Synthetic Decking: Best Buy or Absolute Nightmare? - Fine Homebuilding
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Products and Materials

Products and Materials

Synthetic Decking: Best Buy or Absolute Nightmare?

comments (94) August 18th, 2009 in Blogs
RYagid Rob Yagid , senior editor

While synthetic decking has become popular, to me nothing beats the real thing. This is not the real thing. 
A bad batch indeed. This synthetic decking literally started to fall apart soon after it was installed. Unfortunately, the homeowners had to cover the cost of the original product and its replacement.
While synthetic decking has become popular, to me nothing beats the real thing. This is not the real thing. Click To Enlarge

While synthetic decking has become popular, to me nothing beats the real thing. This is not the real thing. 

Synthetic decking has more than grown in popularity over the years. Its use has simply exploded. Back in 2005 former editor Chris Green reported that there was a 198% increase in synthetic decking sales from 2000 to 2004 in an article entitled Synthetic Decking Takes Off. Well, it certainly did and it has landed on thousands of decks across the country. But, I have to wonder, was that a good thing?

Best-case scenario
I understand all of the claims that support the performance of synthetic decking. Sythetic deck boards have a uniform appearance, which can match almost any popular wood decking material. And there's no culling through stacks to find matching boards. Ideally they last for ever with no color fade. Synthetic deck boards shouldn't be prone to mold and rot. They're durable and low maintenance. Still, I can't fully bring myself to choose synthetic deck material over a natural wood product. More so, I'm not convinced that overall it out performs wood . Here's why:

Wood is not the enemy.

Now, I realize that all synthetic decking is not the same. You've got polyethylene based composite, polypropylene based composites, wood free plastics, fly-ash based products and a host of other options all trying to compete with the real thing. Why, then, would you not opt for real wood and get proven performance for the next 40 years or so instead of taking a risk? I've heard horror stories of synthetic decking rapidly fading in color, scratching, warping, degrading and separating at the joints, rotting and growing mold at an astonishing rate. Sure, it may make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside to know that a shred of your old milk jug may one day end up in a deck, but is all of the technology and energy used to make these imitations making true ecological progress? Is it all worth it? The claims sounds great, I agree, but personally I'm afraid the positive spin is really all it has to offer. (Please, post and inform me otherwise if you can. I'm really interested in the embodied energy of this product.)

Costs are high.

Where I live I can get Ipe, Cedar and PT decking for the same price as the best synthetics (often it's actually less), so I have a hard time finding the cost savings. I know, I know, the argument is that I'll save time and expenses in maintenance with synthetics. However, I wouldn't know where to start in the repair of a synthetic product and fear that in some cases I'd be forced to replace it. There goes any conceivable cost savings.

The look.

I don't like the look of stamped plastic in or around homes. I don't care if you can, "hardly" tell from 20 feet away. Fake, in my book, is fake and I appreciate authenticity. So do I find synthetic decking to be an absolute nightmare? No, I don't, but I sure would consider it a restless night. I've left myself open to criticism, and hope that I can become better informed by your feedback. Has anyone been equally unimpressed with synthetic products? Conversely, has anyone had an exceptional experience working with synthetic decking? Please weigh in. 


posted in: Blogs, deck, lumber, Decking, trex, synthetic, synthetic decking

Comments (94)

Desertmer Desertmer writes: We have had our Azek decking installed( by my husband and son and I) for four years now. We live in the middle atlantic and our deck gets full sun until about 2 pm each day. We are so glad we chose a synthetic. After multiple homes with various wood decks - cedar, ipe etc which either rotted molded or just looked awful despite regular care we had had it. We knew folks with TREX and it was not holding up well after the first year and with a little research and some friends who had Azek we went with that. It was super easy to install. It looks like the day we finished it. We sweep it regularly and wash it with a long handled brush and mild soap about once a month. No power washing. The top rails are a bit difficult to get bug spots and bird spots off but we now wet a towel with soapy water, hang it over for half an hour and then use a Teflon approved scrubby pad and everything comes right off. I did not like the idea of 'fake' which is why we tried so many wood decks but we now feel that at least in our part of the country it seems to make a lot more sense for an active family who does not have time or money to maintain temperamental wood decking. We have had no mold issues at all but of course we have sun most of the day. I also do not put pots that drain onto the deck at all either. I have seen people ruin all kinds of decking material doing that!
Posted: 8:07 am on July 30th

sashalevin sashalevin writes: Seeger Weiss LLP has extensive experience representing consumers across the country. We are currently investigating claims for a class action suit against Azek for defective decking and trim boards. If you or someone you know has defective Azek product, please contact us at free of charge to discuss your situation.
Posted: 5:18 pm on December 3rd

leandsons leandsons writes: I am about to build the biggest deck I've ever done. I come from cedar, pressure treated, to Procell/Azek, and most recend Trex transcend. this new deck is for one customer that is willing to spend but want what makes the most sense. I am thinking about going back to the best PT 1-1/2" top grade with the grove on back; then I would do edge screw with the Kreg jig and solid stain soon after I build it. I have boasted the low/free maintenance with my customers about synthetic deckings only to find myself in the corner defending my assertion 6 months to a year later.

I have seen how well solid deck stain maintain the quality of the wood integrity after years. Many people want the natural look, so they stain with transparent or semi-transparent and ended up with damages in there wood. So the conclusion is that they should have gone with synthetic. Well, synthetic stuff don't look natural anyway so why not stain solid. At least, you can have a new look after a few years when you stain again.

In my experience, it sucks when you fight stain or scratch on pvc deckings. some day, you would hate it enough and may end up staining the damn thing.

I hope some would agree PT decking is still a good contender if we give it solid stain.
Posted: 8:18 pm on October 12th

DArcyM DArcyM writes: My husband and I bought a house with a new front verandah made with plastic wood that is, I believe, a composite of plastic and sawdust. It was a revolting liver colour all the way through, and I hated it. Still, I loved the idea of it being low maintenance ( I've seen real cedar decks rot out from under me even with annual water sealing.) and it was going to be with us for years to come, like it or not.

My solution: I got some heavy duty all-surface primer and primed the railings, spindles and facings (everything but the floor boards.) My husband and I decided on some classic pale sandy green exterior semi-gloss for the railings and apron, and complimented that with cream for the spindles, and we painted it up. It completely changed the look of our house from "post modern loading dock" to seaside victorian cottage.

Its been through a long hot summer and the tantrums of a Canadian winter, and it hasn't got so much as a scratch or a blister on it. So far so good.

Verdict? Snug in a nice coat of paint, it's good as wood without the rot.
Posted: 9:34 pm on June 22nd

2Whispertoo 2Whispertoo writes: I replaced my 22 year old PT deck with Azek decking and Ipe rails 2 years ago. The Materials are both excellent. The Azek
doesnt stain, mildew or hold dirt. I blow or hose the leaves and tree debris off every once in a while but aside from that it needs no maintenance at all! Many of the ugly stories about Azek/Procell seem to date back some years before they got the formula right. Expansion is really minimal along a 30ft length and the stuff is pretty light to carry and easy to work with. I used 12" centers for the PT joists underneath and this make the deck feel solid. The Hidden screw/plug system is absolutely amazing- so good that I put a screw about 3 inches from one already plugged that I didnt see. The light tan color is pretty cool underfoot even in bright sun. My experience with Azek shows it to be excellent for a deck in Connecticut and I would use it again without question.
The Ipe rails are super strong and beautiful when oiled but fade to a light tan when left untreated. I have had some mildew on the treated horizontal top rails (probably from the oil) but it's pretty easy to deal with. Contrary to most opinion I had no trouble drilling the Ipe with regular steel drill bits and cutting it with a normal carbide skill saw. The recommended wax on cut ends of Ipe is a must to reduce end grain splitting.
Dont be deterred by all the bad stories- these are outstanding- though costly materials. The savings in maintenance and great appearance makes them worth every penny to me.
Posted: 9:53 pm on June 17th

Jasper106 Jasper106 writes: I renovated my entire home about 4 years ago. It was about a 6 year project as I did a lot of the work myself with the help of some relatives. One thing we did was to renovate two very large PT decks approximately 2,000 square feet. The decks themselves were built for us by a national, specialty decking company and were very well designed and built. In the dozen or so years we had them, I spent at least 4 or 5 days per year cleaning and power washing them and countless hours repairing the defects as they arose; staples lifting, boards cracking and warping creating tripping problems and large splinters that got into way too many people's feet.

We used the PT frame of the existing decks and enlarged one deck significantly with new PT framing. For decking, we used a composite, non-grooved and Monarch PVC railings. All decking was fastened with E.B Ty blind fasteners and put on at about a 45 degree angle to the joists to give it a nice look. All of the materials to do this cost over $15,000 - my labor was free.

To say I am disappointed in the composite would not be fair as it looks terrific, is always clean and I have spent about an hour in the last 5 years doing deck maintenance as opposed to many days every year. After about a dozen years with the old deck, it always looked tired, and worn even after an arduous weekend of power washing and from a visual point it looked horrible. My "new" deck looks no worse for wear since it was about 6 months old. It does scratch easily from furniture and very playful dogs and does fade a bit but given how awful my other deck looked most of the time and for the amount of work it took to take care of it, the new deck looks terrific, wears very well and I would have to say overall I am more than happy with it.

