Figure 4-1: Photo of decay-resistant deck construction  (C) J Wiley, S Bliss Guide to Synthetic Boards for Deck Construction

  • SYNTHETIC & COMPOSITE DECK BOARDS - CONTENTS: Synethetic deck board choices for deck floors & Porches. Composite wood-plastic decking: Trex®, Boardwalk®, ChoiceDec®. Hollow-profile deck board choices: WeatherBest®,TimberTech®. Vinyl & Plastic deck board options. Rot-resistant deck board choices.
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about using Trex, Boardwalk, ChoiceDeck, WeatherBest, TimberTech and other synethetic deck boards for deck & porch construction
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This article explains the selection and use of alternative deck and porch floor products such as Trex®, TimberTech®, wood-plastic composites, and plastic or vinyl decking products.

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Synthetic Decking for Deck & Porch Floors

Synthetic deck collapse (C) Daniel FriedmanManufacturers have introduced a wide range of synthetic decking products, most of which promise woodlike appearance and low or no maintenance.

Most fall into a few categories discussed below, but each has unique characteristics and installation requirements. In all cases, review the product specifications and, if possible, look at an installation before purchasing.

[Click any image to see an enlarged, detailed version]

This article series discuss best porch & deck construction practices, including choice of framing materials, decking or flooring choices & installation, how to select and use deck and porch structural and flooring fasteners, actual deck & porch framing construction details & connections, deck joist & beam span tables, how to build leak-proof rooftop decks, construction of covered & screened porches, deck & porch railing construction & materials, choices of finishes and stains for decks & porches, and past & current deck lumber preservative treatments with related health & environmental concerns.

Wood-Plastic Composites for Decks & Porches

Decking materials made from wood fiber with polymer resin have been in use for over a decade and have generally established a strong track record. This article series includes excerpts or adaptations from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction, by Steven Bliss, courtesy of Wiley & Sons. Also see our BOOK REVIEW of that book.

Figure 4-2: Decay-resistant wood-plastic comosite decking  (C) J Wiley, S Bliss

Many composite deck materials, like Trex®, use a high percentage of recycled materials.

Most wood-plastic composite deck boards have a solid profile and are sold in sizes that match and install like standard wood decking.

The oldest solid composite decking on the market is Trex®, but competitors now include Boardwalk® (Certainteed), ChoiceDec® (Weyerhauser), and products from several smaller manufacturers (see Figure 4-2 at left).

Other synthetic decking products are extruded into a hollow 2x6 profile, such as WeatherBest® (Louisiana Pacific) and TimberTech® (TimberTech Ltd.).

Figure 4-3:  Hollow profile synthetic decking (C) J Wiley, S BlissThese are generally lighter and stiffer than the solid materials, allowing spans up to 24 inches.

These typically fit together in a tongue-and-groove fashion, have built-in drainage systems, and use proprietary fasteners.

End caps and other accessories are used to trim out these products, and some include a modular railing system (Figure 4-3).

In general, composite decking materials are dimensionally stable, impervious to the elements, and can be worked more or less like wood. The solid products are installed like wood decking. Special screws designed for composite decking leave a clean hole without dimpling around the screw head.

Most solid products cannot exceed 16-inch on-center framing, and they feel a little bouncy underfoot due to the material’s greater flexibility (low modulus of elasticity) compared to wood. Some have an embossed wood-grain finish that may wear away over time.

With composite decking, no surface treatment is needed. Once the surface weathers, it bears a strong resemblance to weathered wood, but without the customary warping and checking.

Although these deck surfaces are largely impervious to the elements and contain no food source for mold or mildew, manufacturers do point out that a dirty deck can support mold and mildew growth and recommend periodic cleaning with a deck cleaner to prevent this.

Also synthetic decking is vulnerable to oil and grease stains, which can be difficult to remove if not cleaned right away with a degreasing agent.

Vinyl and Other Plastics for Decks & Porches

A variety of manufactured decking systems are aimed at the commercial and do-it-yourself (DIY) markets. Materials include FRP (fiber-reinforced plastic), recycled HDPE (high-density polyethylene), and polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

Most of these products are available in a nominal 6-inch width and have an etched surface to provide traction and a wood-grain appearance. Most products are sold as a complete system with integral fasteners, end caps, and other accessories, making them well suited to the DIY market.

-- Adapted with permission from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction.

See CODES for STAIRS & RAILINGS for details about stair building codes and specifications.


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