What is skirting on a deck?
Deck skirting is material covering the ugly substructure and ground below a deck. Most decks less than four feet from the ground will look better with skirting enhancing and covering the underside of a deck. Skirting also helps to keep trash from blowing underneath your deck and your kids’ soccer ball.
There are numerous options for skirting material. When considering Skirting Material for your deck, there are four guiding principles.
Deck Skirting material maintenance should be consistent with the rest of the Deck
A low maintenance deck should have low maintenance skirting. There is little value in paying extra for low maintenance deck and then ever year needing to spend hours maintaining the skirting. This does not mean if your deck is composite that your skirting must be. No, but it needs to be low maintenance material. Skirting is natural lower maintenance as your decking takes a beating with traffic, rain and snow on it. For example, a wood deck will need to be re-stained every three years, but vertical skirting five years will be enough or every second staining cycle. Allowing for a few more options for skirting than decking. Whatever you choose, be consistent with maintenance requirements.
Deck Skirting Material should be Cohesive with the Deck
Deck skirting should neither distract nor draw attention away from the deck. Your deck is about your deck. One way is the colour selection. You wouldn’t wear a bright orange shirt and neon green skirt or pants. Unless, of course, you are trying to make a statement. The same is with your deck. Most decks are earth tone or wood browns; skirting needs to be complementary in colour. Clean, appealing, but not drawing your eyes away from the deck, the main focus. Again, not the same but complementary.
Visually I find it’s the railing, the railing post in particular where complementary in colour is so important. Wood stained skirting goes well with the stained wood post. The balisters don’t matter much, as black metal balusters between wood posts still work well with stain skirting.
Skirting material guides design and should be complimentary with the deck. The horizontal railing is complimentary with horizontal skirting. We enjoy the symmetry of the design.
In short, deck skirting should be part of the deck’s design. Never looking like an afterthought but was always was part of the design.
Deck Skirting Material needs to allow for Ventilation
Often overlooked when selecting deck skirting, it is most critical. Without ventilation, moisture will be trapped under your deck, increasing rotting and decay of your decking and substructure. Not immediately, solid skirting may look amazing, but over time your deck will prematurely rot without proper ventilation. Decks without skirting, air naturally circulates, but skirting can limit ventilation and must be considered.
A rule of thumb, for every 150 square feet of deck, requires one foot of ventilation. A 16’x12’ deck, 192 square feet, will require two square feet of ventilation. Better to round up and have more than enough than reverse. Ideally, multiply vents by deck corners is ideal, allowing crosswind air movement. No, the spacing between your decking boards does not count without explaining the physics an example. Under my sink, I have a compost bin for food waste, with around 100 small holes in the lid. Rotting food stinks. I cannot smell the compost when the lid is closed. Despite the holes, there is not enough air venting for the small to overwhelm my kitchen. The gaps between decking boards are the same, a hole but not enough to provide air movement and circulation as the air is only moving over the top of the deck.
Design your skirting to be porous works will work better for ventilation than actual vents. Lattice is great for this, covering but with consistent openings for air movement. Vertical or horizontal boards with ¾” (18mm) spacing between boards allow excellent drying under a deck. Looking similar to fence design, shielding your view must still allowing circulation.
Skirting Material Limitations
Skirting material selection creates limitations in design. Either in the structural strength of the material or method of construction. Stone looks amazing as skirting, borrowing from the appearance of a foundation, but stone needs intentional venting as there are not sufficient gaps between stones for air.
Another example is composite fascia boards make great horizontal wall skirting but don’t work well for vertical applications due to a lack of structural strength. For lower decks, it’s possible to install composite decking vertically as an alternative, but the material cost will be more.
Uneven terrain will limit skirting material options. For example, lattice skirting is wonderful for venting but complicated cutting for uneven ground. Once cut, its durability is shorted as small pieces of lattice become quite weak. The next soccer ball hitting your skirting will be the end of it.
Some Skirting Material Options
Keeping in mind Consistency, Cohesiveness, venting and material limitations while you think through the following skirting material options.
