As lumber suppliers with centuries of experience with organic materials, J. Gibson McIlvain certainly has a vested interest in preserving the image of lumber decking species. At the same time, there are significant concerns over the growing market for composite decking materials. While environmental lobbyists assert that these manmade materials are actually better for the environment, there are actually some major concerns over the validity of such an argument. In addition to that globally significant issue, there are a few comfort-level concerns you’ll want to take into consideration before you add composite decking materials to your backyard scene.
Hot and Sweaty
Many homeowners enjoy sunbathing or swimming in their back yards, often walking across their decks with bare feet. With composite decking installed in direct sunlight, such an activity could bring quite a shock. Since this product is essentially a plastic, heat retention is a definite concern. Depending on the manufacturer, the outer shell is typically composed of pure polyethylene (the same composition as water bottles) or a combination of plastic and wood flour (ground wood product). What’s more, the tendency toward heat retention means that the deck will remain hot long after the sun has set.
In addition to the discomfort that comes with burnt feet, this issue with heat retention contributes to the product’s chemical breakdown. Depending on the exact composition, some products will give off gas byproducts, while others will exude oils, causing weakening over time. Does the idea of having a hot deck that smells like burning plastic and continually breaks down due to heat seem like a poor investment to you? Then perhaps organic decking lumber is the way to go.
Slippery When Wet
As an oil-based product, plastic is far from the ideal product for outdoor flooring, especially where sunlight, water fun, and grilling will be taking place. Plastic naturally becomes slippery when wet. Some composite decking manufacturers have attempted to overcome this issue by adding a faux wood grain or other texturing, but the surface still responds negatively to oil or water. Think of grease from the barbecue or outdoor dining as well as water from rain and various activities. Add to that the oil that the deck may weep as the deck degrades due to heat build-up.
While this issue isn’t as much about physical comfort, aesthetic issues are at least part of the reason you wanted a deck, right? Because of the medium hardness and weakness of polyethylene, the outer shell of composite decking scratches quite easily. In addition to appearance, such scratching can damage the thin shell, exposing the inner wood flour cores, subjecting it to mold and other factors that will compromise your deck’s integrity. In fact, many composite decking manufacturers warn against using metal show shovels on their decks for this very reason.
If you’d prefer to forgo the kind of frustrations that come with composite decking, J. Gibson McIlvain (www.mcilvain.com) carries a wide selection of decking wood species in a variety of lengths and widths.
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