Plastic-Wood Composites
Advantages: Virtually indestructible, plastic-wood composites blend 30 to 50 percent recycled plastic with wood fibers for skid resistance and stainability. Composite lumber is low-maintenance, and resists rot, insects and UV rays. It's also splinter-free and easy to work with. Deck screws sink in and disappear. Trex, TimberTech and DuraWood EX come with 10-year warranties, while ChoiceDek and DuraWood PE are backed for 20 years. Disadvantages: Some composite lumber has a plastic appearance, and some colors fade over time. During construction, sawdust and shavings must be collected in a drop cloth because they aren't biodegradable. What's more, not all composite lumber can span traditional 16- or 24-in. joist spacing; narrower joist layout may be needed, boosting cost. Some building codes don't allow composite lumber; check with your building department before ordering. Availability: Trex, approved by most building codes, is sold in most standard dimensions, including 5/4x6 in. and 2-by. ChoiceDek and SmartDeck come in 5/4x6 in. and 2x6 in. TimberTech is 1 1/2x6 and 1 1/2x8 in. Recommendations: Typical choices are plain deck boards, like Trex and ChoiceDek, and shaped tongue-and-groove deck boards, like TimberTech (which you install) and SmartDeck's DuraWood EX (installed by a certified contractor). SmartDeck also offers a 100 percent plastic product, called DuraWood PE. If you're wiring the deck, consider ChoiceDek and DuraWood; both of these deck-and-rail systems are formed to allow running wires within posts or deck boards. Composite lumber weathers to a light gray and can be painted or stained, though protective sealers aren't required. Use galvanized screws. Cost: About $20 per square foot installed for DuraWood EX, not including substructure. Most composite lumber by itself costs around $3 per square foot. Vinyl Deck Systems
Advantages: Installed by you or a contractor, vinyl deck systems typically include deck boards, rails, spindles and fascia. They create a low-maintenance deck that needs no sealers or finishes and is free of splinters and cracks. Planks have good spanning ability and resist UV rays if treated at the factory. Fasteners can be completely hidden once planks are installed. The three major manufacturers of vinyl deck systems—Kroy, DreamDeck and EZ Deck—offer limited lifetime warranties. Disadvantages: These systems are relatively expensive. Vinyl can fade and get brittle with age unless specially treated at the factory, and all vinyl eventually loses its gloss. Sawdust isn't biodegradable, so it must be collected in a drop cloth. Availability: Kroy deck planks come 8 in. wide, DreamDeck planks are 5 1/2 in. wide and EZ Deck planks are 4 or 6 in. wide. These systems must often be ordered through distributors. Recommendations: Choose skid-resistant planks, available in a variety of colors from Kroy, DreamDeck and EZ Deck. Also opt for color-fast, no-fade treatments like the one used by EZ Deck. Planks can be cut to length with a circular saw; plank ends are covered with vinyl caps. Proprietary strip systems are screwed to joists with galvanized or stainless-steel screws, then planks snap into place. Cost: About $13 per square foot installed for Kroy, $18 for DreamDeck and $22 for EZ Deck, not including substructure. Decking itself costs about $7 to $12 per square foot.
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