Composite lumber best pick for decks

Posted May 22, 2009, at 8:58 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:28 a.m.

We have a lot of choices when it comes to deck surface materials. For years, we have used pressure-treated Southern Yellow Pine as an inexpensive deck material. It works OK. It is a fast-growing wood that tends to warp and crack if not properly painted or sealed.

Sometimes, being grown so fast, it will do weird stuff even with proper finishes. Many people are concerned about the danger of pressure treatments to humans and the environment. Painting this material helps protect people from the treatments. Unfortunately, this common-sense approach is seldom practiced.

There are some beautiful exotic woods available that are more stable and rot-resistant. They are rather pricey materials, but impressive.

Of course, in Maine, we also have Northern White Cedar, which is fairly rot-resistant, if you can get wood that has mostly heartwood in it. The heartwood is the darker-colored wood, nearer the center of the tree. This wood has more preservative extractives in it.

In my book, the material of choice for decks is composite lumber. This is material that usually is blended from sawdust and recycled plastics under high pressure into boards. The boards come in a variety of colors and grains and have some advantages and disadvantages over wood.

Composite lumber is fairly floppy compared to wood. It cannot span distances as well as wood, which is a lot stiffer. This is not a big problem in deck construction, but is a factor. The natural floppiness of composites allows you to make curved things very easily, so fancy curved steps and decks can be constructed more simply with composites.

The big advantage of composites is their resistance to weather and rot. They will not splinter, crack or twist when exposed to weather and usually do not need any finish, but some will get splotches of mildew if not regularly cleaned.

Most composites will change color due to weathering. Weathering still trumps most manmade materials. Most composites do not like to be in constant contact with the ground since they are usually at least half sawdust.

If you go to any lumberyard or home center, there will be a large choice of composite materials to choose from. They all are as expensive or more expensive than wood.

Composites work like strange wood. They are usually softer than wood and are almost fun to cut with a power saw.

Fastening composites is a little different, too. Regular deck screws will push up a crater of composite as the fastener drives home. There are special fasteners that are used to prevent this problem. You also can use hidden fasteners that install in between the planks.

I prefer to use the special composite screws with a finish that matches the decking color. Hidden fasteners will make life difficult if a deck plank gets damaged and needs to be replaced. Screws can be more easily removed and replaced if necessary.

As the composite industry has evolved, it has developed composite railing systems that offer beauty and simplicity that is durable. Since railing systems have to be very strong, these systems might use metal reinforcement to give the strength that is necessary for safety.

After using several different composite decking systems and looking at a lot more, I feel that one stands out above the rest, and it’s manufactured here in Maine. The company is called CorrectDeck. It makes a very rugged product that is mildew-resistant.

Questions for Tom Gocze should be mailed to The Home Page, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329. A library of reference material and a home-project blog are at www.bangordailynews.com/thehomepage.html.

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