I am positive that I was very fussy building it and that helped. It was very expensive but so were the PT decks that we had built for us. I get many compliments on how great it looks, especially compared to the old PT deck. Therefore, overall I would have to say there are many more plusses with my composite deck than my old PT deck and if I were to build another deck today it would be built with composites.
Posted: 4:19 pm on June 17th

patrickmonk patrickmonk writes: Looks like link doesn't work. So FYI.
"Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing". Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell. 1968.
Posted: 8:44 pm on June 13th

patrickmonk patrickmonk writes: I've been 'building' most everything from Theatre Sets to Tool Boxes, from Log Cabins to Victorian Remodels, Coffee Tables to Decks, for over 40 years. I try to recycle, re-use, and restore whenever possible. For anyone who is considering using 'synthetic' materials, I have only one thing to say:-
Patrick Monk. "Monkworks". SF. Ca.
Posted: 8:40 pm on June 13th

Peggyrealtor Peggyrealtor writes: We have just installed a Trex "Escapes" PVC deck. My dog and I are getting shocked as we walk accross it--Yesterday I got zapped touching a wrought iron table, opening the sliding glass door to go inside, and also touching a nail on the floor of the deck. Any ideas? Should an electrician be looking for something that is causing this?
Posted: 8:35 am on April 4th

LiliaBillia LiliaBillia writes: I've seen a lot of people have issues with their synthetic decking. That's why I'm going to be getting stamped concrete instead.
Posted: 11:13 am on February 22nd

woodpecker5441 woodpecker5441 writes: If you are thinking of using Azek decking, think again and save your money!! I've been building decks for over 30 years and have never ran up on a nightmare like this before! Walking on Azek decking is like walking on a waterbed. It gives between the joists. After installation, the butt joints have a 3/8" gap between them. Met with the company rep today and he said if you don't want the boards to give when you walk on them, you have to put the floor joists on 12" center, yet they recommend 16" on center. He's never seen the product shrink like that before so he's having to investigate further. Azek decking is huge waste of money! Buyers BEWARE!!!
Posted: 8:00 pm on August 23rd

bbsinc bbsinc writes: This is the way I see it, more and more of our clients are asking for a maintenance free deck, and we all know there is no such thing. It is up to us to find the best possible products to offer. I no longer offer pressure treated decking due to unpredictable performance. Cedar I recommend very little, only because in the last couple of years most of our service calls have been delamination and staining issues. I like using Eipe, and Tiger wood, (once you get past the tag team bow wrench).

I'm really excited over a new wood product EcoVantage. EcoVantage is a thermally modified southern yellow pine. The thermal-modification makes the wood harder and able to resist moisture, mildew, rot and insects. The EcoPrem heat and steam process makes EcoVantage wood products safe and reliable. Many pressure-treated woods contain toxic chemicals that can shorten the life expectancy of your project. These chemicals also leach into the air and soil around the wood and can make the wood unsafe to handle without protection. All of EcoVantage's chemical-free wood products can be used around your plants and your children with clear conscious.
And for our ultra low maintenance decking I prefer Azek and Timbertech, and the reason being is that I don't get any call backs.
Posted: 9:15 pm on August 12th

Lawrence Lawrence writes: Rob-- Nice Post!

I would love to read through all the comments, but I will have to do this in 2 or 3 meals.

I've been writing about this from time to time on my blogs and have had conversations with hundreds of people that bought composites and now regret it...

Take a look here.

The part that galls me is that their warranty excludes mold, fading as well as labor and disposal costs of the defective composite lumber should they choose to replace it. They dump it in the driveway, make the customer sign a confidentiality and scurry away.

Lawrence Winterburn

Posted: 12:37 am on August 5th

WadeinAZ WadeinAZ writes: Here's a one off. I'd like to complete my interior stairs with synthetic decking. The back splashes are tile and the treads I'd like to look like a white super polyurethaned plank but... in Arizona the sand and wear and tear of 4 teen boys just beats the stairs to death.

Keep in mind this is interior.

So I'm willing to go with something that will take a beating.

My first desire is a white synthetic wood look but I haven't found a distributor for that. Trex has a light gray that will be OK with the tile and slate that is already on the wall.

I was going to try the 3/4 x 11.5 planks over anothe board. I was going to route a 90 grove, heat and fold over 1" to create a bull nose.

Any thoughts on how it will hold up, colors, vendor, other?

Posted: 1:37 am on June 26th

moe231 moe231 writes:
We have had problems with our Procell/Azek deck and so has many others. We paid top dollar for this material and still have the original pamphlet that says "stubborn stains and mold don't stand a chance". We have over 1,000 sq. ft. of decking that cost a lot of money and it started to look old and worn after the first few months. We called the company and they sent a crew to clean it, a three step processand very time consuming. As a matter of fact the company had a crew traveling all over the states doing exactly this (cleaning Procell decks). We asked what would happen if this treatment didn't hold and it stained again. They said that they would come back as often as needed because it was guaranteed. It held up for a few months and them it happened again - mold, stains, white spots, black spots, and fading. The company advertised that all you need to clean it was soap and water. Well soap and water did not clean this. We called them again. They sent a crew out again and they said it was oxidation and they would clean it with a newer solution and, they cleaned it once again. It was ok for a few months. Then, stains, scratches and spots appeared again along with stains now on the Azek white trim that the crew had touched with this "solution." I am about to call them again. This deck is not quite three years old. Someone online said that they heard It had to be a bad batch. It must have been because there are some people who have this decking and have had no problems so far. Now the company is saying that you have to apply a solution to the decking every year to restore it. Well, that is not good enough. We purchased Procell (top dollar) because you did not have to do anything to clean it but use only soap and water for stains. If that was the case we would have kept our wooden deck that looked much better than this! This is false advertising. And this "solution" costs $69 dollars a bottle. Well if this deck has a lifetime guarantee how much will this cost year after year after year. I am reaching out to anyone who has had problems with this product. Maybe we can start a class action suit and get our money back. Other companies have had problems and they stood behind their product and refunded the cost of materials to their customers. We are out a lot of money and I will not stop until something is done. Please let me know if you have had any success in resolving your problem.

Posted: 5:53 pm on March 28th

dobbsj dobbsj writes: Precast Concrete Planks -

I am thinking of using precast concrete planks as "deck underpayment. These are hollow and available in 22' length I need. I would lay over a perimeter foundation wall for support. Then we can lay brick, paver stone or whatever on top of the planks. I have poured floating concrete floors and would use that under roof but the precast option seems interesting. I am interested in opinions of others on this. I also am concerned about how the water runoff should be dealt with. On option is to let if run off between the top pavers through the precast planks. Please help if you have experience on this.
Posted: 12:38 pm on February 14th

MFournier MFournier writes: Now I understand this is about synthetic decking vs wood.
And many of the posts expanded it to include wood deck vs a patio or concrete deck.

And the discussion included durability, cost and green (impact of products on the environment)
So although I like many FHB readers pay my bills building stuff for others (most of which they do not need.)

The greenest deck is simply no deck at all.
Every thing after that is just to what degree the outdoor living space you want and the materials it uses will impact the environment both to build and over the life of its use and beyond.

No matter what Wood you use it came from a tree somewhere and even plantation grown tropical species grown and harvested using so called sustainable methods. If demand for that product is higher and is consumed faster then it can grow it is not truly sustainable. Also tree plantations never replace the eco system and diversity of the rain forests they replaced.
So if you really want to be green then that rules out Ipé and also every tropical naturally weather resistant wood. Also cedar when local to your area is also a great exterior wood as is red wood. But we only need look at how little redwood forest remains to see if demand for a species exceeds it's ability to replenish it can be wiped out. (thank god someone realized that before all the redwoods were gone)

As for synthetics no matter what recycled content your synthetic decking has it still required energy and some type of plastic to make. And the production of all plastics produce pollution. and all use oil by products. So your deck may contain reused plastics that would have gone into a landfill but what about how it got there to begin with. And new plastics are still being made every day.

So am I pro wood or pro synthetics?

I feel as far as green goes it is about responsible use of all resources. Be it the resource itself the energy it takes to convert it to a useable product and the energy it takes to get it to you the end user and then how long that product lasts before it needs to be replaced and the amount of energy it consumes over time and also the amount or resources it takes to build it.

And that last one is most important. If you build a 10x10 deck even if you use the most exotic hardwood from some rain forrest on the other side of the world.
could be greener then a 40x40 deck using 1500 sq. feet more of materials then the owner really needs.

Same goes for houses we all need shelter but do we need 2000 sq. feet or could we get by with 800 sq. feet. We focus so much on green methods and materials that we often leave out the biggest savings build smaller and consume less.

Posted: 1:04 pm on January 15th

TheStairGuide TheStairGuide writes: As a custom deck builder for 16 years, my opinion is simple.
It's all about the price, I have built so many decks with many different composite materials and natural woods, I can honestly say I prefer Trex, I would have to say Cross Timbers is the absolute worst. Cedar is gorgeous for one year, I dont care what product you put on it, it will never look the same again as it does new. AC2 treated is still the most common because of how cheap the material is, yet it is just plain ugly and it shriks like crazy. I have yet to find a composite that isn't slippery.
Unfortunately most people look at composite decking because it says no maintenace yet the average Trex deck costs $10,000-$100,000, that being said you wouldn't go buy a corvette and never take it to the car wash would you? Every composite deck needs cleaned twice a year or what do you expect other than mold to grow on it?
As for almost any deck, despite the material, it really boils down to the professional building it. If you hire your everyday handyman to build you a composite deck it will not last that long, it requires someone who works with it regularly. Composite is much more difficult to build properly than a wood deck. I always offer an 8 year labor warranty on everything I build so going back and looking at the decks I built 3-8 years earlier, Trex still holds up very well, compared to wood. Although I have to agree with a couple comments in here, it does fade a lot. I actually saw someone use Trex with the color Maderia and in 2 years being on the sunny side of the house their deck turned pink.
Posted: 10:51 am on December 25th

renosteinke renosteinke writes: I have just traveled some ... through the south, and some of the west. I have seen many installs of Trex decking, and these are my observations.

Every place I saw it used was a high-traffic, public place. In some cases, it was apparrent that the Trex was being installed in sections, replacing the work wood decking.

Even in high-use areas, the Trex looked as good as new. Where fasteners rusted, the Trex did not seem to 'spread' the rust stain. The decking felt solid, flat (unworn), and gave excellent traction, even when wet.

I say these positive things, because that's what I saw. I know not if there was additional supports added - Trex will flex under load a lot more than wood. Trex is also very heavy, and it burns like one of those factroy-made fireplace logs. So, you might say I have my doubts about Trex.

I have yet to encounter the other types of decking, though. So, I cannot speak for their performance.
Posted: 6:05 pm on September 12th

janineadele janineadele writes: I am searcing for information on Bamboo Decking. How does it compare to cedar - cost and durability, mold resistance, waterproofing required? Anything you can tell me.
Where to buy in Canada?
Posted: 9:16 am on September 12th

jschatz jschatz writes: Rob, Thanks for your response. I didn't realize the blog nature of this piece - so I was reading it through a different eye.

