Posts from the ‘Deck tips’ Category

What is co-extrusion anyways?

When composite deck first came onto the market it was a simple wood fiber plastic mix. Heat and pressure bonded the two components into a durable board. This product changed the decking market forever, less maintenance and no reoccurring staining costs were a great benefit to consumers.

There were some shortcomings though. Traditional composites could be scratched, not easily but, just the same, on a product designed to last at least 25 years, things happen… Color fastness was an issue too, also resistance to staining. Barbeque grease was the bane of composite decking oil-based product meets grease, not good. Azek products introduced their cellular PVC and co-extruded boards and the market changed dramatically. Initially other manufacturers followed with their own PVC boards but soon marketed their traditional composite with the co-extruded layer added.

Ok, so what is co-extrusion anyways. Simply put, when the board is formed, extruded from a machine heated and under pressure, it comes out with a layer of a different material over it. In most cases it appears to be a polymer layer, trade secrets so no manufacturer is forthcoming with it’s exact nature. In the photo you can see quite clearly the outer layer and the inner core.Image

What does this mean for the consumer? The outer layer is a much harder and stain resistant material than the inner core. The polymer layer is also capable of being died in rich and variegated colors that are quite striking. With the exception of Earthwood (see related post) I find it difficult to imagine a scenario where damage could be incurred to a co extruded board. They are just that tough. The color fastness is absolute, I’ve compared long installed material with new pieces and can detect no color shift whatsoever.

I find this development very exciting for the industry. I would encourage any prospective deck buyer to consider using a board of this construction, it really is that good.

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What do batteries and electrolysis have to do with deck and fence construction?

Several years back environmental regulation mandated the removal of arsenic from the treatment of wood products, definitely a good thing. Heavy metals were being found in the soil beneath play equipment at schools and other sites. This posed a real challenge for wood product chemists and manufacturers, how to market a pressure treated wood without the usual chemical cocktail. The way they achieved this is by adding large amounts of copper to the formula, ACQ. Here’s the battery part, batteries are made possible by the placement of dissimilar metals in an electrolyte to create a current by the corrosion of the metals. The same thing happens when steel or zinc plated hardware and nails  come in contact with the high level of copper in treated woods. There are specially coated hardware and stainless steel alternatives to most products you can use on a deck. If you use a standard metal component the level and rate of corrosion is shocking. literally in a couple of weeks a regular zinc plated hanger will look like the battery post on an old car, greenish fuzz and all. One area of particular concern is deck screws. the steel used for screws is less elastic than that of nails and the  ACQ treatment causes them to become very brittle and in the case of composite decks which expand and contract slightly the fasteners are highly prone to breakage. Even the ACQ rated screws are not immune to this. I almost exclusively use stainless steel fasteners on my composite or cellular PVC decks and only use stainless nails on fences. Not only is stainless more corrosion resistant but, the steel is more elastic as well resisting the shearing caused by the deck movement. Stainless will cost more on the front end but, save you big in the end.

Wood or composite? The most often asked question by prospective deck owners.

The most oft asked question I receive as a decking installer is should I use a composite or real wood? Synthetic decking solutions have been on the market for close to 25 years now and are pretty much a known quantity at this point. In the early days there was some trial and error and for a while everyone wanted to be a decking manufacturer. This led to some not so great products. The market has weeded out the wanna-be’s and I feel a synthetic deck is really the way to go. There are certain home styles and individual tastes that really prefer real wood but, if long term cost and ease of maintenance is your primary criteria composite or PVC decking is the best choice.

The major manufacturer’s have very convincing simulated wood grain products available now with some creative fastening methods. I just installed a small deck with Trex Tropical decking in the color Spiced Rum, and it is truly gorgeous. We used the Hideaway hidden fastener system and the lack of screws in the surface really adds to the appearance.  Azek’s PVC Acacia color is great, as well as several colors in TimberTech’s palette.  Of course you pay a premium for these cutting edge colors but, many of the more basic patterns are barely more than wood.

Why not wood? I know that some individuals will give loving care to their deck and enjoy meticulously sanding and staining it every year giving them unparalleled beauty however, most customers with today’s busy lifestyles and troubled economy report that their main concerns are ease of maintenance and cost. I have found that with the narrowing of the gap in price between composite/PVC decking and wood decking that the price difference is usually bridged in either the first or second application of stain. Staining and especially re-staining a deck is a laborious and expensive task and that cost continues to accrue throughout the lifespan of the structure. Composite and PVC requires only a twice yearly rinsing with a dilute bleach solution to maintain it’s appearance. It takes about twenty minutes and costs about fifty cents per application. Ten years down the road a owner may have restained   wood as many as 5-10 times possibly costing several thousand dollars and it will still look like a 10 year old deck whereas the composite/PVC deck will look essentially the same as when it was installed. This preserves the value of the home and is often listed in the bullet points on a realtors listing of a home.

I hope this answers the question for prospective deck buyers and builders, it’s not so much a definitive answer as a question back at the consumer, what are your expectations? your aesthetic tastes? what kind of a commitment are you willing to make to maintenance? are you looking for short or long term expense? Answering those questions should put you much closer to a decision on your best decking type. My next blog post will explore the difference between standard composites and PVC and co-extruded decking choices. Stay tuned or e-mail me your specific questions.