GREEN Topic: Alternative Decking Materials
Technology Snapshot & Benefits: Alternative decking materials are rising in popularity because they are durable and long lasting, require little to no maintenance, and most are composed of recycled materials. The two most common types are wood/plastic composite lumber and plastic lumber. A majority of alternative decking materials are made from 90-100% recycled materials that do not require the use of paints or sealers and are not prone to cracking or splitting like their wood counterparts.
Estimated Cost Savings: The initial investment in alternative decking materials is often more expensive than traditional wood; however the paybacks are received in the form of reduced maintenance and increased durability for longer lifespan. These materials quickly pay for themselves in only a few short years, with savings on maintenance in the thousands over the deck’s lifetime.
Issues: With respect to installation and use, the issues to watch out for with these materials are stains, molds, mildew and sagging. Stains are a leading drawback with composite decking materials because they are made primarily from oak fibers, which have a higher tannic acid content. Molds and mildew are also common to composite decking materials, however can be avoided by proper spacing between deck boards, allowing for drainage and avoiding the buildup of mold and mildew-friendly water pools. Many manufacturers suggest periodic cleanings with deck cleanser to prevent buildup. Finally, composite decking is weaker than wood. Avoid sagging or drooping by building the deck according to the manufacturer’s specifications.
Installation (Getting It Done): Alternative decking materials can be cut, nailed, routed, drilled, and screwed in the same manner as wood. They usually have a lower structural value than their wood counterparts, and so, usually require narrower spacing between their support beams or joists. Work with experienced contractors who specialize in the use of alternative decking materials. Make sure that the manufacturer’s specifications are followed to ensure a healthy, beautiful, durable, and “environmentally friendlier” deck.