Being that I mainly rehab and rent apartments, I am looking at the discussion from a maintenance standpoint. The benefits of synthetic decking in that regard are tremendous -- much like the benefits that were realized when vinyl siding began replacing wood siding and when aluminum metal began capping wood molding. The energy consumed is an interesting question, although it is difficult to compare how much energy is used vs. how many trees are saved.
Posted: 8:49 pm on September 8th

TWS1372 TWS1372 writes: I suppose it's like everything - nothing is perfect. I have some synthetic boards on a stoop out back - on the wife's insistence - even though I'm no fan of the stuff either. Its ends are not and cannot be made attractive, it has no real strength, and scratches can't be fixed. However, it doesn't splinter either - (which drove the decision). So it gets my vote for low maintenance, but not for appearance.
Posted: 4:30 pm on September 8th

greenredbuilder greenredbuilder writes: One's locale clearly determines the most suitable deck material. Alaska yellow cedar is a durable deck product around Seattle, but I made the mistake by installing cedar (naively thinking, that it would be durable) on my deck in Salt Lake City. It was totally trashed in 2 years time. A south and/or west exposure in these parts destroys all wood products. Ipe, despite its hardness, doesn't hold up around here either.

Aesthetics and function are the most important aspects of any building. However, in 2009 the true environmental impact of construction, should trump anything else. Just because we framed stud walls back in the day with CVG fir, doesn't give us the license to build decks out of old growth wood or tropical hardwood, in 2009.
Posted: 12:23 am on August 31st

RYagid RYagid writes: Jschatz,
Thanks for posting and I appreciate your praise of Fine Homebuilding. We enjoy having you as a fan. I understand your criticism of my post. It doesn't have a ton of hard hitting facts. However, I must point one thing out since it was brought up earlier in this thread. This isn't an article. It is a blog post. There is a distinct difference between the two. I wrote this piece on a whim in order to generate a conversation about a topic I've been thinking of. The opinions I expressed are real, and my invitation for folks to post so that I (and other readers) can become better informed was genuine. I'm more than pleased with the responses thus far, and am happy with the constructive commentary. You can bet that Fine Homebuilding will dive deeper into this topic in the future. So keep your eye out for a more in-depth article in the regular issue, or here online.
Posted: 9:46 am on August 27th

MikeGuertin MikeGuertin writes: 2Paul, Perfecionist I'll weigh in with others who favor concrete decks; they last.

There is no need to frame them out of pressure treated lumber provided you manage the water that migrates through the slab. I use regular lumber for framing, plywood sheathing and then 0.45 EPDM sheet tacked down the face of your outside framing. Overhang the slab 3 in. around the edges and trim over the EPDM covered framing. Posts will have to be treated or use steel columns.

Things to keep in mind:
Your dead load is going to go up from typical 10 lb/sf to about 75 lb/sf (presuming a 5 in. slab).
Reinforce the slab - rebar grid, welded wire - mainly to keep slab from separating in the event of cracks.
Forget about common ledger mounting systems. Either support the deck independently from the house, run the deck joists on top of the foundation or have an engineer devise a ledger connection.

My engineer father built his 28 ft x 16 ft deck (8 ft off grade)with a concrete surface 43 years ago. It's easy to keep clean, reassuringly firm underfoot and maintenance-free.
Posted: 9:42 am on August 27th

jschatz jschatz writes: I am a huge fan of this site and the knowledge that its authors bring to it. However, this article presents no information other than the authors' unsubstantiated fears and personal dislikes of synthetic decking. These same questions could be asked of any new technology.
Posted: 9:18 am on August 27th

MikeGuertin MikeGuertin writes: Beideck - Your question regarding TimberSil prompted me to post a blog entry on the product.
Posted: 9:05 am on August 27th

dcpokemytoes dcpokemytoes writes: I installed a synthetic deck 10 years ago. Forgot the brand name but it is a composite of wood and plastic milk jugs recycled. It has been an excellent performer and I expect it will last another 30 -40 years. Shows very little sign of wear short of expected color changes. This is in 100 degree Texas sun much of the year. No way wood short of Ipe or Teak perform as well. And around here, the cost is far less. Synthetics have my vote.
Posted: 7:58 pm on August 26th

Cadabra Cadabra writes: Concrete as suggested is very recyclable in any true sense of the word, and it uses renewable sources of energy to make it.
Just because it didn't have roots, leaves and bark doesn't mean its not recyclable. Just think......aluminum siding, automobiles, plastic bags and beer bottles are no less "green" than concrete, yet we all know they are routinely recycled.

Don't put stuff in a landfill unless there is absolutely no other use for it. Miles of concrete roadways are being recycled every day. Scrap concrete is milled and reused as aggregate, and it makes great fill.

I too like wood. Too bad that wood (and composites, and plastics) are just too expensive and have way too many downsides to continue force-fitting them into marginal applications like outdoor flooring.
Posted: 5:21 pm on August 26th

leinielson leinielson writes: RE my last post; thats 1/4" deflection with me standing on the rail in the center
Posted: 2:58 am on August 26th

leinielson leinielson writes: One more plug for Ipe, It has the same fire rating as steel and or concrete! (also will not float) I made a overhead shutter system using 1x4s connected by 1x1 rails as to be adjustable for sun movement all made of Ipe. The boards pivot on stainless 1/4" pins and or bolts & still work fine after 9 years! The top of the railing is 1x8 strongbacked with 1x4s buiscut joined @ 8" on center. Deflection is 1/4" in 10' length. My point is that the overhead shutter has lasted many years in the sun and weather over a 12' x 10' area with minimal maintenance! The wood is very strong so lends to creating over the top ideas with little worry about structural failure. Try that with Plastic. (8' railing sections that sag 1" in the center on the 1 trex deck I built) Granted the system is divided in two 5' wide grids making the slats 5' long, still no sag! Ipe cuts just fine with carbide tools,(what else would you use anyway?) I have sanded full decks with my Festool Rotax 6" sander with the vacuum with great results. It's still just wood any way you cut it (Ha). I'm sure as other posts like synthetic decking and makes sense in those places, I'll stick with my favorite wood of all; IPE!!!
Posted: 2:54 am on August 26th

AAguy AAguy writes: Wayne, aka hotrod32,
I installed a small (10'x4') 2X6 redwood deck to transition between two porches nearly 20 years ago and it's still going strong. If that material was still available I'd use it again without hesitation. Right now I do not like the look or feel of the synthetic decking materials. I've put up a treated yellow pine decking several years back that is somewhat rougher than the redwood, but better than the man made stuff in my opinion.
Posted: 9:57 pm on August 25th

leinielson leinielson writes: I have built many decks using Ipe. Coated with Penofin or Sikkens finishes. I've made many custom gates also with Ipe mortice & tennon joinery that have lasted for years though need yearly recoating with the original product. I have also installed trex products & the like with negative results (fading, black spots, sagging ect.) A customer of late had a deck made of Ipe using Ebties nylon fasteners as I've used many times. This deck is 5 years old now and had no finish as they wanted no yearly maintenance, but the wood after 5 years looked old and had shown cracks and such they decided to sand the deck & railings in order to coat with a finish. I used Penofin and the end result was spectacular. As if it was new! I cant see the use of synthetic matl's at all, higher cost, inferior look and inferior strength. Scott Ater Canyon Construction Seattle Wa.
Posted: 9:50 pm on August 25th

Wintersun Wintersun writes: Concrete as was suggested is the least green material available. It uses a tremendous amount of energy to make concrete and it is not recyclable in any true sense of the word (go to your local landfill and ask them how much of it ever leaves the dump to be recycled).

I live in California and there is not any real heart grade redwood available in this country. Any heart grade redwood that manages to make its way down to the sawmill ends up in Japan. We have tree sprouts that growing out of the stumps and these sprouts are less than 2' in diameter and the lumber from them is no more durable than fir, and a lot less durable than fir that is treated with borate. More than enough redwood timber has been extracted and forests and communities destroyed by the likes of Maxxam and Charles Hurwitz and his son, for me to continue with the destruction for the sake of a deck. Somehow chopping down a thousand year old tree for a deck that will last 10-15 years seems barbaric. Unfortunately clients see the heavily Photoshop adjusted images in the magazine ads that make it look like you can get a beautiful knot free redwood deck which is pure fantasy and really false advertising.

Every synthetic deck I have seen has mildew problems and the upkeep is now less than with a wood deck and it is hotter to walk on in the summer. What seems to get overlooked is that the "synthetic" deck materials are a combination of wood and petroleum based plastic and so there is a natural inclination to delaminate and to support the growth of mildew and molds. I see no benefit to using this material or justifying the higher cost of materials and the annual application of toxic mildewcides and the additional labor needed to install it. The metal deck materials would work OK on a porch but are not as flexible to work with as wood for decking over a living space.

Ipe is a renewable source of wood that is being planted often to reclaim land that was burned to the ground to provide more grass for cattle and so using Ipe you are helping improve the environment which is seldom the case with construction. What I still find amazing is to be able to get 20' planks that are knot free. With redwood I would have to buy a 16' section and cutout the longest piece I could between knots and about 1/3 of the redwood would end up as scrap and I would still have a deck with high maintenance and very limited life span.

With Ipe or synthetics a big part of the cost is the special purpose fasteners and time it takes to use them. One either pre-drills the holes in the face of the Ipe or has to slot the sides and use Ipe fasteners. With Ipe it is better to let it weather for a year and remove some of the surface oil that makes the wood so durable before applying any kind of surface finish.

Posted: 5:21 pm on August 25th

Cadabra Cadabra writes: BBlackford: Yup, waterproofing over a true living space is indeed, and in fact, necessary. However, in 99.9% of the outdoor decks and porches that are common across North America, there is no "living space" below them, merely patios and walk-outs, if anything at all. A lot of lawn mowers, garbage cans and plastic lawn toys call that place home.

Go ahead, if you like to spend that money, but don't try to hold the position that your expensive attempt at waterproofing is a detriment to the price trade-off benefits of concrete. By far and away, most porches and decks don't need any "waterproofing" at all.

