Wood Deck Tiles vs Deck Boards

By Steve Getsiv, 01/02/19

Why Choose Wood Deck Tiles Over Standard Random Length Deck Boards

Wood deck tiles or patio tiles have become a popular option in lieu of standard long length deck boards, especially in close-to-ground applications. Most manufacturers and suppliers of deck boards do not recommend installation without at least 16" of clearance for ventilation and air flow. Standard long length deck boards are generally provided in 8' through 20' lengths as compared to deck tiles which are typically 24" x 24" or smaller. This article discusses some of these critical installation factors that might encourage the use of interlocking wood deck tiles in place of regular deck boards.

Interlocking Deck TIles in Batu hardwood

The most common problem that we see as a manufacturer and supplier of both deck boards and deck tiles is that many applications require a hardwood deck built very close to the ground or built on a flat surface such as a roof top or deck with a dry space underneath. In this situation, wood decking material has little space to breathe since ventilation is severely limited. If the installer chose to use 1x6 or 5/4x6 nominal boards, the end result will usually be cupped and warped boards. The reason this occurs has nothing to do with the quality of the wood itself and everything to do with the moisture differential created by inadequate ventilation between the tops and bottoms of the deck boards.

Warped and Cupped Hardwood Decking Boards

Narrow vs. Wide Boards - The Most Critical Decision

Whether to use narrow or wide boards is the most critical decision when planning to install a wood deck with minimal ventilation below the boards. Most decking suppliers of exotic tropical hardwoods such as Ipe, Cumaru, Batu, and Mahogany will recommend a minimum of 36" of space below the deck boards as well as adequate openings (50% minimum) around the perimeter of the deck when installing 1x6 and 5/4x6 so that the entire structure can breathe. If moisture is not adequately removed from the underside of the boards, cupping and distortion will always occur.

If you are closer to the ground than 36" or for installations over flat surfaces such as rooftops, we always recommend using 1x4 or 5/4x4 nominal deck boards. And yet, we still require at least 12" of ventilation space below the deck boards for our warranty and guarantee to be effective. This 12" space minimum works fine for most decks built over a concrete pad but it doesn't work in all situations and will rarely work on a rooftop deck or if you happen to be building a deck on a flat surface with a dry space below.

ALWAYS USE NOMINAL 1x4 OR 5/4x4 WHEN BUILDING A DECK BETWEEN 12" AND 36" OFF THE GROUND

Why Wood Deck Tiles might be the Best Choice

Wood decking tiles are generally manufactured not out of 4" or 6" nominal boards, but out of 3" nominal boards - 1x3's with a typical net width of only 2-1/2"! Of course they are more stable when exposed to uneven moisture between the top and bottom! Wood deck tiles generally have these individual 1x3 nominal boards spaced with about 1/4" between boards - this allows for normal swelling and shrinkage over the seasons without letting the boards swell to the point of cutting off air flow and ventilation from top to bottom.

Outdoor Deck Tile in Batu Hardwood

Interlocking deck tiles are also very easy to remove if necessary because they generally snap together with plastic connectors at the corners. Most deck tiles will have an index hole drilled in each corner to allow for securely tightening the tile to the plastic connectors. The connectors themselves allow for a reasonable gap of 3/16" to 1/4" between deck tiles.

Always Finish Wood Deck Tiles Before Installation - ON BOTH SIDES

We strongly recommend that all wood deck tiles - as well as wood deck boards - are finished with a high quality penetrating oil finish ON BOTH SIDES before installation. Finishing the underside has nothing to do with beauty and everything to do with inhibiting the flow of moisture into and out of the wood from the under side. Oil based finishes are generally superior to water based finishes. When it comes to oil based finishes, Tung Oil finishes are superior to Linseed Oil or Vegetable Oil finishes because Tung Oil dries harder and more flexible and won't evaporate over time. Some of the newer formulas for water based finishes claim to have a nano technology which seals the wood internally - if you have to use a water based product, be sure it has nano technology sealing properties.

An extreme approach, but one we have recommended, is to WAX the bottom side of the deck tiles before installation. End seal products such as Anchor Seal by UC Coatings is a wax which should not evaporate over time and will give the bottom side of your deck tiles permanent protection from moisture penetration. Some customers who install 1x4 or 5/4x4 deck boards in very close to ground applications with under 12" of ventilation will wax the bottom sides of their boards prior to installation - this practice maximizes the long term life of deck boards in these close to ground applications.

Will Water Rot My Wood Deck Tiles or Deck Boards?

That depends. If you are using a naturally durable hardwood such as Ipe, Cumaru, or Batu, then NO, WATER WON'T ROT YOUR BOARDS. However, you need to be sure you are using a durable hardwood and not Meranti, Cambara, Cedar, Redwood, Pine or any other wood that doesn't come with at least a 25 year warranty against rot and decay.

Nova offers wood deck tiles in naturally durable Batu hardwood as well as our own proprietary Tung Oil wood finish called ExoShield. Nova offers a full line of exterior wood products including Ipe decking, Cumaru decking and Batu decking.

By Steve Getsiv, 01/02/19

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