Q: I'm tired of the wood deck maintenance. I'm also concerned about its preservation chemicals on my kids' bare feet. What wood-alternative decking materials are available that stay cool in the sun?
-- Mike M.
A: Wood decks do require much maintenance. Even though a wood deck is less expensive to install initially than a no-maintenance wood-alternative deck, the lifetime costs are higher. The EPA has recently eliminated the use of arsenic-based pressure treating chemicals, so any new wood decking you install is safer for children in contact with it.
As you noticed, an old wood deck, darkened from mold and mildew over the years, does get hot in the sun. This can create a heat island adjacent to your house and this heat radiates indoors through windows and walls.
There are quite a few decking materials which are excellent alternates to standard pressure-treated decking lumber. They are all practically maintenance-free and some look very similar to real wood. Once you rip your old decking off its joists, the new alternative decking is easy to install.
Most of the alternative decking manufacturers also offer many styles of matching stairs and railing packages. Since moisture will not harm these materials, you can place plants on the decking or railing without damaging it. Plants will help shade the deck and naturally cool the air around them.
Hollow vinyl is the most popular no-maintenance alternative decking material and some systems offer a lifetime warranty. Using the hollow material allows all of the fasteners to be hidden. It is also very convenient to run any low-voltage wiring to light the deck. If you choose white or another light color, it also stays relatively cool in the sun.
There are several different attachment methods. Some use a finishing strip over the rows of recessed nails. This creates a continuous smooth deck surface. Another method uses attachment clip strips which are nailed to the joists. Once they are attached, the vinyl decking boards snap over them.
Solid decking boards, which often use a composition of recycled materials (milk cartoon, plastic bags, etc.) and real wood fibers, resemble real wood without the regular maintenance. After several months, they weather to a natural wood deck color. You saw and nail or screw these composite planks down similar to working with real wood decking.
If the lumber on your deck is still sound, you can just install some of the above-mentioned alternative decking materials over it. Another option is to roll a thick PVC decking sheet over it. This is available in many colors and creates an attractive, low-maintenance deck. It is easy to install and comfortable to walk on with bare feet.
Download at www.dulley.com or write to James Dulley, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244 for Update Bulletin No. 544 -- buyer's guide of 18 wood-alternative and recycled deck material manufacturers listing board sizes, colors, warranties, assembly methods, features, prices, and diagrams. Include $3 and a self-addressed stamped business-size envelope.