Some 10 Mil. plastic sheet goods atop the galvanized steel roofing substrate is adequate to stop any water that penetrates a crack or a seam. As you may not know, water does not "move through the concrete". Gravity merely helps it find the easiest way downhill, e.g. cracks, through-holes, and along the edges. Giving water a proper gravity drain path & slope to the perimeter does the rest.

Also, your use of plywood (organics) for the substrate design of a concrete deck is, in and of itself, adding unnecessary risk. Plywood swells & shrinks, buckles & bows. Its inherent vulnerabilities to humidity and decay make it a less desireable alternative.
Posted: 2:22 pm on August 25th

dfrwt dfrwt writes: You need to understand how each product, wood or synthetic, behaves under the prevailing weather conditions. I am currently putting in a deck in Anchorage, Alaska. The various synthetic deck materials all have the same problem, they are slick under moderately cold conditions with fog. Wood is the least slick of the alternatives as long as it is stained rather than painted. I have had a painted deck. I purchased a board of each of the synthetics because the lack of yearly maintenance was appealing. Each of the synthetics underperformed wood for traction and for standing up to my powered snow broom. All of the synthetics scuffed a little when power broomed. The painted and opaque stained cedar also had performance problems with regard to traction and scuff marks. Cedar with an semi-transparent stain and transparent stain had good traction throughout the winter and when scuffed the wood took on a "trendy" distressed look. Ipe held up well without any treatment other than waterproofing, scuffed the least of all the products, and had good traction, but I can't afford doing my whole deck in ipe. I ended up with cedar.

The deck in the front of my house is also cedar. It is in its third year. I use a clear, cedar siding and decking preservative after I powerwash it each year. It takes about as much time as it would take me to strip and wax my kitchen floor. It looks as good as the day I put it in.
Posted: 1:55 pm on August 25th

wjmwoodcraft wjmwoodcraft writes: I posted a few comments back, and should have mentioned that I'm in the north GA area, and many decks around here are built on sloped lots, often 8' or higher off of the ground, so using concrete or other stone products (such as slate) isn't practical. Footings needn't be deep in this region due to almost non-existent frost uplift, although the mostly GA red clay has it's own quirks, esp during cycles of drought & heavy rainfall which we've had in the past decade, so the shear weight of concrete is an issue, even w/ deep footings. We also enjoy an abundance of sunshine, along w/ large temperature & humidity swings during the year. And, there's the issue w/ termites, too. Perhaps powder-coated steel posts are the ultimate answer. . .

I'm amazed at how little attention is paid to proper work methods, structural codes, & materials around here by many supposed decking specialists, Most homeowners, by and large, are so price-driven that they object to investing in a properly constructed deck, including the type of deck boards that are used, and that there's a necessity to periodically clean & re-seal wood decks. But, if deck contractors offered a 'seasonal freshening up' (reseaing, etc) as an option, additional opportunities for follow-on work may result. . .And there's a fair share of the blame that falls on the lumber/hardware wholesalers & retailers, for many haven't a clue re: what kind of fasteners & flashing are to be used w/ the newer formulated P/T wood, and that the P/T lumber they sell is often poor quality stuff, adding to it's bad reputation. And, ditto re: composites, for not all products are alike, as has been mentioned by many in this blog. The 'big-box home centers' are even worse than the traditional lumber yards, as you'll find that you end up educating them, and not vice-versa. So, it boils down to the contractor(s) to be able to specify proper materials, incl which composites or wood deck boards should be used in our region, and in a particular application.

Until there's some long-term performance data re: composite deck boards, it'll be a crap-shoot, and it's not all that comforting to know that many manufacturers may exit the industry if they have a significant number of failures in the field. I spend so much time sorting thru piles of twisted and cupped P/T wood right now, and I wish that there was a cost-effective natural alternative to new growth P/T southern yellow pine that is both available in the Southeast, and suitable for our environment, too. Anyone tried bamboo yet? (talk about a sustainable material! And, if there was a way to utilize kudzu in the makeup of composites, that would be terrific!!
Posted: 1:36 pm on August 25th

hotrod32 hotrod32 writes: I just finished replacing over 1200 sq ft of redwood with Evergrain (after 7 years it was totally disintigrating). Looks real good even close up. Very pricy though, but over recent years all of the softwood prices here have skyrocketed up. Checked many homes in the area using composites and so far everyone is doing OK; some installations are 10 yrs old or better. I live in Northern AZ at 5500' it is DRY (single digits)most of the year and the sun here kills the wood. A good design is still a must. My decks are hanging from the second floor of the house (as are most houses in the area as we are mostly built on hillsides)I guess my point is that weather conditions can have major influence in the product you use. In this area composites and vinyl are used in more and more homes from the tract house to the million $ variety as wood is destroyed by the dryness and sun.

I am a furniture builder and wood lover, so I searched and did my homework; I hope my design and material choice works out. BTW I did a deck in SoCal of Ipe; good product, tough to install because of hardness, must wear resperator to saw,and inexpensive. But in recent years the price has risen significantley. But my wife vetoed its use for this project for 2 reasons(beyond those listed above) it needs to be sanded/stoned(like teak boat decks), and it is slick as ice when it is wet; and we have entry/exit traffic across our decks into the house.

That is my experience so far. .....Wayne
Posted: 12:46 pm on August 25th

Artrestore Artrestore writes: My primary business is remodeling and restoring old houses in Seattle WA.for the last 18 years. I have built ten or more decks using Trex, several with Ipe and two with cedar decking. The only one I have ever replaced is the cedar deck. (No it wasn't maintained properly and the customer requested cheap material)
I agree totally with the comment that synthetic decking shouldn't try to be, or look like, wood. My experience with Trex has only been good (except one bad lot that the manufacturer made good on).
My take on deck design is that the practicality of the decking material outweighs the looks of high maintenance wood, and that the design and materials in the railing are far more important to the overall appearance of the deck. I have built some beautiful clear cedar craftsman railings on Trex decks and the comments are always about the railings (without slivers in their feet).
Water proof decks are a whole different category.
Posted: 12:08 pm on August 25th

BBlackford BBlackford writes: Cadabra: I hardly think appropriate water proofing over a living space is "unnecessary." In addition, being a builder in California, we frequently have to "over build" for seismic reasons. Hence, the expense. Also, I'll take the extra expense to prevent water intrusion any day. I've seen way too many cases of water damage and the cost of repairing it far exceeds the cost of properly waterproofing in the first place.
Posted: 11:21 am on August 25th

Cadabra Cadabra writes: The rational choice for flooring of decks/porches is CONCRETE. I suppose this flies in the face of the wood/plastic bigots who can't climb out of their ruts, but eventually the combination of its environmental merits, its design flexibility, and its low cost will overcome every obstacle thrown in it's way.
Yes, if you are inclined to re-design your deck every few years (MusicalRattie) you can do that with concrete. Do a wee bit of prep/planning in the initial design, and you are off and running for an easy "new look" later on. Forward thinking (robwalker2) is headed in the right direction. When the use of concrete for decks & porches becomes ubiquitous, prices will fall dramatically and better design practices (unlike the expensive and unnecessary one used by (BBlackford) will prevail. I expect steel will take an important place in future design/fabrication practices using concrete. The weekend warrior and semi-pro builder will catch up, or simply be left using the "old stuff".
Wake-up folks, or you will become a road-kill on the highway of construction evolution.
Posted: 10:29 am on August 25th

wjmwoodcraft wjmwoodcraft writes: One of the major decisions re: to use a synthetic or natural wood for decking has to do w/ the style and period of the home that it'll be attached to. . .Most homeowners don't have a clue re: what to use, and many rely on the under-informed help @ the big box stores to make their decisions. And, when it comes to using an appropriate material that'll compliment their home, they're equally in the dark. Deck-builders often compound the problem, as most deck quotes start out w/ so many sq feet of deck for so many $$s, and often the homeowner ends up w/ a poorly designed and constructed deck - destined to fail sooner, rather than later.

Perhaps we should first strive to redefine what a deck is, and how - depending on it's design, as well as it's condition over time - it becomes either an aesthetically pleasing adjunct to an existing structure (extending one's living area into their backyard, etc.) or an eyesore that screams: 'stay away, as it's not that pleasant out here, , ,'

On lower cost, vinyl-sided homes, composites look okay, but their higher costs and alleged long-term durability are at odds w/ the traditional move-up nature of such housing, esp if the homeowner plans on not staying in that home all that long. Where's the benefit, esp cost savings?

At the higher end of the spectrum, a homeowner should plan on budgeting for routine maintenance on their wooden decking, just as they (should) on septic systems, HVAC, roofs & gutters, pressure-washing siding, and so on. Renewing the surface of deck boards is not all that hard, nor costly, and it amazes me that an entire 'feel-good green industry' has sprung up to make that over-blown issue so important.

How many builders and homeowners really are all that concerned w/ recycling plastic grocery bags, milk cartons, etc? It's time to get honest & real w/ oneselves, even though it may not be the proper image to project to clients and our neighbors. As someone else wrote, aren't we creating another environmental issue when one as to recycle platic deck boards in the future? Whos's fooling who?

Perhaps an alternate solution would be to design the fasterning system for wood deck boards so that the entire board could be easily removed & rotated in order to use the mostly unweathered face of the other side of the board. After one rotation, recycle it, and replace w/ new wood - just an idea. . .How difficult would it be to do that, seriously?

When I'm asked to rebuild and/or replace an existing deck, it's obvious as to why the traditional deck has failed: poor design re: water retention vs drainage, overall sloppy 'workmanship' (splinters, unsealed end-grain, nails and/or screws driven too far into the material, improper use of structural brackets, inadequate blocking, insufficient toe-nailing, incorrect or non-existent flashing, inadequate coatings on fasteners, insufficient # of fasteneres from ledger board into house's framing, poor or inadequate footings under under-sized posts, unsafe stair-building & railing methods, and so on. Or, crappy quality wood was used.

