Timbertech Earthwood Evolutions, maybe not so evolutionary…

Although Timbertech has been a solid performer for some time their “wood look” options have been problematic. The original Earthwood, a conventional wood/plastic composite was one of the better looking boards available and the first with a decent hidden fastener solution. Unfortunately it scratched very easy and it’s smooth finish did little to hide any damage that occurred. Presumably Evolutions hoped to address this issue adding a co-extruded construction to the board and deeper colors with a textured finish. I’m afraid the R&D department dropped the ball on this one. The polymer layer (the co-extruded part) is both too thin and not nearly hard enough and the textured finish is not enough so. I found during the install process that it was difficult to not incur incidental damage. Impacts from tools or as fine as a piece of gravel in a boot would leave significant marring on the surface and the light texture did little to obscure this. I find it hard to imagine it looking very good down the road even under typical home wear conditions.Decking solutions from Azek, Trex and Fiberon all have much harder polymer layers and resist damage much better. I’m afraid that as a professional I would have to decline the opportunity to install this product again, too bad bacause it does have a nice appearance.

   Timbertech has many other fine products but, I cannot recommend Earthwood Evolutions.

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New wood top rail option for Alumarail systems.

Alumarail has been the top choice for deck railing for years but, sometimes a more organic look is desirable.

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Series 400 top rail allows you to attach a wood of your choice to your aluminum railing so you can keep the character of your wood deck but have the strength and easy maintenance of the Alumarail system. This railing also incorporates stainless steel cables for the infill. The deck is Brazilian Ipe and the rail cap is Dark Red Meranti from Indonesia.

Vinyl Fence with the look of real wood!

Vinyl fencing has been a reliable alternative to wood for years. Crisp white finishes always look brand new if kept clean. Some homes and situations are not a good match for that bright white appearance. I just performed an install in just such a situation. The job was further complicated by the desire to have a fence nearly 8 feet tall. A real wood solution was what was originally requested but I suggested the owner look at vinyl, at first they hesitated because white would reflect so much light onto their living space as the backyard was quite small. I showed them some samples of a tan colored vinyl and tongue and groove infill of a product called “Peak”. Peak fencing has a real wood look but all the desirable attributes of vinyl.

One complication with 8 foot fencing is that you must have a permit and engineering, we were able to obtain loading calculations direct from the vendor rather than hire an engineer for the task. This saved us hundreds of dollars in the permitting process. We were able to use a metal insert inside the vinyl posts to obtain the required loading limits for this area.

The customer is very happy with the installation and product, they have the height, privacy and ease of maintenance they were hoping for.

Mixed Review on Elite Deck

I recently installed a deck using a treated lumber product, Elite Deck. I have avoided treated decking in the past because of the tendency of the the fir lumber it is made from to split, cup, and check as it dries. This product comes in three colors and grey was chosen for this project. I was very concerned about this material because of my past experiences with similar products.

My general impression of the material is mixed, I liked the color, it is pleasing and goes good with the color of the home and was uniform. The overall quality of the lumber was below average in my opinion, I can pick a little better grade out of framing lumber at the yard, knot content and straightness was slightly below average for fir lumber. I would expect a decking material to be above average. The efficiency during install was a little low, the material had a tendency to split on the butt joints even when pre-drilled so you will want to budget a little extra lumber if  you choose this product. This sounds overly negative I think but, considering the cost and the lack of needed maintenance down the road it may be worth it. The proof will be if it resists the splitting and cupping that this type of product has been prone to. This particular installation will get a deck cover and that played into the decision for the customer, the sun and UV radiation is the primary problem for this family of decking product.

I took several steps to safeguard this installation. First I tried whenever possible to use the factory butt joint as it has been treated with the chemical solution already. When it was necessary to use a site cut edge I treated it with a end-cut solution as in the installation instructions and followed that with an application of Anchor-Seal. Anchor-Seal is a product that is often used during the installation of hardwoods. It is a liquid paraffin that absorbs into the end grain of lumber. The rapid gain and loss of of moisture through the end grain of lumber is what is responsible for cracking and checking at the end of boards, stopping this by sealing it is an effective way to prevent this type of damage. Lastly, immediately after install I applied a coat of Wolman clear deck sealer to trap the moisture inside the boards to slow the drying. Rapid drying can also lead to surface checking and cracking. This is the opposite technique than that of un-treated decking which you would want to dry completely before you applied a sealer.

If you do not want any maintenance on your deck and are on a budget, treated decking may be a good choice for you, you just should not expect a perfectly defect free surface. Treated decking is excellent in longevity just not high in appearance.

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.

Welcome to the MBA Deck and Fence Blog

Hello and welcome! this blog is designed to provide consumers useful information from a seasoned professional about decking and fencing products. My name is Matthew Aimonetti. I am  a licensed contractor in the state of Oregon ccb#102368 with 20 years experience installing a range of traditional and modern products. I will be blogging about everything from installation techniques, materials, plans and designs, to code and legal issues as they relate to installations. If you have a topic you are interested in you can always request it or email me at mbadeck@gmail.com phone 503 871 0785 or my web site at mbadeck.com. The month of June has projects slated using the brand new Trex Tropical colors which are the most life-like palette of composite decking I have yet seen. I will also be installing Trex Accents in a two-ton bordered deck, both decks will feature Trex Hideaway hidden fastners systems. Stay tuned for photos and a walk through of the Hideaway installation process.