Building A Hospitable Winter Deck Space


It was a snowy Saturday night in December and Maritza Jimenez was reluctant to leave the comfort of her cozy home.

She had a party to attend.

Ms. Jimenez hopped in her car and headed to her friends’ house in Sag Harbor—a charming home she had visited many times before during the summer for get-togethers and barbecues under the sun.

But when she walked out onto the mahogany deck last month, it was unrecognizable at first—yet, still warm, thanks to a pair of Gardensun 40,000 BTU Stainless Steel Propane Gas Patio Heaters, which cost $99 each at Home Depot, and a big tent that enclosed the 432-square-foot deck.

“You didn’t feel like you were outside their house,” Ms. Jimenez said during a recent telephone interview from her East End home. “It was a fabulous, beautiful, gorgeous party that we had in there.”

Just like that, the homeowners extended the life of their deck into the winter season. It’s a trend that, with the right equipment, has never been simpler, according to Speonk resident Steve Senzatimore, who owns Easy Decks in Farmingdale, New York.

“There’s so much more people are doing with their decks than the older days,” he said during a recent telephone interview. “Everybody’s congregating on the decks nowadays. If you throw a party, everybody’s on the deck hanging out. But, oh winter. You have to be a polar bear unless you’re prepared.”

First, the key to building a deck that lasts—let alone withstanding the winter season—is selecting the proper material, he said. Old composites are a thing of the past, as is traditional wood, which can absorb moisture, grow mold and decompose over time.

Instead, Mr. Senzatimore recommends capped composites, wrapped in a polyethylene covering, or polyvinyl chloride—PVC—boards that are the third-most widely produced plastic after polyethylene and polypropylene. PVC-based decks should be framed with steel, he said, to prevent sagging that can occur with wood.

He added that the design of the deck can say loads about its owner’s lifestyle.

“A deck is an extension of someone’s home, and it should be treated that way,” Mr. Senzatimore said. “Before, they would just be squares or rectangles. We’re incorporating a little more style into them. We’ll go inside their home, sit down, see what kind of style they have in their home and try to incorporate that outside—where it curves, building a barbecue area, seating areas, to really personalize it.”

An average-size deck—which typically ranges between 300 and 500 square feet—can take up to four days to construct in the summer, or close to a week in the winter, Mr. Senzatimore explained, due to shorter days and dropping temperatures. On average, a homeowner can save 10 percent, or a couple thousand dollars, by building during the colder weather since that’s the off season, he said, adding that the money saved could be put toward lighting.

Low-voltage, light-emitting diode—or LED—lights are the way to go, according to Mr. Senzatimore. These days, the systems are even dimmable, he said, and many of the LEDs come with a five-year warranty.

“What used to happen, when a bulb went out, you’d have to take the whole unit apart to get to it,” he said. “With LEDs, there’s no issues, even though they’re installed into the deck. You can have your deck wired from the beginning for post lights, stair lights, in-floor deck lights. Those give off a nice ambiance.”

Then, with just an enclosure and proper heating, a summer hot spot can be transformed into a winter wonderland—as Ms. Jimenez experienced.

“It’s very convenient what they did because they actually had a very well use of the deck during the winter,” she said of the party hosts. “That is a great idea for people to do it that way. You think it would feel like you were outside and it didn’t. In the summer, everything is outside. In the winter, they just made that an extra room to have a bigger home and have a use of the deck. It’s completely different.”

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