Alternative Decking Options: Composite Wood, PVC and More
The alternative decking industry has experienced many changes in the last five years. The addition of a second-generation composite deck material as well as PVC decking products gives consumers more options than ever.
Wood decks are notorious for their maintenance needs. Pressure-treated lumber—the popular and inexpensive wood choice—requires regular cleaning, sanding and staining to maintain its appearance. First-generation composite decks sought to fulfill consumer demand for a maintenance-free decking option.
A railing system and lighting rounds out this alternative decking solution by Casa Decks.
Made from a blend of recycled by-products of the wood industry and plastic, first-generation composite decks were much more resilient to the cracking, splitting and other weathering effects of constant exposure to the elements compared to pressure-treated wood.
But the “no maintenance” claims of some manufacturers were soon challenged by the public as the first-generation composite deck materials suffered from a few unsightly issues. “Consumers were unhappy with the first-generation composites because of the fading, staining, and mold and mildew issues,” says Mike Descoteaux, marketing manager for CorrectDeck, an alternative decking manufacturer. Exposure to UV light caused some of the first-generation products to fade and lose their original color. The tannins in the wood fibers left the material susceptible to staining and the wood fibers also provided food for mold growth. The stains and the mold required cleaning—sometimes with significant effort and bleach-based chemicals. A consumer backlash against the first-generation products has prompted the alternative decking manufacturers to address these issues.
Second-Generation Composite Decking To resolve the maintenance issues and preserve the composite nature of their products, the composite decking industry has turned to a couple technological solutions. “We have a capped surface over our composite core that offers a high level of fade, stain and scratch resistance,” says Chris Beyer, vice president of marketing for Fiber Composites, manufacturers of Fiberon® Horizon composite decking. Fiberon’s patent-pending “PermaTech™ Innovation” encapsulates the wood composite core to essentially negate the staining, fading and mold issues that stemmed from the wood fibers in the composite.
CorrectDeck utilized a similar solution with its “CorrectDeck CX” line of second-generation composite decking by using a coextruded top layer of polypropylene to cover the top and sides of each composite board. “The first generation of composite decks exposed wood fibers as the main culprit,” says Descoteaux. “The CX fully encapsulates the wood fibers.” As a final protective touch, the CX co-extrusion layer contains an anti-microbial product and a UV-inhibitor to resist mold and fading from Sun exposure.
These improved encapsulation systems have led to the creation of a new category of composite and alternative decking called “ultra-low maintenance” decking. The new label distinguishes the second generation of composites from the first. This new-and-improved family of composite decking products may still require a periodic wash or simple detergent cleaning every now and again, but consumers won’t be worrying about permanent stains and frequent mold growth. “You just need soap and water to wash it off,” says Descoteaux. “You don’t need to scrub or power wash.”
The PVC Difference In addition to better-encapsulated composite decking products, the alternative decking industry has stepped up its PVC decking options. Once a bit player in the alternative decking market, PVC decking has gained ground and recognition. “The number of PVC options out there is growing everyday,” says Descoteaux. Once a regular recipient of criticisms over staining and fading issues, the PVC decking products on the market today benefit from a few technological enhancements. Fiberon’s “Sensibuilt™” PVC decking product features a patent-pending surface treatment called “Luminite™” that—like the PermaTech—protects the solid, cellular PVC core. “Luminite delivers a high level of stain, fade and scratch resistance,” says Beyer.