And, then there's the matter of design standards. I suppose that if a deck is truly to conform to all of the code standards, they'll all pretty much look alike if we don't start thinking about how to integrate the design of a deck to best work in harmony w/ the architecture of the house itself. That's but one of the challenges facing any responsibe contractor and/or homeowner. Unfortunately, most everyone takes for granted that what they 'cannot see' (footings), as well as what's 'out of the normal line of sight' (joists, ledger, blocking, brackets, etc), must be okay, or shouldn't pose an issue over time, as they cross their fingers. . .And, then a bunch of money is spent on the maintenance free composite deck boards, the railing design, and the stairs. All are important considerations of course, but that's about all that most of the noise is being made about re: decks these days. It's a lot of marketing hype, and that's okay if we select the most appropriate material for the house, and not just because we sometimes convince clients that the much higher cost of composites offsets the relatively low cost of routine maintenance over time. If the bones of the deck aren't sound, the rest is fluff. And, if it's a poor design, why bother?

Lastly : why not use composites w/ textures and pattersn that do not mimic wood? Seldom has fake wood on stereo equipment or TVs, as well as on dashboards, ever fooled anyone! Back in the mid '70s, the Chevy Impala took a bold step, ditched fake wood on their interiors, and made the plastic trim on the dashboard look like cleanly molded plastic done in an attractive textured pattern. It now looked like a quality trim piece made out of plastic, and not poorly-replicated fake wood. How noval an idea. (duh) Does that line of design reasoning - perhaps - have a place in exterior building materials such as deck boards? Extruded aluminum gutters now sub for copper ones, architectural shingles have largely replaced shake-type shingles w/out trying to mimic them, and so on. Why should deck boards have to masquerade as wood?
Posted: 10:01 am on August 25th

Cadabra Cadabra writes: Hey folks, just think about it! Concrete is as SYNTHETIC as it gets. Uses no biomass (new or scraps). Use no petroleum based plastics. Is 100% recyclable for a myriad of uses, including simply fill that is clean and safe.
There are no gaps to collect dirt & leaves, or high-heels. No splinters or warping. Creates a roof, under which rain-free storage (or a patio) is a freebie. No cupping that holds little troughs of rainwater & snow. No nails or screws that eventually loosen and lift. No expensive and time consuming fastener systems. No splits that show up a year or two later. Not slippery when wet. Easy to screed for consistent drainage slopes around corners. No need to carefully build framing to accommodate North/South or East/West flooring lines. Less maintenance (think ZERO) than any wood or plastic, or combination thereof. Can be colored. Can be stained for designs. Can have exposed aggregate. Can have stamped patterns like bricks, stones, and even like WOOD PLANKS. Can be a suitable substrate for tile, slate, vinyl, linoleum, etc. Easy to add an epoxy surface treatment. And on, and on, and on........Come on folks, talk me down on this, or just admit that wood & plastic decks/porches are dinosaurs waiting for extinction.
Posted: 9:46 am on August 25th

MusicalRattie MusicalRattie writes: I love working with wood, but for some projects other materials are interesting to try. From this article and comments I will not put composite on our pavillion base but will stick to real wood. I also don't understand building exterior things like decks and such "to last 50-100 years". For one, you don't know if a hurricane, fire or earthquake will destroy it anyway, and who says people will want the same old deck in the future? Years from now there may be new trends, styles and materials, and the deck will be outdated in the future owners' eyes.I don't care if my deck lasts more than 30 years, I will probably redesign it every 5 years anyway, as I always change things just for fun.If I spent a fortune on the "perfect, forever deck" then I couldn't easily tear it off to enlarge the house or change from tiered deck to a flatter deck, etc. So that is WASTING money.
Posted: 8:28 am on August 25th

MHBacklund MHBacklund writes: Here in the northwest corner of Washington state, our Trex deck is now enjoying it's 22nd birthday, after it replaced our 9 year old, moderately maintained fir decking, which rotted away. Being 75 yards from saltwater, it has been a trooper in withstanding the salt air, the fog and rain, and our very little hot sun.
I pressure wash it once a year, to which it stands up admirably, and the softening and greying patina blends in pretty well with the natural rock, alder trunk, cedar, sitka spruce, and Doug fir tones which surround us. It has a good grip in the rain and feels soft and fine on bare feet in the summer.
I can't cite the embedded energy in the product, but we all know that the "problem" with plastics is that they don't really go away. That's why, to my mind, if they are properly designed and applied, they make sense to use in the highly exposed deck environment. Converting "throw away" plastic to something longer-lived (nothing is permanent) seems to me a good use of our precious petroleum resources.
We're building a new house this year, with cedar corner posts, big fir beams, some glue-lam beams (exposed), hickory flooring, oak and walnut spiral stairs, and, yes, plastic decking!! We will check out some of the new products mentioned above. Thanks for the thoughts, and let's not get too religious about all this.
Posted: 1:43 am on August 25th

coddlywonk coddlywonk writes: We've used quite a selection of different decking over the years. I'm sorry but for me you just can't beat wood. Western Red Cedar being our most easily and readily accessable. We pretty well do all isolated,water access only work. Every stick is up the shore on our back, plastic sure is heavy compared to cedar. It also sinks pretty fast when accidentally dropped over the side.
Pretty well never use PT unless customer specifies. Used to carry a piece of PT 2x6 on the boat ot show customers. pretty well rotten. Looked great on the outside but was rotting from the inside out. Every time you put a nail in you break the treatment.That particular piece was around 10 yrs old. I'm sure that the process has improved but in a previous life I used to haul lumber around the country for a living. Wood that did not make #2 and better quality we hauled to the PT plant and presto we now have top grade PT lumber. Give me good rough cut cedar any day, you can colour and treat it yourself or let it grey naturaly.
Happy Hammering.
Posted: 1:24 am on August 25th

JRSeaton JRSeaton writes: I've built them out of nearly everything and had terrific results with TREX. You can even bend it to various shapes if you want a more organic look. Also, routing it is a breeze. I trimmed pieces into vertical pickets (non-structural) and used a roundover bit--I only wish all wood was so easy to shape. It installs fast, is easy to keep clean and uses plastic bags that would otherwise be in dumps or choking sea turtles.

I build fine furniture for a living; I want a practical deck to spend my time on when I am done.
Posted: 12:31 am on August 25th

markmack markmack writes: Trying to make heads or tails on which decking material suits a particular need is daunting. I'd like to suggest an alternative to decking materials, how about a well designed patio? I am aware that there are such things as beautiful decks, but in my humble opinion not enough. Yes, I know a patio doesn't meet every need such as an elevated deck on a walk out, but for decks that are near ground level, it may be worth thinking about. Here's why:

1) Most decks have railings, not only are they hard to maintain, looking through most railings is like peering through jail bars. A well designed patio can have a single or multiple levels and be designed with landscape beds or grading to eliminate railings.

2) Most decks are large barren spaces devoid of what you really want a deck for - to connect with nature. They contain some furniture, the grille, and maybe a few plants - that will probably croak if you forget to water them very often. The real nature is off the deck. A well designed patio can have plants, even trees to provide shade, integrated into the patio footprint. And because the plants are in the ground they will grow better and can usually survive if they miss a few waterings.

3) Most decks are angular in design. A patio can suffer the same design fate, but it is easier to incorporate curves and other soft edges that are more harmonious with nature.

4) In my opinion, decks intrude into nature. They impose themselves on the landscape. Patios lend themselves to blend with the yard, to carve out multipurpose uses such as an area large enough for a table and chairs, another for a bench under a tree to provide shade from the afternoon sun, another for a view of the butterfly garden or bird feeders, or a bistro table near a water feature to enjoy a cup of coffee and the paper.

5) Near ground level and several feet off the ground, a patio can be tiered. Grading can alleviate some of the height issue. I understand that costs may be higher, but my idea of stepping out my back door is to enjoy the out-of-doors and be among nature, not trapped on a sterile, angular surface staring at the nature through bars and the horizontal railing that is at eye level when I sit.

6) As this blog so aptly purports the durability of the materials are questionable, and the maintenance is can be high, maintenance on a deck is just not fun period. But a patio's material is typically more durable and not so much work to maintain. In fact, maintaining a well designed patio incorporated into the landscape usually involves a gardening activity, and I don't know about you, but when my hands are working the soil or tending a plant my troubles melt away...I don't think I ever felt that prepping or staining a deck:)

7) It's hard to improve an existing deck, beyond a few additional construction projects that still leave it an imposing angular structure. Whereas a patio because it melds with nature can morph as your creative juices flow as you add a new feature whether living or inorganic.

8) Why do we build decks in the first place? The same reasons we install whirlpool tubs, build dining rooms and living rooms...because we can; because everyone else is; and because realtors tell us we have to for resale.

So you may wonder if this lover of patios has a patio or a deck. I have a deck and will someday get my patio. Until then I curse the day the previous homeowner installed it and causes me to spend one of my summer weekends each year maintaining it.

To you deck lovers, do your best to blend with nature in whatever way possible. I know that many of us build decks for a living; think outside the "box". Incorporate planters for flowers into the deck, build around a tree, experiment with different shapes and levels, and once in a while build a patio. Builders, find a good landscape architect to offer suggestions for deck or patio landscaping.

Thanks for the opportunity to wax on patios.

