Thinking of a Deck Privacy or Wind Wall?


People’s first thoughts about a deck’s’ privacy or wind wall primarily are about increasing your comfort on your deck. Increasing comfort either through increase intimacy or sheltering from the wind or sun.

Some of the advantages of a Deck Privacy wall are shelter, reducing noise and aesthetics.

Sheltering your Deck with a Wind Wall

Standing on your deck on one of those windy southern Alberta days, and you know you need a wind wall. Shelter is the first and most obvious reason to design your deck with a wind wall. A simple 6’ (1.8 m) wall makes all the difference in enjoying your deck or packing up and going inside again.

“For instance, when the wind is blowing at 10 mph, a 6-foot-high porous fence will reduce that velocity to a minimum 10 feet downwind from the fence. When the wind is 20 mph, the minimum velocity point will be 65 feet from the fence; and at 30 mph, the area protected is about 90 feet downwind.”

Purdue UniversityOpens in a new tab.

Yes, keeners, this quote is for a “porous fence.” A porous wind fence having an opening between 2” (50mm) to 2 ½” (63mm). A wind fence with opening larger than 6” (150mm) becomes ineffective in reducing wind velocity.

A solid wind fence may seem like a better idea, but it actually increases the winds’ speed over the top of your deck. Think of it like when you take a jump on your ski’s, yes, you go up, but you fly faster and hit the ground even faster. Wind jumping over your deck will cause havoc on your umbrella or awning, clipping the tops with increasing speed.

But a wind wall still has a positive effect on your deck. Slowing down the wind allowing you to enjoy your deck more. The equation for the impact of a wind wall on your deck is

(Rv)T=161 H(H-g) ½

Yeah, I have no idea what that means either, but it sure looks cool. A much easier formula is a Wind Wall will protect an area 4 to 10 times its height. Roughly a 6’ (1.8m) will shelter a deck 24’ (7.3m) to 60’ (18.2m). The length of protection is dependent on the speed of the wind. The more powerful the wind, the more protection. That’s a good thing. That protection angling down from the top of the wall to the ground. Easy math, a wind wall will protect a 24’ (7.3m) deck, a very common deck width in a city backyard.

An added benefit of this wind protection is deck furniture. Not only are you more comfortable on your deck, but slower levels of wind will keep your deck furniture on the deck.

Another benefit of a deck wall is temperature, working both ways. A deck wall can increase a decks’ ambient temperature or decrease it. Depending on the location of the wall to achieve the greatest level of comfort.

“Our analysis of subjective comfort yielded a year-round acceptable outdoor thermal comfort range of 19.1–38.1 °C”

US National Library of MedicineOpens in a new tab.

Now, this is an average of the general population in this study. Each of our personal comfort levels differs. I have a friend who loves the sun. He loves going down to Arizona and laying in the sun at temperatures I would find unbearable. For him, his deck wall should be placed to reflect the sun’s heat on his deck. Myself, I prefer shade coming from my privacy wall.

The warmth from Privacy Wall on Deck

The sun reflecting off a wall has a warming effect of 9-18°F (5-10°C). A privacy wall on the west side of a deck will warm up considerably. If you like the heat, this will be a great idea for your deck.

In Calgary, a west side deck wall will be doubly effective, sheltering you from our strong western blowing winds while increasing your decks’ temperature. Increase your deck enjoyments.

Cooling your Deck with a Privacy Wall

On the flip side, a deck wall can also cool your deck down. Shade reducing the sun’s heat 10-15°F (5-8°C).

“Usually, the difference from the sun to shade will only be between 10 and 15 degrees Fahrenheit, says retired meteorologist Jim Lushine, in an interview with Florida’s “Sun Sentinal.”

SFGATEOpens in a new tab.

If you would enjoy a cooler deckOpens in a new tab. more, blocking the sun will take the burn off. In the afternoon, this will be on the south side but later in the day over on the west side of your deck.

If your decks’ view is south facing, which it often is, a pergola may provide better shade without obstructing your view.

The decks’ shade can also work like Air Conditioning, with a breeze blowing the cooler air from the shade over your deck. Meaning your entire deck doesn’t have to be shaded to be cooler.

Combination of Warmth and Cooling

Another option is placing the deck wall on the centre of your deck or creating a room to the side of the deck, creating both a warm and cool side of the deck. Suntanning on the warm side, enveloped with warmth and cooling down after on the shade side. Enjoying both worlds.

