Whether in a private or public setting, boardwalks often serve as focal points along any waterfront property, enabling residents, tourists, homeowners and guests to access and enjoy the water. When it comes to building a boardwalk there are many different styles, construction types and materials that can be used. If you’re planning to build a boardwalk, let the following information and examples help you determine what design, method and materials will work best for your vision.
When building a boardwalk, your first concern should be the construction method and any impact this may have on the environment you’re building it in. Boardwalks can include more than just a walkway along the water, some boardwalks run across wetlands, parks or backyards, so the construction method may need to vary depending on its location.
For wetland installation, as well as for areas that are environmentally sensitive, a top-down construction method is recommended, as this alleviates stress on the environment. Top down construction involves building the posts or forms for the boardwalk, elevating it up above the ground or water below, then constructing the top in sections, driving the necessary equipment over the finished areas, rather than on the surrounding areas.
For areas that are less sensitive, you may want to consider more traditional building methods. This includes minor ground excavation where you intend the boardwalk to be installed, then filling this area with gravel to provide drainage. The form for the boardwalk is then laid to either side of this, as if you were constructing railroad tracks; the joists are staggered between the tracks and the decking material laid on top.
Both construction methods give you a range of materials to work with, including traditional, pressure treated wood, composite decking, pre-cast concrete forms and modified wood.
Boardwalk Decking Materials
In addition to the construction method of your boardwalk, the materials that you choose should be given equal consideration. Each has its own attributes that may fit – or not fit – your particular project.
Pressure treated wood is probably the most common type of material for use on a boardwalk. It’s inexpensive and easy to work with, as well as readily available. However, pressure treated wood does have some drawbacks, particularly when it comes to environment concerns. It can leach chemicals into the ground where it’s laid, which can compromise wetlands, bodies of water and the groundwater table. It can also become slippery overtime with the accumulation of moss and algae, requires regular maintenance and may require repair or replacement more than some of the other materials we’ll touch on.
Composite decking has been adopted in boardwalk construction over the past decade or so. It’s generally considered a more environmentally friendly product compared to pressure treated wood and comes in a variety of colors. Unfortunately, it can be extremely slippery underfoot when wet because of it’s plastic coating and also heats up significantly in the sun, making it less than ideal for areas where people will commonly walk barefoot, like a beach. It can also become compromised by moss and algae, and if the upper surface is ever breached, the inner material can absorb water, causing the planks to swell.
Precast concrete is one of the more expensive options for boardwalk construction. It’s also one of the least attractive options, with most people preferring the look of real wood and the different styles and options that wood can bring. Concrete is durable, however, and doesn’t promote mold or algae growth in wet areas. It can be more difficult to work with, though, and requires more precise defining of the edges of the boardwalk prior to construction; few to no changes can be made to the design once you begin work.
Modified wood is the newest technological advancement among these materials and has proven to be a major contender in the area of boardwalk materials. Modified wood, like Kebony, is sustainable and eco-friendly, so it won’t leach chemicals into the ground. It’s also extremely dense and durable, limiting repair needed and lowering the overall lifecycle cost of the boardwalk. Modified wood is easy to work with as well as incredibly low maintenance – it won’t require stains or sealants like pressure treated wood and isn’t affected by moisture. It’s a great solution for virtually any area, including environmentally sensitive places, as well as in wet areas and high traffic locations that will see a lot of visitors over time.
After construction method and material, the style or design of your boardwalk should be your next consideration. Boardwalks can be created in a variety of ways to match the rest of their surroundings, like docks, houses, yards, decks, businesses, etc. These 8 designs are meant to help give you an idea of what may be possible to build for your next project.
1. Built in Levels
Architect: Thomas Balsley Associates, WEISS/MANFREDI
Boardwalks are an excellent way to bring people down to the water’s edge and let them enjoy the area that surround them. This park built benches out of the same modified wood planks use for the boardwalk. Now those passing by have a natural place to rest and take in the New York City skyline.
2. Changing Direction
Architect: Pine River Group
Sometimes it’s necessary to define a specific area visually to encourage people to reach the correct section of boardwalk. This beach’s boardwalk achieves this goal by changing the direction that the planks are laid in from the area approaching the boardwalk to the walkway itself. The cross directional planks bring visual interest, while also defining the edge of the boardwalk better. The simplicity of the design also makes the beach the natural focal point.
3. Wide Open Walk
Architect: LPO Arkitekter Photo by: Nils Petter Dale
This harbor pool has a unique construction, which meant that it needed an equally unique boardwalk. The material used needed to be versatile enough to help create different areas and structures for visitors to use, like benches and diving blocks. In addition, the boardwalk need to be particularly durable when exposed to water and other elements given its direct proximity to water and the nature of the property’s use.
4. Embracing Nature
Boardwalks don’t need to cover over their environment completely to be attractive or effective. Instead of removing environmental features, like these boulders, this park elegantly incorporated them into the design of the boardwalk. The rocks become a natural focal point, as well as a resting place for visitors who may want to sit and enjoy the view.
5. Ramps and Stairs
Architect: Usbl Housing Association
Boardwalks don’t have to be boring, flat walkways with no variation. This boardwalk, for example, chose to create a space by building ramps and stairs into the structure. These simple additions greatly affect its use as it creates spaces for people to sit and enjoy the day. It also creates and inviting atmosphere where visitors can easily access the water’s wedge.
6. Complementary Design
Architect: Alliance and MAPT
This restaurant has a uniquely shaped roof that was built with the same sustainable, modified wood decking as the boardwalk it sits on. The ripple effect of the design pays tribute to the fluid movement of the sea it borders and adds an incredible uniqueness to this boardwalk setting.
7. Beach Walk
Architect: de+ architekten Photo by: Mike Haran
Sometimes accessing a beach isn’t the easiest thing to do and in these instance beach walkways are necessary to enable guests easy access from their vehicles to the sand. With environmental concerns high on this property’s list of priorities, given the boardwalk’s direct contact with the natural surrounding, they chose to use modified, non-toxic wood. Overtime the wood will naturally weather, enhancing its beauty, while maintaining its structural integrity, even with facing the harsher weather conditions that beach access properties endure.
8. Subtle Accents
Architect: Mandaworks Photo by: Anthony Hill Photography
One of the great things about using wood for boardwalks is its ability to be utilized for many different purposes. This boardwalk not only used modified wood for walkway planks and stairs, but also cut it so that it could also be used atop the railing systems. This subtle accent ties together the natural beauty of the wood walkway and the industrial charm of the steel railing, making the property feel cohesive and complete.
Build Your Boardwalk
Boardwalks come in many shapes, sizes and designs. Carefully consider the particulars of your next project to build the right boardwalk for your area.