Posted: 12:00 am on August 25th

theidiotbrother theidiotbrother writes: What ever you do, buy a little extra for future unforseen repairs. With the recycled materials used in production never being the same percentage of milk cartons vs drink bottles, "cedar" trex, etc, WILL NOT be the same color. It will also not age the same. And don't let anyone kid you, it will discolor with time and weather. Have had great results otherwise as long as customer expectations are met beforehand.
Posted: 9:24 pm on August 24th

ChipSB ChipSB writes: I went with the ipe option in 2004, as I too preferred the look of real wood, and ipe looks awesome when its new. Five years later and another cleaning and staining task on the to-do list, leaves me wanting to pull up my ipe and replace it with the latest syn. I've just grown weary of the maintenance of real wood and just have better things to do than re-stain the deck again. I just don't like the weathered look of ipe, the rich brown is my preference but I'm just getting too old for the hassle and am too cheap to pay someone to do it for me. New deck plans will re-purpose my ipe and install the no maintenance option. I just have to find a product I'm happy with first and there are a lot out there now.
Posted: 9:23 pm on August 24th

loosedrag loosedrag writes: I built a 32' x 50' deck out of a Lowe's product, ChoiceDek, back in 2003, so my kids would have a place to ride their trikes when they were small. It surrounded a live oak with a wingspan of at least 75 feet. I knew no matter how much of a gap I left between the decking, I would be hand-picking tassels or leaves or twigs out of the gaps constantly depending on the season. I called the manufacturer in Texas and asked what kind of expansion I could expect, and I believe they told me 1/16th of an inch in 12 feet. I calculated the shrinkage/expansion of 50' of decking, then elected to slam those deck boards tight against each other rather than leaving the recommended 1/8"-3/16" gaps I had always left in my PT decks. Once I settled on this course of action, I planted my 4x4 and 4x6 railing uprights (concreted in the ground and coming up through the deck) as resistance, and friction-fit the planks horizontally between the uprights. Long story short, and quite true: because of this "friction fit" method, I did not screw the deck boards to the joists. This flew in the face of all the "expert advice" I could gather, but seemed sensible enough to me. Katrina came and went, water rose over the deck and quite a few of the deck boards came loose, but I was able to find every single one lying within ten feet of their original position, and slammed them back into place with minimal fuss. To this day, this deck is dancefloor smooth as the day I built it: broomable, blowable, beautiful, durable, and is the envy of the neighborhood. When I build another, I will do exactly the same thing again for the pure aesthetic of the finished product. I love wood. It just wouldn't work to create the deck I wanted. And it was, in case you couldn't tell, a labor of love. No one could afford that deck except me.
Posted: 8:38 pm on August 24th

CAMCO66 CAMCO66 writes: I have been building on the west coast for the last 25 years and I feel that composite decking has a real place here. Don't get me wrong there is nothing that looks better than a clear cedar deck, but few can afford the cost of upkeep to keep it looking like it does the day it is installed. I have been doing all kinds of decks here in a sometimes very wet climate. I feel there are pros and cons to almost every deck type. Composites are are very durable and stable product with low to no maintenance issues, which in the long run will save money . They are more costly than cedar but will not require the upkeep. They also have a more durable surface so if pets are involved its something to consider. Ironwoods are strong burt harder to work with, so more costly in labour. Stamped concrete is a great alternative also. What I am getting at is that you really need to find out what the clients wants or needs are and find the right surface for them but of the last 20 or so composite decks we have done we have had no problems with them.
Posted: 8:36 pm on August 24th

robwalker2 robwalker2 writes: Synthetic products are our only hope. There is nothing sustainable about Ipe. It's a lie! Canida will not be able to suply cedar much longer. Change is our children's only hope. Using a tree that takes 500 to 1000 years to grow for a deck that has an average life of 20 years is not wise. Think about it.
Posted: 8:36 pm on August 24th

fogbeltchas fogbeltchas writes: Every time I go to a lumberyard to buy composite decking the guys do their level-headed best to talk me out of it. I've used it successfully on several decks but I've seen it look ugly on far too many projects, including a boardwalk in our coastal CA town. After 35 years of building it is clear to me that design is the key element. And always remember the three pigs: Masonry Lasts.

There are way too many of us who still think of throwing things "away". There is no away, there is just here so when you build something that requires rebuilding in less than 50 years (I try for 100 years myself) you shortchange your client and future generations.
Posted: 7:57 pm on August 24th

Cadabra Cadabra writes: Mr. 2Paul: In late June I poured a 700 sq. ft. porch which wraps around 3 sides of our house at 36" above a sloping grade. Concrete was way cheaper than TREX, AZEK, and all of those exotic woods like IPE, TEAK, etc.

Even with a PT frame that is way overbuilt, it saved enough $$ for us to add color to the mix, for copper flashing, and for stainless steel fasteners everywhere. This floor will not chip, stain, flake, split, fade, rot, drip, mildew or splinter. We love it. No maintenance unless you choose to seal it occasionally.
Used a 3500 lb. mix with fiberglass fibers for reinforcement. Poured it over 24 ga. galvanized roofing, atop the PT structure. Poured 10" Sonotubes to 48" below grade for post bases. The difference between a 2X12 rim and the 2X8 joists (approx. 4") is the thickness of the floor.
Easy to poke holes through it for electrical. So far, this is a thing of beauty.
While it's true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, concrete has so many positives, I'm surprised it has not caught on everywhere. For us, it's was easy to lose the stigma of a "sidewalk" for this.
Posted: 7:55 pm on August 24th

Hickoree Hickoree writes: I've had 3 decks (all wood) over the years, and one patio (concrete). I had one deck that was in full sun all day and the UV tore the planks up in 2 summers even after standard maintenance (press. wash and sealing with 2 coats of UV protectant). I know that decks appeal to many people, but to me a screened in patio is more pleasant and lower maintenance than any deck I've seen (provided the roof is done properly), synthetic or not. A friend here in central Missouri had a synthetic deck put in 2 summers back. It is hotter than hades on that stuff in the summertime. Needless to say, the deck is under-utilized due to that problem.
Posted: 7:51 pm on August 24th

FixItDr FixItDr writes: I haven't used synthetic decking yet, I always find myself feeling like I am cheating whenever I even consider the idea. I love working with wood, I know how to deal with the imperfections and how to maintain it. To me, a deck is not a deck unless it's a wood deck, but now I have a client who wants me to build 3 decks around the house using synthetic decking. I guess I will have to use it finally, who knows, may be I will grow to accept it, may be.
Posted: 7:31 pm on August 24th

Permit_Man Permit_Man writes: I built a deck and stairs on my place with TREX about 8 years ago. It is as good today as it was the day I finished the job. I wash it every spring with one of those electric pressure washers and it looks as good as new. Since it is not as strong as wood, I put the stringers at 16" centers. The stringers and framing material are PT Douglas Fir. The handrails and deck top rail are made of redwood and do look very worn and weathered. I have been very happy with this product.
Posted: 7:12 pm on August 24th

agglomerator agglomerator writes: Just replaced my deck in Northern California with Trex and was generally pleased with the result. The old deck was redwood, poorly maintained, and after less than 8 yrs the boards were rotting on the edges where leaves had plugged up the gaps between boards. My daughter had many slivers from the old redwood deck and especially appreciates being able to go barefoot on the Trex. Yes it is hot in the summer, but with 100 degree outside temp the redwood was scorching too.

We have alot of trees and such in our backyard, so the deck has alot of leaves and rain during the rainy season (winter here in NorCal), and the Trex cleans up pretty well.

My verdict - my practical side says Trex is totally sufficient for my needs.
Posted: 7:11 pm on August 24th

BBlackford BBlackford writes: Ipe is renewable if you buy form a certified seller.
Posted: 6:53 pm on August 24th

spinoza2 spinoza2 writes: From the comments so far it looks like the author Rob Yagid hit on a hotly debated topic, with lots of pros and lots of cons. Here in Massachusetts synthetic decking is notably more expensive than PT, which is why I went with PT this summer for my front and rear decks. For me aesthetics also played a *big* role in the decision, there's no getting around the fact that a wood deck has a very different look from a synthetic deck. It really depends on the house whether a synthetic deck works or not in an aesthetic sense, which may be a bigger factor here in New England than elsewhere in the country. The original structure of our house is over a 100 years old (the entire neighborhood goes back to the 19th century and earlier), so here we have to make appropriate aesthetics a priority. I'm open to being convinced, but I just don't see how most synthetic decks would work here in this neighborhood (which goes back to the 17th century). If treated and cared for properly I just don't see there being much of a problem with wood, and I agree that the environmental question is still an open one.
Posted: 6:52 pm on August 24th

BBlackford BBlackford writes: I have done concrete over wood subdecks. They look good, they will last a long time if done properly, but they are expensive. Start with pressure treated joists (standard for any deck). Put down a surface of pressure treated plywood. Then install a water proofing system. There are many. I happen to prefer liquid Bituthane. Put down a layer of protection board or drain board, then pour your concrete. It is important to allow for drainage of water that will move through the concrete as well as surface drainage.

You can then apply stone to that surface if you wish, or instead of pouring concrete you can put a mortar float down and then put tile or stone on top. If you are going to use a float it is important to frame at 16" o.c. and use substantial joists in any case.
Posted: 6:51 pm on August 24th

Mayven Mayven writes: I agree with mike, :it's all about the attributes" of the product you want to use. They all have their favorable points. It depends on what's important to you.

In the last 30 plus years, I've used a number of varied products on decks and porches here in the mid-west. We have a high humidity rate and extreme temperatures. My preference is western red cedar. It just seams natural to me. It feels and looks great, especially with a hidden screw system.

Composite or synthetic decking looks good, ask the mfg., but I've found too many restrictions. The hidden screw systems have a tendency to pull through the material easily, and you have to take more time during installation as to not ruin the deck board. It's too expensive to pitch a board. Screwing through the deck board doesn't look good for it mushrooms, no matter what type of screw I've used (sometimes stainless steel finish screws work well). Lastly, the cost is a lot greater than any wood other than Ipe.

Ipe's great, but is it really renewable? I don't believe it is and I don't want to be a part of its harvesting to find out later they lied about its abundance.
Posted: 6:07 pm on August 24th

psluss0822 psluss0822 writes: Synthetic decks are the way to go based on low maintenance and eco friendliness. Yes it is more expensive which I can understand since it is less maintenance and last longer, but can't understand since it is recycled. The point is limit to the amount of trees we harvest to build homes. Some post come from under educated people. The statement that redwood is not longer a good deck material to go with ipe instead misses the point that old growth redwood (better, longer lasting) is few and far between. The biggest issue that needs taken care of with the synthetic decking is the amount of heat it traps from the sun making it unpleasant on bar feet.
Posted: 5:20 pm on August 24th

Perfecionist Perfecionist writes: I too am considering a concrete deck. There are plenty of options for surfacing inicluding slate or like material. Please discuss. Makes perfect sence to me. Framed and supported by PT wood with stainless fasteners, it would be beautiful and economical, and labor saving to build and maintain. Should last forever. No debris falling through either. You can't beat the look. Would it be too hot? I just can't see that much of a downside if the style fits surroundings--which can look earthy if done right. Elevated decks, high on a hill, well, maybe not. But they are the exception anyway. What would be considered a minimum pour thickness for my elevated (two feet above ground) concrete deck substrate? If reinforced with galvanized wire, a little cracking wouldn't be the end of the's just a deck. Hey, even a perfectionist has to concede once in a while; and I don't consider it that way anyway. A deck is a deck. Something on the house...a totally different story. There I don't let up. Integrity rules.
Posted: 4:56 pm on August 24th

adventuredad adventuredad writes: First off , let me say i'm a fan of wood. I enjoy working with it, that said composite decking is the only choice in my neck of the woods. Living and working in the Foothills of California wood decking just doesent stand the test of time.
Ive tried a number of different composite products allways looking for a match of color and texture to wood without much success, putting that aside and looking for the best looking and performing composite products Ive had many satisfied customers using composites. As with any material theres a learning curve to properly installing the product. this is how I address composite decking. 1. All joist and girder are pressure treated covered with a wrap of self adhearing flashing on the flat horizontal surface thus protecting the life of the joist to match the decking.2.Surface screwing with a screw desighned for composites such as trapeeze with a reverse self tapping feature. This system has proven itself with many successfull installs over the past 10 years.
Posted: 4:50 pm on August 24th

JamesScott JamesScott writes: Why is it that we so concerned that we get a few extra years out of a deck or a fence or other product that we have to pollute the space we live in.

