Cheap decking usually means one thing “additional expense”. It is cheap for one reason, “Poor Quality Materials”. If you do not invest in a good quality deck, you will be forced in a couple of years replacing your deck again as its failed to meet expectations. So what are the differences of the composite decking available on the market and what do I need to consider when choosing the right product for my project needs.
So why does cheap decking fail?
Composite decking is made from mixtures of wood and plastics. Having the right blend of good quality timber fibres and high density polymers is critical. If you have ever left softwoods outside, you will find they absorb water, swell, crack and rots quickly. If you leave a harder wood or treated timber outdoors, they last for longer. The same is with composite decking. Often cheap composite decking will be made of softwood timber powders and fibres. These still absorb moisture, making boards swell and crack like traditional softwood timbers. Worse still they are mixed with cheap low grade PVC’s and low density polymers (typically shopping bag grade plastics).
Remember those old PVC window frames from the 1980’s. As well as being environmentally damaging during their manufacturing process, these windows eventually started to discolour, warp, crack and eventually fail. These plastics are not UV stable so when the sunlight shines on them, the UV light starts to break down the polymer bonds, making them go yellow and brittle. The same happens on low quality decking. Cheap polymers will become brittle, crack and fail. Also the coloured boards will start to fade and look old and tired very quickly. Along with the swelling of the timber powder and fibres the deck fails only after 18 months to 2 years.
Why is high quality Composite Decking better than cheap composites?
At Elite Outdoor Living we only use the highest quality materials in our composite products. This includes Recycled Hardwoods and High Density Polyethylene (HDPE).
Starting with the hardwood. Hardwood fibres like the actual wood itself has a low water absorption property. This means when exposed to the elements the Harwood fibres will absorb less water, so will swell less, shrink less and will not warp or twist. This also means the boards are less likely to grow mould & algae, stain and go black. But hardwood is also stronger. This strength in the fibres make composite boards stronger. As you can not see the wood in a composite board you need guaranteed assurances that your chosen product contains the right grade of wood.
HDPE is a thermoplastic that has a high strength to density ratio. This plastic is used to make plastic bottles, oil drums, corrosion resistant piping and geo-membranes. This means it is chemical stable and resistant product that will not degrade overtime. This makes it ideal to use as the plastic infill in composite boards, making it thermally and chemically stable with a high strength. It will not crack, discolour or degrade with time. In quality composite manufactures additional UV stabilisers are added to help keep the boards colour and mailing a long lifespan.
All our products are made from 60% recycled hardwood 35% HDPE plastics, and a 5% blend of stabilisers, colourings and activators. This blend produces the best composite products on the market, while using more expensive materials, this is a worthwhile investment and will save money in the long run.
What is best, solid boards or hollow boards?
Why are hollow boards produced? Is this just to save cost and weight? The answer is both yes and no. It all depends on the type of board profile your producing and we will discuss this shortly. But first why are all composite boards not solid?
Well solid boards are available and quite often offered as the premium or most expensive versions of a composite decking range. Solid boards are often marketed for more commercial use, for use in areas with higher pedestrian traffic. While standing up to the increased footfall solid boards do have issues. This goes back to temperature changes a factor we experience to the greatest agree in the UK. As we experienced over the hottest spells this summer, material expand in heat. Railway rails buckle, power lines drop, doors expand and jam etc. When too cold, gaps between rails increase, power lines tighten and snap and gaps around doors get larger and lets drafts and the cold in.
The same happens to composite decking. If the deck is installed in the cold, hot weather will make the boards expand and go longer. Any gaps close and if they close too much the boards lift, warp and twist. If board are installed when warm, gaps increase in the cold making the deck look badly fitted. By having a board hollow, the amount of material that can expand is decreased. This means the expansion and shrinkage of the hollow boards decrease making the board more stable over time and temperature variances. By reducing the material used in manufacture, will reduce cost and weight, but this is at a cost which is strength.
The cheapest poorest performing composite boards tend to have thin walled products that have a rectangular hollow. These will split and fail over time. To overcome this a compromise between wall strength and expansion needs to be achieved. The best design on the market are boards with round hollows in them. Like an arch of a bridge, the round holes allow for the event distribution of loads, creating a stronger board, like stronger bridges. The holes will also allow for the reduction in expansion and contraction, taking any expansion within its own voids. This means a strong board is produced that will not expand, buckle, twist or warp in the heat. All boards at Elite Outdoor Living from our budget options to our premium grade products are all made with round hollow profiles for these reasons.
What is the difference between capped composite boards and uncapped?
Capped boards is a composite manufacturing process that is also known as co-extrusion. This is a process during the forming of the board when a polymer “skin” is extruded along with the body of the composite board. This capping is coloured to the boards finished colour and has a blend of plastic wood composite that makes the outer board totally waterproofed and eliminate moisture being absorbed into the body of the board. Water absorbed in a composite deck can eventually make the wood content in the boards swell, making boards warp and misshapen. This causes the deck board to break free from its clips or spilt in areas where screwed. These uncapped boards will not rot, but can fail if not watertight. Our Resortdeck boards use Ultrashiled technology to achieve this capping with a premium performance and natural finish.
The capping also enables a wood grained effect decking to be an effective nonslip deck. Natural wood decking and composite boards that absorb moisture become slippy in wet weather. It actually is not the surface water that makes the surface slippy, it’s the slimy algae and moss growth from decks that are saturated with moisture that becomes a slip hazard. when wet. By eliminating moisture in the board using capping the Better it acts as a non slip surface.
When using non-capped boards, make sure they have a deep non-slip grain or ribbed texture. Check the boards are made from high density plastic products and hardwood fibres. This will keep the board safe and one that will last for years to come. You will need to keep all deck areas clean, but capped and high grade composites are always recommended to reduce the amount of maintenance needed.