the agritect

@VELD architect, southwestern Ontario

Archive for April, 2014

All Decked out!

My brother-in-law is a carpenter with his own company Hulshof Carpentry and he told me the other day that his favorite thing to build is decks. Because everyone loves getting their new deck to have a party or enjoy the lovely weather! And since spring is finally here in Ontario many of you might be thinking about your deck.

C:UsersKristaGoogle Drive1303-McComb PorchB-Design�5-Const

I’ve designed my fair share of decks and everyone us unique. Each of my clients had different reasons for building and different uses planned for their decks, such as hot tubs, dinner parties, shoulder season use, neighbour relationship building, etc. I bring some additional considerations for my clients to consider like, sun angles, materials, style, structure, etc. The most common dilemma for my clients and my brother-in-laws is what type of decking to use. So I’m going to give you a run down of costs (costs are for decking only) along with advantages and disadvantages of various options.


Probably the most common decking and the most complained about!
Approximate Cost: $2 per square foot
Longevity:15-20 years, but it never looks good for that long.
Maintenance: my mother-in-law spends each spring pressure washing her deck! It will also require restaining every other year as a minimum.
Build-ability: easy for the do-it-yourselfer.
Other Considerations: cedar decks will crack and can give you splinters. So perhaps not ideal for kids or bare foot areas.


Should always be used for post and supporting structure of your deck regardless of decking type chosen.
Who loves that green colour?! No one really, so they have created a brown pressure treated lumber, but it is only sold by Home Depot.

Approximate cost: $2 per square foot and the brown and green cost the same.
Longevity:30-40 years with maintenance
Maintenance: pressure washing, sealing against moisture is recommended yearly
Build-ability: for the amateur builder
Other Considerations: not the most environmentally friendly product with the use of chemicals, but it is a renewable resource.

Bradford Deck


There are two types of concrete porch installs. 1. a raised deck to match main floor level, requires a foundation wall to below frost level;and 2. A slab on grade deck does not require a wall, but a small slab thickening around the perimeter.

Approximate Cost: it depends. $5-$20 [er square foot. Stamped or stained is more expensive than simple brushed finish. A raised deck will be more expensive than a slab on grade.
Longevity: indefinitely, although slab on grades can crack over time.
Maintenance: sealed concrete has to be redone each year, stains can fade over time.
Build-ability: it’s very hard work but a skilled handyman could handle it mixing and pouring some concrete. I would recommend hireling a concrete trade for better, longer lasting results.
Other Considerations: can be uncomfortable on your bare feet. Concrete acts as a heat sink, so it collects heat during the day and releases it at night making it a great space heater for cool evenings and the shoulder seasons.

Have your trade make slab cuts every 4′(1200mm) if you are doing a slab on grade. This will reduce the random cracking over time. I would also recommend a slab thickening, granular base, (and rebar if your extra cautious) for better settling results.


Approximate Cost: $2-$8 per square foot
Longevity: installation warranties for 2 years, but if not installed by qualified contractors unit pavers can go wrong very quickly.
Maintenance: sweeping and occasional filling of the sand joints.
Build-ability: for lasting results ensure you hire a qualified contractor with experience.
Other Considerations: unit pavers are very prone to settling and freeze thaw cycles.  One rough winter can create massive problems for this surface, creating uneven surfaces, cracking blocks, etc. This can be a high risk choice.

Pavers require a sand base and good under drainage in order to last in our winter climate.

Permeable paving systems might be an option you’re looking for and is an option with unit pavers.



The one you’ve all been waiting for…be careful, there are some down sides.

I want to make a plug here for my favourite composite, Baleboard. It’s made from recycled agricultural (hay) bale wrap and it’s local to Ontario, in New Hamburg. It can be cut, screwed like normal wood, solid colour through the board, and it’s a recycled product.

Approximate Cost: $6-$8 per square foot
Longevity:20 year warranties to limited lifetime warranties
Maintenance: sweeping, and perhaps a good wash when the in-laws are coming over!
Build-ability: moderate to difficult, but most come with an instruction manual. Be aware of the required joist spacing and screw spacing. Some systems only use clips. Some composites cannot be cut with typical construction tools.
Other Considerations: some composites are a wood/plastic/glue combination, others are all plastic, while others have a colour wrap and cannot be cut as the inside is a different tone.
Composite can get extremely hot for bare feet in the summer months and cold in the shoulder seasons, so consider shading or not using this product for around pools.
Composite requires more supporting joints. Every 16″ on centre, where other materials can span further.
Some composites use new wood rather than recycled wood. This may be important to you if you’re looking for sustainable products.

Some composites with actual wood contents can mold.

All composites will discolour over time.


The architect is coming out in me, but I wanted to compare a few exotic (extremely) hardwoods for those looking for longevity, warm natural materials, low maintenance, and comparably priced to composite.

Ipe, Abaco, or tiger wood are the three hardwoods that I have researched. They can be supplied by Century Mill in Markham, Ontario.

Approximate Cost: $6.50-$8 per square foot
Longevity: 25-40 years, some say longer
Maintenance: little to none. Sweeping the dirt and leaves away!
Build-ability: requires clips as the wood is very hard and cannot be fastened with screws.
Finish: a messer finish can be used, and the end grains sealed for even longer lasting results.
Other Considerations: renewable material. Authentic wood look. Weathers to a silver patina.
It will not split or crack and thus no risk of splinters.

3D framing view_Page_14

I hope this gets you excited about starting a deck project for yourself and makes some of the decision-making easier. Feel free to contact me to get some more ideas.


A New Addition!


photo credit: Lasting Impressions

For those who don’t know I now have a little baby girl to look after alongside my clients! She is a bundle of joy and cuteness! And she makes a pretty good helper!

We also finally got our new mailbox sign up. It’s been a year in the works since we moved to our new location outside Stratford. We had a mailbox up, but the snowplow took it off this winter, so it was good incentive to get the new one done properly. It has been a great little design process filled with experimentation!


under construction with our new little helper

No matter how big or small the project it starts with predesign. Setting up the goals, and defining success. You need an idea of what you want to convey and how you will make something that conveys your idea. I wanted the name of my firm to be clear to drivers as they drive past at paved country road speeds! I also wanted something modern, yet welcoming, and something a little different. I fully expect to be the talk of the neighbourhood many times over during my career!

I try not to destroy too many trees!

Then the fun part, schematic design which begins with a sketch! Or likely many sketches. Going through idea after idea until the right one shines through.

VELDmailbox sketch

the results are pretty close to the conceptual sketch

Then the details, (design development) usually what materials to use. We already had a shiny stainless steel mailbox, so I needed a contrasting material. I have been wanting to experiment with charred wood (Shou-sugi-ban) for a long time. So I took the opportunity to be a pyromaniac. Much to my husbands disapproval as I was 4 months pregnant when I felt this urge! With a bit of experimentation I finally mastered the skill and techniques of burning wood.


Then it’s the construction stage. I recruited my sister to carve, my mother to baby sit, and my husband to assemble! I worked out the final assembly details and this is the end result.20140424-101222.jpg