We see plastic bags and other such refuse lurking within the landscape we cry foul at the atrocity. Hundreds of years to decompose, wildlife endangered, toxins leaching into the soil we get our food from. Yet we're willing to dump this stuff right onto our backyards.

Somehow plastic lumber has risen above all other forms of human pollution. We look at mixing wood (organic) with plastic (non-organic) and we don't foresee the problems that we have to deal with when these materials are no longer needed. What happens with this stuff when it reaches the end of it's lifespan? With the product only being available to the market for the past 20 years there is still no proven track record for dealing with the waste material once the product is discarded.

And what decking are you using. To say it's all the same is to say blue is blue. HDPE, LDPE, Polystyrene and Polyvinyl Chloride PVC, which plastic is in your lumber? Many home building/contracting professionals have no idea what they're selling their customers and the impact it can have on their lives. This is to dangerous a product to leave to landscape designers and consumer aesthetics.
Posted: 4:45 pm on August 24th

Tim_Clark Tim_Clark writes: Forget both wood decking and synthetic decking. I don't like wood decks because they're not fire proof, they're high maintenance,they look bad after a few years and it's a shame to cut trees for something that won't last but a few years. I don't like the synthetic decking because it's toxic, not fireproof and not very strong.

Besides, neither one of those solutions meet the new California Wild Fire regulations because decks must be fireproof and completely sealed from embers.

I've been using waterproof deck coatings over plywood for 25 years. "All Deck" is very easy to apply using a paint roller (clean-up with water). It is extremely durable, non skid and looks nice - even after 20 years. All Deck has a Class-A fire rating if applied over a non combustible surface. Another similar product, Pli-Dek, has a Class-A fire rating, even over plywood. The big benefit of these systems is they create completely dry spaces underneath. I was always afraid to design living spaces under decks but, with the discovery of these simple waterproofing systems I've designed dozens of homes with decks over living or storage spaces.
Posted: 4:40 pm on August 24th

NoelNNY NoelNNY writes: I'm just an average home owner - DIY to keep things looking decent.

True story. About 8 years ago, my wife wanted a border around our veggie garden. I bought some rough sawn pine lumber (1x6) from a local sawyer. I put some Thompson water seal in a pump up fertilizer sprayer, and miosted on 2-3 coats on each side of the boards before joining a few to make 20' and used a "rough" 45 degree cut on the ends and butted them together.

Two years ago, I pulled it all up - NO ROT, NO MOLD, NO DECAY. I threw them against North side of the shed where they weathered more till last week. I'm moving the shed to a bew location - and I noticed those treated boards are nicely gray weathered and still solid as ever.

Keep the plastic - the "ecological minded" folks are selling an idea and all it is doing is making them richer - and the look and quality of the product - cheaper.

Get real - stay real - real wood.
Posted: 4:39 pm on August 24th

boparks boparks writes: I have to wonder how much difference operating in a differnt geographic region makes?

When it comes to alternative decking, I have been a fan in concept, a skeptic by nature, and dissapointed in the options we have had for the better part of 2 decades. The performance of most of whats been avaiable has been lacking in my opinion.

I've been building in the southeast for 20 years, delivered over 30 million dollars worth of deck and porch products, using mostly pressure treated southern yellow pine including turbo charged recipes such as parafin enhanced, # 1 dense, kiln dried after treatment options.

None of this has preformed even close to what I would consider satisfactorily. Cedar as decking here offers marginal performance at best and hopefully works better in other parts of the country.

I started my new company 18 months ago with the founding concept of only offering long term performance and / or low maintenance options. It was amazing as to how little there really is to offer.

Brazilian hardwoods are the tried and true performance options that has a history and limited risk factor associated with it. I'm a believer in them from that standpoint and rate them highly. I use them regularly inside porch floors. It is not a low maintenance product unless uyou're okay with the weathered look. Customers will need to be on a maintenance program to "maintain" the look.

Generally speaking I'm not a fan of "composites " as I believe they offer less favorable performance than other altrenatives. I believe wood flour is the built in flaw.

I do believe in the pvc products such as Azek, Trex Escapes, Sensibuilt. They are the first products in my opinion that appear to provide the type of performance we 're looking for. Either you like the look or you don't. All the customers I've built for love them.

I'm hopeful for a real performing and natural looking options that I believe are starting to appear. I'm interested and starting to use products such as Fiberons Horizons with Permatech outer layer with a true (or close to it even close up and not 20 feet away) hardwood look. Many products look good on a website but in person don't look so good. This looks good installed.

These mentioned options do in my opinion provide a much desired low maintenance decking board. Thats not to say there's not some risk associated with using them. There are. The reality is there are not many actual decking boards in use that have a real history because the formala and tweaks have continued because of the problems of the past.

Evergrain may be the only real long term unchanged older generation work horse thats been out there for over a decade.

I have 20 alterative decking options that I can show customers in my mini showroom. I'll only use 4 of them along with the Brazilain hardwood offerings.

With all due respect to the wood lovers which I am one of, I'm frustrated at seeing good work look bad after one Georgia summer and don't won't any part of delivering project I don't believe in.


Posted: 4:37 pm on August 24th

Bill Hightower Bill Hightower writes: Well I read down through the Aug 20 posts and can't tell whether there is a majority for or against synthetic deck material. About 10 years ago I installed a large deck made from Trex. I couldn't be happier with it after that period of time. I like the newer Trex with "grain" in it better than my Trex but that wasn't available 10 years ago. I have conventional cedar railings because they weren't available back then either. Again, I am a big supporter of the synthetics.
Posted: 4:27 pm on August 24th

fireater fireater writes: I like 2Paul's idea. In the west, we have fire hazard and cool nights. Has anyone used slate/stone/etc as a deck to 1. look great, 2. be fire-proof, and 3. give heat back to evening deck users after soaking it up all day?

Posted: 4:22 pm on August 24th

Unrealsouth Unrealsouth writes: Don't get me wrong, for I also agree that very little compares to the real thing. The most important part is that it saves trees, and I'd much rather enjoy them standing.
Posted: 4:21 pm on August 24th

BBlackford BBlackford writes: Redwood is no longer a viable decking material in my opinion. It doens't have the rot resistance because it isn't coming out of old growth trees anymore. I don't like the look of the plastic. With the cost the same as Ipe, for me, its a no brainer. Use the wood. It is a lifetime deck material, doesn't splinter, ages beautifully and wears like iron. I also question the actual "greeness" of these type of products. If they're not being made form 100% recycled materials, they are using oil and contributing to the shortage of that material. Wood is a renewable resource plastic is not.
Posted: 4:19 pm on August 24th

ssshanno ssshanno writes: I've got a covered porch on a 100 year old house that originally was decked with painted T&G 5/4" fir or cedar. When I bought the home, one of the first things I did was pull up the decaying fir, and replace it with some beautiful new quartersawn fir. I did everything by the book to prevent the decay of the deck, including providing good air movement underneath, sealing the cut ends and even painting the undersides of each board, but in our climate (upstate NY in the snow-belt-- 150" of snow per winter), it just didn't last well. After only 10 years, it was ready for replacement.

So the second time around, I decided to go plastic. I did the entire deck, trim skirt, and railings in Azek and it looks great. Everything went together just like it was wood. It's now been through two winters and looks new today. It doesn't scuff, stain, or mildew. It's not slippery, and it doesn't expand or contract enough to even notice, much less start popping boards up like my old wood deck. So, while I'm no fan of "fake" either, I love my plastic deck- and it's not "looks like wood from 20 feet away", it's more like 2' feet way, and on the trim and railings, it looks like wood right up until you start drilling into it.
Posted: 4:03 pm on August 24th

TorxHead TorxHead writes: Today's redwood is nothing like the old-growth redwood that was available maybe 50 years ago. All of that old-growth redwood has long been harvested or is now is protected forests. The old growth stuff was somewhat naturally rot resistant but today's redwood is no more rot resisant than untreated pine. Despite this fact the redwood folks continue to say that redwood is naturally rot resistant. For a wood deck your best bet today is either treated pine or for untreated, a hard & dense wood like Ipe.

Now on to composite/sythetic decking. In my opinion the vast majority of this stuff sold has been junk. Composites were the fist man-made deck boards. The definition of a composite is something made with two or more materials. In a composite deck board one of the composites is wood fiber and the other is plastic. This is a really bad idea! These deck boards are extremely heavy, structurally weak, not fade resistant, and acommodate mold growth. Why would you ever include wood fibers in any man-made decking? It has no benefit wahtsoever over normal wood decking.

Now there is a man-made decking that I like. It is of course not a wood fiber/plastic composite but rather 100% plastic. While there are or have been 100% plastic decking products on the market, the specific one I am referring to is cellular PVC. I like the stuff because, compared to all of the other 100% plastic decking out there, it is lightweight and easy to work with (cut, screw, etc..). It is also tuff. This cellular PVC decking is now being marketed by three or so manufactures. The two big ones are Azek (Azek deck) and Trex (Trex Escapes). I believe the Azek deck product used to be known as Procell. Anyway, these manufactures have just recently came out with darker colors which FINALLY look more like stained wood and less like vinyl siding. The main downside is initial cost but the long term cost of ownership should be less than real wood (no periodic re-finishing required).
Posted: 3:48 pm on August 24th

bobisgood bobisgood writes: What a fluff piece! Aside from getting hot in the sun, it was I don't like it. And I don't like it some more.
"I wouldn’t know where to start in the repair..." or "I’m really interested in the embodied energy of this product" is
what I'd expect to read in Ladies Home Journal (if I read LHJ).
Please don't get as bad as the rest on the media or I may be forced to give up my subscription for one from LHJ.