One drawback of this is it breaks up your deck. Unless you have a very large deck, a wall down the middle can make both sides unusable with size constraints. A table and chairs needs’ a deck space of 14’x16’, make sure your deck wall leaves enough room for use. A popular option is moveable deck walls, either a retractable screen or a folding panel screen. Both allow you to adjust to the sun’s angle and open up your deck for friends. Great for privacy and either shade for the sun or sun tanning area. A drawback is wind. Wind will wreak havoc on any wall not anchored down.

Privacy Wall Noise Reduction

Working both ways, reducing the noise from your neighbours while also reducing your deck parties’ neighbours on your neighbours. A privacy fence will not block noise, only reduce its intensity. A real noise barrier requires density and absorbent material like a concrete wall or a dirt berm.

A deck privacy wall often is constructed of wood or glass, which has limited noise reduction.

  • Pine ½” (13mm) thick reduces noise by 16 DBA
  • Glass (Safety Glass) ¼” (6mm) thick 22DBA

NATIONAL COOPERATIVE HIGHWAY RESEARCH PROGRAMOpens in a new tab.

A glass wall will reduce noise more than wood but only taking the edge off. Alberta HealthOpens in a new tab. puts normal conversation, background music at 60 DBA and shouted conversation, lawnmower at 90 DBA. If your neighbour has a rock concert in there back yard at 120 DBA.

A glass privacy wall will reduce a shouted conversation closer to normal conversation, but you will still hear it. The same with the lawnmower, brining it down but not removing it. The noise reduction possibly making the difference between relaxing with a book on the deck and hiding in your bed.

For noise reduction, solid is better. A lattice wall, great for a cooling breeze on your deck, will unfortunately also let in sound. Height is also important, the rule of thumb is if you can see it, you can hear it. Working for both the porous wall and wall placement. If you can see around or through the wall, you will hear the sound. The advantage of glass is you can still enjoy your view but with a little less sound.

Unfortunately, plants will do little to reduce sound on your deck. A beautiful wall of vines or shrubs will increase your decks privacy but only reduce sound by 3-5 DBAOpens in a new tab., hardly helping. Plants are good for privacy and aesthetics but not sound.

Privacy Wall for Deck Aesthetics

Speaking of aesthetics, that’s a great reason for a deck privacy wall. There are so many different designs to make it the visual focal point of your deck. Take a few minutes on Pinterest and you will see slats, lattice, laser-cut metal images, lattice and simply art painted on the wall. I have even seen one with multi-colour glass bottles strung together creating a wall. The options are endless. Simply think of it as art. Whatever pattern or design is pleasing to your eye. It may be something simple that can be built on-site or a metal artwork ordered-in. Whatever it is, that makes your deck beautiful to see.

Shelter, reducing noise, all while enhancing your deck’s aesthetics privacy walls, all increasing your deck’s comfort and value. Here is a shortlist of possible material options.

Deck Wall Material Options

Lattice or Slats

Wooden, metal or vinyl lattice provides partial privacy while allowing air movement. Being porous it will not stop the wind, but it will slow down its velocity while still allowing a breeze. If your deck is naturally hot, air movement naturally cooling your deck by 4-5 degrees is a welcome relief. Being a porous wall decreases solar reflection, keeping it cool.

The lattice structure allows vines as clematis or climbing rose to vine up it. Creating a natural wall of leaves sheltering you from peering eyes. During bloom season adding a beautiful fragrance to your deck.

Glass

Glass privacy walls come in a few styles, clear, tinted or obscured. Allowing you to choose if you want the windbreak while still enjoying the view or obscuring the view also. The obscured glass comes in many different patterns to select from, each adding a slightly different look to your deck while providing privacy.

As mention earlier, glass is one of the better noise reduction materials for privacy walls. A ¼” (6mm) sheet of glass can reduce sound by 22 DBA. If you have noisy neighbours or you are the noisy neighbour glass privacy wall will help bring tranquillity to your neighbourhood.

Horizontal or Vertical Boards

Bringing your fence up unto your deck, with a design similar to your yard. A solid design will provide full privacy on your deck with some sound deadening. The sun’s reflective heat being directed back on your deck providing a warm, sunning area or casting its cooling shadow.  

Plants

Another option is a row of plants either on or beside your deck, creating a “jungle” wall. This can be as simple as a couple of planter pots with tall plants or a row of evergreen a few feet off the deck. The key is thick foliage blocking both the wind and your neighbour’s view. While adding beauty to your deck and yard with greenery. For a little colour to your deck’s living privacy screen, try planting camellias or another plant that flowers. 

