Composite Decking Not Infallible
Check over the results of virtually any home improvement survey, and you will see that adding a deck consistently ranks at or near the top of the list in terms of both desirability and payback on investment.
If a deck is high on your wish list, one of the primary decisions you are no doubt struggling with is what type of decking material to use — natural wood, or one of the new plastic composite materials that have been getting so much attention lately.
The relative advantages and disadvantages of natural wood are pretty well known. On the plus side, there is the pure, natural beauty of wood, something the composites have been striving with mixed results to emulate. In the eyes of many homeowners and builders alike, nothing can ever replace the subtle grain variations and smooth glow of a piece of redwood or cedar, or one of the hardwoods such as teak or Ipe.
Then there are the obvious drawbacks to wood, which include splintering, cracking, insect and water damage, and the need for regular maintenance every one to two years. It’s a tough balancing act between looks and upkeep.
While virtually all of the composite decking materials contain some form and percentage of plastic or vinyl, many also contain a certain amount of wood fiber. Even though the wood fiber is blended with the liquid plastic during the manufacturing process, it is not completely impervious to rotting. The percentage of wood fiber in the makeup of the material is another consideration when shopping, and it’s generally considered best to look for a product with less than 50 percent wood fiber in it.
Finally, there is the question of durability over time. Composites have simply not been around long enough to be able to say with complete certainty that they will or won’t perform well after 10 or 15 years in the backyard. And don’t be suckered in by an attractive warranty. As with virtually all building materials, the typical warranty has so much legalese in the fine print and so many exclusions for everything from improper storage at the dealer’s yard to installation methods that don’t strictly adhere to the manufacturer’s sometimes unreasonable standards as to be pretty much useless.
Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at [email protected]. What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. To contact the writer, click the byline at the top of the story.
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Deck Stains are not all created equal. Click here to see our feature, Choosing a Deck Stain: Aesthetics vs. Durability.
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