Posted: 3:45 pm on August 24th

flink flink writes: I seen several types of synthetics, seen cedar, redwood, and ipe.

For my money, you can't beat Ipe. Ipe has the same fire rating as concrete. Just try and burn a chunk and you'll see it isn't an easy task. It looks beautiful and doesn't seem to splinter easily. I worry about splinters, too. I've yet to see any splinter raised on an ipe deck. The stuff ages beautifully, like a fine robust wine.

Posted: 3:45 pm on August 24th

fpratt fpratt writes: When I rebuilt my deck I didn't even consider synthetic for all the reasons mentioned above. Just bit the bullet & shelled out the cash for Ipe. Some time later, browsing through a flyer from a local lumber yard, I was shocked to see that the synthetics were actually more expensive than the Ipe!

I initially used an oil based sealer on it, but have since decided to just let it age. After 4 years of southern exposure, it still looks better than any synthetic deck I've seen.

The only down side I can see is that Ipe needs a bit of sanding to ensure there are no splinters. Once that was done, there has been no splintering.
Posted: 3:33 pm on August 24th

gsibert gsibert writes: I'm just a weekend warrior, but if you own a plastic house, then synthetic it is. The visceral effect will be the same. Funky! Why would you want to break up that beautiful experience with wood. LOL.

If you own or build a cedar clapboard home, have wood muttins dividing the lites in the windows, have a cedar shake roof, all cedar trim on the house, you don't then use synthetic for the decking. I've been to homes in CT that are 90% clear cedar and then you walk on a deck or entry porch, or touch the railing, and it's plastic! Blows the whole experience.

I used mahogany and it looks great. Yes you need to maintain it, but its beautiful.
Posted: 3:23 pm on August 24th

2Paul 2Paul writes: Has anyone used stained/colored concrete for a deck? I'm leaning toward it for my new "deck". It won't rot, burn, dent or splinter. It's not slippery when wet if given a brushed finish. It has a large thermal mass so it stays cooler under foot during the day as it warms up, then gives off heat in the evening.
Posted: 3:10 pm on August 24th

415 415 writes: A discussion of the merits of synthetic decking might want to include the fact that one of the larger manufacturers, Trex, settled a class-action lawsuit in 2004 due to alleged defects in its decking and that Trex has another settlement now pending in Federal Court in California for the same alleged problems.

Under the terms of the previous and the proposed settlement, Trex will only replace defective boards but will only pay about $200 or so towards the labor costs of replacement.

Posted: 3:09 pm on August 24th

SCOTT_ENGLE SCOTT_ENGLE writes: Last year I made a fire at a home along Lake Conroe in Texas. Not just the home was burning but the multi-tiered deck was also being consumed by the flames and forcing firefighters back do to the heat. It was also responsible for damage to neighboring exposures due to the heat before firefighters arrived. This to me is like buiding a deck out of gasoline. How many people use their deck to BBQ, grill or have outdoor kitchens.
Posted: 3:04 pm on August 24th

Metalsguy Metalsguy writes: As I approach another material exposed to our Southwestern sun, I appreciate the heads up, none of the manufacturers or especially the distributors want to fess up about plastic durability. The tests I've run (stick it in full sun exposure, screwed down in the yard) it gets so hot you can't touch it, let alone stand on it in bare feet. All white plastic gets brittle in a year, here. Black ABS holds up the best, nice look! Manufacturers seem to have the idea that our homes, like our cars, computers, appliances should last about three years. Is that about what we are looking at here? If I neglect a wooden deck, it will last longer, for the same price.
Posted: 3:01 pm on August 24th

Beideck Beideck writes: There is somewhat of a middle ground. Timbersil uses real wood and fuses it with glass. The product looks like untreated wood, and they claim that it is rot resistant etc. I've seen the product, but not actually used it (yet). I'd be curious if anyone has experience with it that they'd be willing to share.

Rob, this is an interesting topic. However, I was a bit disappointed with your very opinionated slant. The piece could have been much better with more facts and less opinion. For example, next time you might consider including the percent of recycled content instead of statements like, "it may make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside to know that a shred of your old milk jug may one day end up in a deck." Some of us want to do the right thing environmentally. Including the facts can help us separate the really sustainable products from those that are pretenders. My guess is that you don’t know the answer but you went ahead and made the recycled content sound small since that makes your argument sound stronger.

Posted: 2:59 pm on August 24th

Rancher Rancher writes: Beyond the problems that have been noted concerning the combustability of synthetic decking products, what are the liability issues of using a synthetic product versus wood? For example should you warn a client that if their children walk barefoot on synthetic decking on a hot summer day, they may end up with second or third degree burns? Synthetic, in my opinion, isn't worth the risk.
Posted: 2:53 pm on August 24th

Ricky1961 Ricky1961 writes: Rob has obviously never pulled a three inch splinter from his crying child's foot. That made me appreciate my composite deck, which I can now allow the neighborhood kids to walk on without guilt. It's not possible to teach playing kids to tread lightly, but why should you have to with so many choices? Many look enough like wood for me and my customers.
Posted: 2:52 pm on August 24th

sf_builder sf_builder writes: As far as I am concerned this stuff has no place in a custom home. WRC holds up beautifully in this climate (northern VT) and needs very little maintenance. Too bad about all the mileage from the pacific northwest but atlantic cedar seems to be out of favor. The synthetics I have seem wear poorly (faded and furry) and look cartoonish. Along with Kleer and Azec, it is a trend that makes my stomach turn.
Posted: 9:40 am on August 22nd

RichardM1 RichardM1 writes: Onehammer writes of his concerns about fire hazard and synthetic/plastic decking; I have the same concern. Toss a *small* piece of the faux wood decking in a fire and watch it burn! It burns so well that I keep some of the plastic "sawdust" in a separate container for a fire starter for the fireplace and camp fires.
Posted: 7:14 pm on August 21st

Paul_Contreras Paul_Contreras writes: The lumber that is harvested today is inferior to lumber 25 years ago. Here on the West Coast we primarily used redwood for decking but it is near impossible to find quality redwood anymore. Using an exotic lumber is a gamble if you are looking for a sustainable resource due to the poor regulations/corruption in many of the lumber producing countries. For this reason I believe synthetic decking is the better value in the long term. I feel that in time the material will improve to the point where it will be the dominant material for decking. A good example of this type of transition is roofing material. Roofing has gone from wood shingles to man made products that are as attractive, longer lasting and are covered by warranties. I feel people who appreciate the qualities of wood like the feel of wooden hand rails and interesting grain patterns will be using better cuts of wood in conjunction with synthetic decking on future decks.
Posted: 12:35 pm on August 21st

impact impact writes: Normally I would agree about the "looks great 20 feet away" not being a good enough standard but I've made an exception with decking. I also have to take issue with the anecdotal evidence Rob sites about "a bad batch of synthetic decking" One example is not sound science and it's not how good decisions are made. Should I pull out the six inch long cedar sliver from my screaming nieces foot and conclude no one should use real wood for anything? (True story.)

I've broken from the 10 foot rule here because, in the midwest at least, you're just throwing your money away by using anything but synthetic for the floor of a deck. Nothing else will hold up like synthetic and whatever secondary aesthetic concerns I have over the look of it will disappear in a few years when the real wood looks real bad because it just isn't going to be maintained. Never mind the safety concerns, i.e. coefficient of friction.

If you're going to use natural wood, stick with the rails or vertical pieces of a deck. They can at least be reasonably maintained because the water will run off. Finally, in 10 years of using the synthetics, I've never had a client replace a stick of it so I don't consider that a real concern.
Posted: 4:39 pm on August 20th

jimblodgett jimblodgett writes: I like wood. I like working with it and I like the looks of it. But most of all, I like the idea of it - it's natural, organic.

And as long as I don't use oils or other toxic finishes on a wood deck, whenever a board (or 5, or all of them) need replacing, I can throw the old ones out in the bushes where they will become food for another generation of vegetation.

I've installed some composite, or maybe the correct term is synthetic, decking and railings and I don't think they are as strong as similar shaped and sized Western Red Cedar.

I like nature, and natural homes.

Posted: 1:01 pm on August 20th

OneHammer OneHammer writes: The one thing I don't think I've seen mentioned is what happens if the synthetic decking catches fire. I had my home (two acres, lots of trees, arid environment) inspected by my local fire department (they come out for free and tell you whether they consider your home defensible or not)and had a conversation about decking with the firemen that came out. I was told that if a fire occurred, firemen would rather confront wood decking than synthetic because they have a lot of trouble actually extinguishing the fake stuff. It burns extremely hot, releases more toxins into the air, and has a tendency to reignite for days after the fire has been extinguished. I'm guessing that there may be a fire rating with the composite products but I've never checked it out.
Posted: 5:50 pm on August 18th

MikeGuertin MikeGuertin writes: It's all about the attributes you want in decking. Show me the 'best' looking, maintenance-free synthetic I'll bring it to it's knees. Same goes for premium woods. Every decking material out there has strong points and shortcomings.

What persuades people may be the drumming hype of the manufacturers of synthetic decking. In unison they make a lot of noise. The WRCLA ('Real Cedar') and Southern Pine Council support their species but they don't have deep pockets.

Pressure treated SYP and HemFir still dominate and I suspect they will for a long time to come. Often it all comes down to price.

Rob - is there any chance that FHB will compile a new survey of synthetic decking and one on wood decking? Many of the products in Chris Green's article have been changed, manufacturers have vanished or been gobbled up and there are lots of new products on the market. And there are many more woods out there suitable for decking than most people realize. It would be nice to have a quick Pro / Con on different products too from a performance perspective.
Posted: 4:25 pm on August 18th

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