Steel docks are a top choice for cottagers in Muskoka, and with good reason: their strength and durability are second to none.
Over the decades, Philipp Spoerndli of Nordcap Steel Docks has established himself as a premium waterfront design specialist by developing sound building techniques using high quality materials.
Heavy round piles and submersion-approved epoxy coating to rustproof all piles and braces are the basis for all Nordcap steel dock systems. Other custom design features can then be added to fit the needs of their clients.
“We use engineered solutions that can support any structure, including one- or two-storey boathouses, boat ports, and boat lifts,” he explains. “Over the decades, we have developed techniques and materials that are simply the best way to achieve strong, long-lasting steel docks.”
With a solid steel structure underneath, it makes sense to ensure that your decking and fascia are also products that will last.
“It is what you see and is most exposed to the changing weather in Muskoka,” says Philipp, who has 30-plus years as a steel dock builder in the region. “From hot sun in the summer to minus-30-degrees Celsius in the winter with snow and ice – there is no doubt that the elements take a toll on your dock finishes.”
Poured concrete finishes have traditionally been associated with commercial docks and wharves, but they’re now starting to be used on some residential and recreational projects as well. Philipp’s team recently put the finishing touches on a cottage waterfront which included their renowned steel dock supports under the waterline and poured concrete above it.
“These are a great choice for cottage waterfronts,” says Philipp. “After all, if you have a steel dock that will last 60 years, why not have a product on top that will match the longevity?”
To account for the weight of the concrete, Nordcap uses an engineered foundation that is built specifically to support concrete. They still use steel piles and structural steel (HSS) crossers, but instead of steel stringers and wood planking, they install stay-in-place 20 to 18 gauge galvanized concrete forms.
“When adding poured concrete finishes, it’s essential to build a foundation strong enough to support what’s on top,” says Philipp.
If a boathouse is going to sit on top of the concrete and steel structure, then insulating the slab will result in a structure that can be used in all four seasons.
Poured concrete can be topped with an anti-slip, durable four-layer coating that comes in a range of colours. Or it can be simply painted and sealed, for a traditional look.
You can even mix and match materials. “Some customers choose to have a poured concrete deck inside the boathouse, so it’s completely sealed tight, and then have more traditional planking on the exterior decks,” says Philipp. “There are many options that can be individually tailored to suit your specific requirements.”
However, it’s vital to plan out the entire project before work begins. Even if you’re not using concrete, there are still factors to take into consideration. For example, many composite or synthetic deck boards need support every 16 inches, but there are reinforced synthetic lumber products available that can span 24 inches to 36 inches. “As long as we know what will be on top of the dock, we can build to suit,” says Philipp.
Careful planning can prevent other potential issues. Frost heaves in winter, for example, can lift a dock. It’s particularly a problem on shallow shorelines, and seems to be happening during winters with prolonged cold periods.
The issue arises when the water level is dropped in the winter, exposing the lake bottom to frost.
When the ground freezes, it clamps on to the pile and lifts it upwards, lifting the dock.
“If it raises the dock, it’s difficult to bring it back down and often needs repairs. And if there is a boathouse, it can cause it to tilt – and that presents even more concerns.”
There are several ways to deal with the problem, but the one Philipp recommends is adding insulation prior to installing the pile to prevent frost penetration.
“If I was building a dock for myself, this is the option I would take,” he says. “You must do it before installing the dock, but it’s a very effective solution. It’s all part of good planning.”
TEXT CHRIS OCCHIUZZI | PHOTOS SCOTT TURNBULL