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By James Dulley, Published July 24 2009

Alternative materials for decks vary greatly

Dear Jim: I am tired of treating my old decaying wood deck. Also, it gets hot in the sun. I want to replace it with one requiring no maintenance and one that is environmentally friendly. What are my alternatives?

– Jan G.

Dear Jan: A typical pressure-treated pine wood deck does require periodic cleaning and treatment with sealers, and it still has a limited life.

When the wood gets dark and badly mildewed, it can get quite warm in the afternoon sun. The hot decking can make the air near your house warmer and radiate heat in through windows.

There are quite a few alternative decking materials available, some of which are installed identically to wood decking. These alternative materials do not require sealing treatments every couple of years, but they are not “no maintenance.” Even the newest nonstaining cellular PVC decking should be washed periodically.

Everyone seems to want to use eco-friendly products today, but it can be difficult to determine which are the most green. One must consider the entire life-cycle energy and resource usage to make a reasonable determination on which decking material is best.

For example, wood sounds as though it would be the most natural green product. When you consider the cleaners, brighteners and chemical products consumed to seal it every couple of years, its limited life, transportation costs, etc., it may not be as green as it first appears.

Plastic decking can be made from “virgin” or recycled materials. Since the virgin materials can be recycled into other products someday, they may actually be green overall. The bottom line is it is difficult to make an accurate green comparison, so just try to make whatever decking you select last as long as possible.

The newest type of decking material is cellular PVC. It is relatively lightweight, easy to handle and does not stain or mildew. Much of it has realistic graining in the surface so it is not slippery when wet. I recently replaced my old wood decking with AZEK cellular PVC planks. (See before and after photos at www.dulley.com/newdeck).

Cellular PVC planks can be attached with matching screws or hidden fastener clips. Also available are special Cortex screws (www.fastenmaster.

com) with plastic plugs to hide the heads. The colors match the major decking manufacturers’ standard colors.

Composite decking, most of which is a combination of wood particles and polyethylene (some recycled), is mid-priced between wood and more expensive PVC. It does not resist stains as well as PVC and the wood particles may mildew over time. Hollow extruded vinyl planks are low-maintenance, but they do not simulate the look of wood very well.

The following companies offer alternative decking materials: AZEK Building Products, (877) 275-2935, www.azek.com; Renew Plastics, (800) 666-5207, www.renewplastics.com; TimberTech, (800) 307-7780, www.timbertech.com; Trex, (800) 289-8739, www.trex.com; and Thermal Industries, (800) 245-1540, www.thermalindustries.com.

Dear Jim: I am trying to keep my house comfortable. I had overhang and ridge vents installed in my attic last summer. The old gable vents are still open. Should they be left open or should I block them off? – Cathy S.

Dear Cathy: A combination of soffit (roof overhang) inlet vents and a ridge outlet vent is best for keeping your attic cool. You should block off the old gable vents so the inlet air is drawn in the soffit vents low over the insulation.

You mentioned summer, but adequate attic ventilation is also important during winter. The fresh air ventilation keeps moisture, which comes through the ceiling, from collecting in the attic floor insulation.


Send inquiries to James Dulley, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244, or visit www.dulley.com