Traditionally the most common skirting option. Three popular lattice material are vinyl, pressure treated and cedar. The two most common patterns are square and diamond. Both available in the garden (larger holes) and privacy (small holes). Wood lattice also being available in aesthetic enhancing Estate and Panel Screen. Taking it to the next level in vinyl Lattice with countless decorative patterns. Companies like Acurio Lattice Work have numerous pattern options available. Careful designing is required with Pattern lattice to ensure that the pattern is not awkwardly cut, destroying the beauty of the pattern.
Lattice being porous is excellent for air ventilation but doesn’t fully hide the view under the deck. Meaning steps like landscape fabric will need to be taken before installation to limit unsightly weed growth under the deck. Also often a good idea to cover the fabric with a couple of inches of washed gravel, both keeping the fabric in place and a tidy appearance.
The appearance of the lattice can be improved with trim. Making it look more stylish but increasing material and labour cost. The lattice becoming a screen improving the deck’s appearance while providing excellent ventilation for the deck.
Consistency: Works well with a pressure-treated or cedarwood deck design. Intentionality is required for composite decks and hardwood decks.
Maintenance: Vinyl lattice requires no maintenance except for annual cleaning with a pressure hose. Wood lattice, both pressure treated and cedar appearance will improve with re-staining every five years or so. Wood slats are thin and weak if soccer games happen around your deck. Slats could get broken by bouncing balls. Wood lattice is hard to repair with its many little staple and wood slats, requiring whole sections to be replaced for a single hole.
Cohesive: With a great variety of Lattice material, it works well with most popular decking material. Rule of thumb, match skirting material with decking. Cedar lattice is complementary to cedar decking with a consistent price point. Decorative lattice, with its higher-level visual appeal, is complimentary to composite decking.
Ventilation: Very Good. Lattice skirting holes allow excellent airflow under your deck. Exceeding the minimum ventilation requirements.
A simple skirting option. A strong, durable option that is UV, mould and mildew resistant. Versatile in application, while keeping out animals, insects, leaves and snow. Similar to window screens in appearance but it can be enhanced with stencil drawing if you’re the artistic type. Not rigid, requires a frame to be stretched over. Design Equations offers the traditional diamond lattice pattern along with a variety of other patterns. A good deck skirting option for curtaining the unsightly ground below a deck. Very economical along with ease in application.
Consistency: Doesn’t detract from any deck design, but personally, I feel it does not enhance a decks’ appearance. Versatile as a cover like foundation on your cheeks, not eyeliner. Hiding the blemishes under your deck but does not draw attention to itself.
Maintenance: Requiring little to no, annul maintenance. May require replacing during the lifetime of your deck — currently performance test of six years, as of 2019. But the ease of installation makes replacement a breeze.
Cohesive: A screen in the background, cloaking your decks’ substructure working well with all decking material. Special grommet are required for installing around metal posts. Not an attention-drawing material, blending into the background around your deck.
Ventilation: Excellent ventilation. One of the advantages of mesh is its naturally porous, allowing air movement under your deck, drying the wood substructure and cooling composite decking.
The name says it all, a fence between the deck and ground. Design options are as similar as fence designs often tying the yard together, with matching skirting and fence design. For decks higher than two feet will require support framing. Lower decks, attach directly to the rim joist, allows the boards to hang down. Vertical applications are easily adapting to rising and falling terrain by adjusting the fence board’s lengths.
As a bonus, vertical skirting boards will give your deck a higher appearance, making a simply low deck look just a little grander.
Consistency: Commonly used with wood decks requiring similar care.
Maintenance: Staining required every three to five years, depending on exposure.
Cohesive: Both horizontal and vertical skirting mimics the appearance of decking. Lines upon lines of material with gaps shadowing between boards. A good looking skirting option, not overpower the star, the deck but still adding beauty.
Ventilation: Poor unless fence boards are gapped ¾-1” (18-25mm). Historically a common fence design but currently most fences are solid to provide maximum privacy. Un-spaced boards will require sufficient venting. A small rectangle hole covered with lattice will work well.
A great skirting option for enclosing your deck. It can be dressed up by adding trim or possibly lattice in front of the plywood for texture and appearance. Similar to fence design skirting, if less than two feet in height, it can hang down from the joist without support but if taller will require framing supporting the structural strength of the plywood from under the deck. All wood used outdoors needs to be exterior grade, treated PWF plywood lasting longer. OSB sheeting will deter in an unprotected environment. If you are looking for a well priced, solid skirting, PWF plywood may be the answer, with a few well-placed battens to hide joints or accentuate the deck skirting.
