Here we compare different decking options, having searched the web to compile opinions, facts and more to include to help you make a decision on what material is best for you.
Walking decks offer many advantages over wood and composite decks, especially when waterproofing is needed to use wood or composite as a walking surface. When a waterproof coating needs to go on a roof deck before a wood deck can be built over it, walking decks will cut your costs on half and cut construction times down too. Even for a deck off a second floor of a home will benefit. The space below can be kept dry so walking decks are perfect acting as a patio cover too! The space below can be enclosed with screens for buggy areas, walled in for colder areas, used as storage space…there’s lots of new options that open up with walking decks! Read the pro’s and con’s of each of the basic choices you have, wood, composite and aluminum vs walking decks. I think you’ll find the numerous advantages of walking decks will make your choice easy to make!
Walking Decks-Solid Surface Waterproof Decking– available in a variety of materials-urethane, vinyl and concrete based, solid surface walking deck systems are available in every market in the US. Nothing beats these systems for versatility, long life, waterproofing and endless possibilities for unique designs! Wood, composite, aluminum; they can’t offer the designs possible with concrete decking!
Contemplating building a new deck or replacing and old deck? Concerned about recalls of composite decks? Hate the thought of doing yearly maintenance staining and sealing a wood deck? Concerned about costs to build and own? Concerned about building a deck in a high fire hazard zone?
There are a lot of choices when it comes to selecting a building material to use for a deck. The most common are-
- Waterproof. Solid surface decking is waterproof – most are listed as roofing and decking materials at ICC-ES. Perfect for roofs and decks your home will be dry and free of water. Stairs, balconies and roof decks are instantly waterproof and ready for pedestrian traffic on them.
- Ignition Retardant or Non Combustible-The preferred decking for Wildland Urban Interfaces, all of the Division 7 decking systems are rated Class A and many are listed as One Hour fire resistant for roof assemblies as required by building codes. Concrete decking seems to be the preferred choice for Cal Fire for it’s non combustible qualities. Embers and coals cannot ignite these systems.
- Unlimited designs/colors/textures/patterns. Want a deck to look like stone or tile? Many of the solid surface decking systems can be finished to look like other materials-including looking like wood.
- Tough- all of these decking systems offer damage resistance from heat, snow, hail etc.
- Slip resistance-solid surface decking is tested for slip resistance and meets the requirements set by ICC-ES.
- Durable- life spans of 25-30 + years are typical with many of these deck systems.
- Low maintenance needs-a yearly or bi-annual cleaning is necessary to keep the deck looking nice.
- Expense-costs to buy initially are higher than other decks. Offsetting that is their long life spans.
- Requires an expert contractor to properly install. No one wants a leak so to help avoid that, most manufacturers only warrant their products when an authorized applicator installs the decking. Pretty much eliminates DIY, but when it comes to waterproofing, DIY’ers are usually out of their element.
READ MORE about decks in the Wildland Urban Interface at Univ of Berkeley’s Builders Wildfire Mitigation Guide here http://firecenter.berkeley.edu/bwmg/decks-1.html
Read Consumers Reports info on decks here http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/decking/buying-guide.htm?pn=1
See our Pinterest page for design ideas and finishes available here https://www.pinterest.com/deckexpert/
Wood decks-Redwood, Southern Yellow Pine, Ipe etc are readily available in most markets.
Pro’s-about the only pro Consumer Reports could come up with is authenticity. Real wood can make for a nice deck.
- Ignitable Material-wood decking, described by a fire fighter as “organized kindling” burns. In Wildland Urban Interfaces, wood decking is vulnerable to wildfire embers igniting the deck boards. Grills dropping coals onto the surface can burn the decking and ignite the deck in the right conditions.
- Yearly maintenance. Cleaning, staining and sealing a wood deck is basically now a yearly maintenance item. Costs of maintenance must be factored into the buying process.
- Wood decking can crack, split and splinter, especially on cheaper wood decks. Exotic hardwoods don’t split and check as much, but can.
- Changing colors. Wood can fade and darken, which for most buyers is an undesirable result.
- Stains-go ahead drop a cup of coffee on your wood deck. Unless it’s been recently sealed, you’ll see where that coffee landed for some time after as the coffee soaks into the wood and can’t be removed.
- Expense-exotic wood costs a lot. North America has no hardwood lumber similar to mahogany or Ipe, so these materials have to be shipped from other locations around the world.
Composite/Plastic decks-often made from recycled plastics, wood chips and other materials, with the look of wood and the allure of less or zero maintenance, Azek, Fiberon, Timbertech, Evergrain, Trex and apx 12 other manufacturer’s make a synthetic or composite deck product. Some or all of these are available in most markets.