A living wall requires patience and upkeep. Most plants take three years or so to become established, requiring regular watering with minimal results before they burst into life. Meaning your deck will be exposed for a few years till the windscreen fills in. Both your hedge and potted plants will require regular water and care. Making this a wind privacy screen for the green thumbs out there. If you love caring for plants, enjoy watering, tiling and pruning, then this could be for you. The time spent nurturing a living wall will be a joy and pleasure not a chore.

A little reminder, pot plants require regular watering as there soil drys quickly and have little reserves. Keeping your twelve-foot row of planters will require a great deal of watering. On hot summer days, you will need to be out there a few times a week watering. As you green thumbs know, plants are living and must be cared for to flourish properly. Take some time to do some research before selecting what you will grow on your deck. Discover what will grow well with the amount of sunlight and temperature. Your deck is a micro-climate, often warmer than your yard.

But to you, not yet green thumbs, deck planters are a fun and convenient place to learn to grow garden. Don’t be afraid to bring a few pots on your deck and experiment and learn. Start with a few till you figure it out, maybe increasing a pot or two every year. A common mistake is to overwhelm yourself in your initial excitement, start with what you can manage all year, not just the next few exciting weeks.

Decks are to be relaxing. Gardening can be very relaxing if it’s not overwhelming. I encourage you to try, learn and enjoy. Plants bring life to both you and your deck. But if you need privacy and are not ready yet for a hedge, a lattice screen will be a good start and you can add plants to it: providing shelter, privacy and a place for the plants to grow.

Feature Stone or Brick Wall

For thousands of years, humans have been building stone walls, a natural thing of beauty and strength. I don’t need to describe a stone wall in your mind you already understand its attraction. Stone is a natural passive solar heater and cooler. Absorbing the heat during the heat of the sun while cooling the air. As the evening cools, releasing its trapped heat, warming your deck.

For a deck, I have a few words of caution. The stone is heavy. Adding a stone wall to your deck cannot be an afterthought, something done years later to enhance your deck. Structurally you need to design and build your deck to support the weight. Even thin imitation stones have considerable weight, for example, a 10.75 sq ft (1 m2) wall of the following material.

¾” (20mm) granite, marble or slate weighs 60 132 lbs (60 kg)

3” (75mm) limestone or Sandstone weighs 496 lbs (225 kg)

Murphy StoneOpens in a new tab.

Most decks are designed to support only 40-60 lbs per sq ft. As you can see, the stone veneer is considerably heavier. A stone feature wall will be a thing of beauty but will need additional joist and footings. It may be better to have your stone feature wall by your patioOpens in a new tab. on the ground and something lighter on your deck.

Bamboo Screens

Bamboo screens definitely fit the category of something lighter. Fitting well as a privacy wall for any deck. Very versatile in application, allowing for larger, permanent bamboo walls or smaller curtain applications. Here is a link to Bamboo Import Europe’sOpens in a new tab. website with 25 great pictures of Bamboo privacy walls. A very decorative wall option, providing great privacy.

Bamboo is a very strong material. In Asia where it naturally grows, they have been using it for years to constructed scaffolding for construction, surrounding building many floors up. On your deck, you will not be performing the same feat but it will last.

Environmentally bamboo is considered environmentally friendly because of its fast growth. Making it a great renewable resource as bamboo grows much quicker than spruce or pines and has no negative CO emissions like concrete stone products.

These are just some of the options of material you can use for a privacy wall. Be creative, making a work of art that will enhance your deck while providing shelter and privacy. When you are designing your deck, take some time to research material possibilities and implications for your deck. For example, the stone is nice but you will need to support it.

Legal Limitations for Deck Privacy Walls

Now for the legal stuff. Most cities have by-laws regarding privacy walls on decks. Always check before building.

In CalgaryOpens in a new tab., for example, a single-detached house, a deck privacy wall maximum height is 6’6” (2m). The interesting thing is a deck or balcony attached to a semi-detached, rowhouse or townhouse requires a privacy wall. For these homes, the privacy wall must be a minimum of 6’6” (2m) with a maximum height of 10’10” (3m) if within 4’ (1.2m) of a shared property line. All heights are measured from the surface of the deck not the ground.

Ryan Nickel

A Red Seal carpenter, passionate about building decks to be enjoyed.

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