Consistency: Plywood skirting is a solid option but I believe it lacks for composite and higher-end decks.
Maintenance: Plywood skirting requires repainting every five to ten years, depending on sun and rain exposure. AURA EXTERIOR comes with a Lifetime warranty for the original homeowner, moving plywood skirting into low maintenance. My recommendation, spend a little extra, buy higher quality exterior paint. In the following years, if after washing, the colours need renewing, then repaint. Even the highest quality paint vibrancy will fade over time.
Cohesive: How cohesive plywood skirting is dependent on the trim. The trim will either elevate the skirting or distract from it. Well placed battens, with the guiding principles “less is more” will enhance your deck. Lining up joint battens with railing posts will provide continuity. Keep things as simple as possible will save both time and money. Remember, your skirting is for your deck, not the deck for skirting. Keep your deck the star, the skirting hiding the unkempt.
Ventilation: Very Poor. Plywood skirting will require vents to allow air circulation.
Live skirting such as well-placed hedges and bushes shielding your deck. Not often thought of as a skirting option, but it does well to beautify the lower end of a deck. It will take a few years to fill out, but once established; it will bring life and beauty to your deck. Selecting flowering plants will add seasonal colouring, only increasing its beauty.
Consistency: Live plants require an entirely different type of care. Only recommended for those who love to garden or wish to hire someone who does. Select hardy bushes requiring minimal watering is helpful, freeing you to enjoy your deck on your schedule, not your plants. Annual trimming is required to continue to complement your deck and not take over.
Maintenance: The first few years will require regular watering until the plants are established. Once established and flourishing will require annual trimming. Trimming hedges both to keep in proper proportions to the deck and also the health of the hedge, shaping and removing unhealthy branches increasing the visual appearance of the live skirting surrounding your deck.
Cohesive: Historically, flower beds and hedges in front of porches and deck are common. Healthy plants enhance any space, including your deck. Living, growing plants have limitations in skirting a deck, as they will not consistently cover the area. There will be spots in which you can still see through. Traditionally solved by a plywood or lattice skirting, but now you have not one but two skirtings to maintain — plants creating challenges in caring for the plywood skirting behind a hedge blocking access. An established hedge does provide enough attraction to distraction under deck views while enjoying the space around your deck.
Ventilation: Hedges are windbreaks but not walls. A well-kept hedge, in particular, trimming undergrowth, will allow air movement under the deck and increase its health.
Stone Deck Skirting
The appearance of a stone or brick foundation as skirting. More common in eastern Canada and States than western communities. For economic reasons commonly built from faux or veneer stones covering plywood skirting. With no structural value but the appearance of strength supporting the deck. With many options ranging from stacked stone, brick or flagstone. Creating many options for dressing up your deck. More common with front porches but not limited too.
Consistency: Traditionally skirting for front wooden decks, a welcoming sight. Except cost is not consistent with wood, quality stone decking is expensive with the potential to cost more than the decking. Stone skirting will enhance the curb appeal of your deck but be prepared to pay for that curb appeal. In the future, the stone skirting will possibly increase the selling price of your house, but meanwhile, it will greatly increase the cost of your deck.
Maintenance: Most faux or veneer stones are low or no maintenance. Similar to composite decking, higher cost on the front end but reduced cost over its lifetime. Stone veneer and faux stone are manufactured from Portland cement and iron oxide pigments to for colouring. Creating the appearance and feel of real stones, requiring very little care except annual cleaning with a garden house, spraying off dirt and spider webs.
Cohesive: Enhancing the appearance of both wood and composite decks. The contrasting material and appearance of supporting bulk are pleasing to the eye. Word of caution looks best if consistent with the entire house foundation. Requiring not only stone veneer for the deck but also wrapping around the house. Again, raising the curb appeal of your house but greatly increasing the scope and initial cost.
Ventilation: Stone skirting has very poor ventilation. A solid wall composing of both plywood and concrete greatly limits air circulation. I will require intentional vents to be included to prevent your deck from premature rotting.
If you would like to view some more ideas, here are two links.
Next Luxury has 50 great pictures of skirting.
Grip Elements has 26 pictures with nice little write-ups about them.