“Composite chemistry. Tom Nosker, a professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, serves on the subcommittee that created ASTM Standard D6662. Nosker is not a fan of wood-plastic composites: “I have never promoted taking polyethylene and mixing it with wood, because I don’t think it will last very long,” he notes.
According to Nosker’s analysis, wood cellulose, a “polar” molecule that attracts water, does not bond chemically with polyethylene or similar “nonpolar” plastic polymers. Stress transfer between the materials is limited, Nosker says, so adding wood fiber to plastic lumber doesn’t do much for its structural properties. And Nosker claims that the affinity of the wood fiber for water causes composite boards to soak up moisture, support fungal growth, and suffer freeze/thaw damage.”
Sun, snow, rain, and dirt. On the coast, the primary threat to plastics is sunlight: Ultraviolet rays can break the bonds in the polymer’s molecular chain. However, the sun’s effect on plastic deck boards is only skin deep. According to Nosker, the sun penetrates only a few thousandths of an inch, and while it degrades the surface layer, this layer of damaged plastic blocks further penetration. Products exposed to sunlight may show some surface fading or discoloration but will remain serviceable (Figure 4).
Figure 4. In the long run, composite decking will likely weather the sun, rain, and ice much better than pressure-treated lumber. Ultraviolet light will fade the top surface of composite materials (shown new at left), but the material remains serviceable and does not usually continue to degrade after initial weathering.
A more common complaint is staining from dirt, liquids, or even from the material itself. Some composite boards use wood fibers that contain “extractives” — pigments or resins that can migrate and may change color. “When the extractives oxidize, it can show up as small black dots that look like mildew on some products,” explains Tichy.
Aesthetic surface problems have not escaped the notice of contractors. One recent post at a JLC-Online forum described a delivery of composite boards from the lumberyard, already stained with black splotches that wouldn’t wash off. Another contractor replied with the story of building a large deck, only to have the customer’s dogs stain it with footprints on the day it was completed — and of “blotchy spots like bleach spots” showing up soon thereafter. A third chimed in, “Watch out for Coke, catsup, grease, and mustard stains. Barbecues make a mess.”
- Consumer Reports again doesn’t list many pro’s, they say the look of wood without the need to stain and seal the decking.
- Ignition Resistant. Most composite decking has resistance to igniting. Meaning it is harder to ignite, but eventually it will.
- Decorative-using contrasting/complimentary colors, decks can be more visually interesting with some patterns and designs.
- Not waterproof. If you want this material on a roof deck, you have to waterproof the roof first, adding substantial costs to building. Can’t really be put on stairs over living space leading to a roof deck
- Recalls and Failures-a number of decking systems have failed in the past and we don’t expect that to end anytime soon.
- Slippery-most composite decks are slippery when wet or with snow. Some more so, others less so.
- Limited colors in stock. Most lumber and building stores don’t carry all the colors a manufacturer makes, except by special order, limiting you to what they carry.
- Stain resistance-Consumer Reports lists staining as a con for most composite decking if the spilled material isn’t cleaned promptly. You won’t want to look at stains on your deck after paying big bucks for the materials.
- Heavy-composite decking is heavier than wood. While typical framing can accommodate apx 50#’s per square foot, you may need to beef up your framing if you build with composite.
- Sags-complaints on forums and websites lists sagging as a problem with some, particularly in hot climates. Most decking is installed on joists 16″ on center. Sagging can be eliminated by placing joists closer together, but that raises costs of building the deck.
- Expense-synthetic decking is expensive. Some are cheaper than others but all in all, the materials are expensive.
- Cheap looking-Consumer Reports listed on of their cons of plastic decking as looking cheap.
- Burn marks-go ahead drop a coal on a composite deck or let a cigarette burn out on it. You’ll see that forever until you replace the board(s) affected.
Aluminum Decking-exactly what it says, aluminum has moved from soda cans on the deck to decking under your feet. Lockdry, Versadeck and Last-Deck are selling aluminum decking in most markets in the US.
- Toughness-aluminum decking is strong.
- Slip Resistance-built in grip helps resist slip and falls.
- Lockdry offers a locking aluminum deck that keeps water from dripping through the deck down below. (This is NOT a roofing system for over a house though!) Excellent for having a bit of dry area on a patio below.
- Fire resistance-aluminum doesn’t burn so embers landing on the deck or a coal falling from a grill won’t start a fire. If the fire is hot enough, aluminum can warp or melt, but that’s much different problem.
- Expensive. Of all the materials for decks, aluminum costs more than wood and composite/plastic decking and is similar in costs to solid surface decking.
- You won’t mistake it for anything else.
- Hard to buy, many lumber and building material suppliers don’t stock these deck systems.
The choice is clear when you compare the pro’s and cons of deck products available. Walking deck systems provide the best possible solutions to nearly every deck owner’s needs and wants. Contact our manufacturer’s to get started today!