There are hundreds choices of alternative decking products and on top of that most manufacturers have several product lines so which one is right for me?
These are questions we get asked all the time when we meet with clients and for good reasons. There are hundreds choices of alternative decking products and on top of that most manufacturers have several product lines so which one is right for me? When we add to this the fact that some alternative decking products have failed in the early years of the industry, causing companies and products to come and go, this can be a crippling decision.
The good news is that along with the bad experiences there are a lot of success stories that never get published. One of the best ways you can make sure that yours will be a success story is to educate yourself on the product you are considering and understand the pros and cons of the particular product. I stress again the pros and cons. There is not a perfect product that will be the best choice for all consumers and all applications, it just simply does not exist. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. Much like buying a car, one model does not fulfill everyone’s needs. Some people need more space some less. Some need better gas mileage and some prefer more power. The point is the right decision lies in your personal desires, needs, and criteria. If someone tries to convince you that there is a perfect product chances are that they are selling to you instead of educating you.
We can group these alternative products into two broad categories. When we use the term alternative we are talking alternatives to the standard pressure treated Southern Yellow Pine (pressure treated lumber).
Cedar, Ipe, Thermally modified wood, Bamboo, Redwood, Cumaru, Massaranduba… These are all wood products that are either a different species or they are modified in some way. People that love real wood products will gravitate to these, I call them purist.
Composite decking, Capstock, PVC, cellular PVC, Wood plastic composites, aluminum decking …etc. All these products that are man-made. I will focus on the ones that are most popular in the Northeast Ohio area, which would be the capped composites (Trex and TimberTech) and capped PVC (Azek Deck) products. Although the exact make up of each product is a closely guarded recipe, they break down into two categories: products contains some real wood content and products with all synthetic materials.
The advantages of adding wood (wood capped composites) to the decking is that it creates a firmer feel and more realistic look, these boards are quite dense and heavy.
The advantages the cellular PVC capped products have is the have less heat retention, no wood or organic materials, much lighter in weight.
There are many more options available and this is only to serve as an overview of some of the popular products in our area. I would recommend asking and ranking in the order of importance the following parameters:
Scratch resistance: How important is this to you? Do you have a dog? Are you the type that is going to notice every little scratch and will this keep you from enjoying your investment? If so go for a product with good scratch resistance and a product where the scratches will not be very visible. They will happen, it’s a floor surface that you wear. Take your keys and scratch a sample piece of decking you are considering using.
Traction: Will this be used year around as the main point of egress? The deeper grain patterns will give more traction in wet conditions. Test out a sample by laying it out and dragging your foot on it, or ask your deck builder to visit a deck with the same product so you can walk on it.
Maintenance: How much effort are you comfortable with? There is no such thing as no maintenance. Everything will require some. The alternative synthetic products are made so all you have to do is clean them, no staining necessary. With woods you will need to apply some sort of deck stain/sealer to prolong the life of it.
Fade and stain resistance: A lot of new synthetic products have a fade and stain warranty (check the fine print most are pro-rated). With a wood deck you can always re-stain, so it is not as much of a concern. The way to test this is take sample pieces of decking and spill different things on them.
Longevity: What is the time projection of your deck project? If you are planning on re-working something or moving shortly, you might limit the level of investment. If you planning on staying a few years the low-maintenance decking products will appeal since they are made to stay nice for a long time. A wood deck, even with superb maintance, will have splinters, grain lifting and cupping years down the road. That’s when these alternative materials shine.
Budget: Here is the reality check, what are you willing to invest? These alternative materials are nice and have great features but they can cost 2 to 3 times the price of a standard pressure treated deck.
Heat retention: Different products will hold a varying amounts of heat, with color being a factor in thermal retention. Decks near pools have this as one of their primary concerns. Take a few samples and set it out in the sun and feel the difference and if you want to be technical measure them with a thermometer.
Color: Does your desired deck board come in the color you are looking for? Does it have a matching railing system? Oftentimes I have seen clients spend much time in doing research only to find out that they do not like the colors the decking comes in. For example, if you want a matching railing system only the solid colors will offer that. If you are going for a black or white rail, any decking color will work with that. Don’t just focus on the decking but consider your whole color scheme. Right or wrong aesthetic is usually what will make the final decision.
Even though there are hundreds of choices, this does not have to be an overwhelming decision making process.
I founded Woodland Deck in 2000 to create decks and outdoor spaces to be enjoyed for generations. As a deck-building company, we are always looking for ways to better our products, services, and ourselves. We are passionate about life outside and believe that enjoying God’s creation is a rich gift to us.
January 12th, 2016