking accessories, such as balustrading, handrails, posts and caps in a variety of materials from glass to metal, can all be selected to blend or contrast with the outdoor theme. A handrail in particular contributes to the safety aspects of a deck where access or walkways are being considered, while balustrading can be used to zone an area that is dedicated to smoking, for example.

With the increased use of outside spaces as a result of the smoking ban, many organisations have been pushed to address the overall design of their exterior areas. Ensuring a brand identity is followed through from the interior design to that of the exterior is a carefully planned process in which the appearance and functionality of the materials used is an important consideration.

Sustainably sourced timber provides a natural aesthetic that specifiers and end clients favour, while its environmental credentials often mean timber decking is selected over other materials.