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Composite Decking


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Tammy's Forum Posts: 8

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By Tammy in Weare, NH on 1/11/2006


 I was wondering if anyone has used composite decking? I see that it is maintenance-free, but what is the cost comparison with a pressure-treated deck? Are there some brands better than others? I am going to be building a farmer's porch on the front of the house and a deck on the back and would appreciate any feedback. Thanks!


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By Vincent on 1/11/2006


I can't comment on usage of composite decking, but I have two vinyl decks and I love them. The decision to go with vinyl over composite is that vinyl won't fade as some of the composites will, it is lighter and stays cool to the touch even in direct sunlight, and installs with brackets - no screws or nails are visible. You still need to use a pressure-treated frame, but as far as maintenance goes, a couple of power washes a year keeps it looking brand new.

Cost is about 30% higher than pressure-treated wood. The most expensive part is the railing.

Good luck, hope this helps.
Vincent

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By Tom in Orange City, FL on 1/11/2006


Vincent,

What part of the country are you in? We are looking at Trex and other composites, and in Florida they appear to be a better idea.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/11/2006


I have Yakima Composite decking I purchased from builddirect.com. This gets shipped out of Washington State, so shipping to New Hampshire might be costly. I found that even with shipping, the price was much better than what I could get locally (my shipped price was about $1.4X/s.f. The typical street price in my locale is over $2/s.f. although I found a supplier that had a limited amount of WeatherBest for $1.76/s.f.). However you have to buy whole pallets, and unless you are building a large deck, you will end up with a lot of excess (unless you could find some other O-B in the area through O-B Connections who wants to share it with you). I also used the Yakima hidden fastening system, so my deck has no visible fasteners.

Compared to what I paid (which was a bargain), ACQ would have been a cost savings. Composite decking is very expensive. You may argue that it is a lifetime investment, but realistically you are putting it on top of a wood structure, and the wood structure has a limited life span. Composite deck manufacturers also like to say it is maintenance-free compared to wood, but realistically how many people seal their wood decks on a regular basis (around here almost none) and yet the CCA wears quite nicely (ACQ hasn't been around long enough to know). Also your composite deck needs to be power washed, and it will need this regularly, as if you don't it will look horrible in a short period of time. Composite deck probably requires more maintenance in the form of regular power washing.

Another downside to composite decking is that it fades extensively. Get a sample of the color you think you want and put it in direct sunlight. It won't take long for the fading to occur. Make your decisions based on the faded color of the deck, not the color when you buy it. I found Elk composite decking faded less, and was very nice, but this was also reflected in the price. It is not so much the faded color that I notice, but it also scratches easily (I have two dogs), and scratches expose a non-faded surface, so it always looks a bit peculiar after they use it for a starting block to chase some vermin in the yard. The fading happens quickly though, so these scratches disappear in a short time.

Composite deck gets hot, and I mean really hot. If you have it in the sun, you can't walk on it barefoot hot. And sitting on a chair, it is a hot environment. With this heat, it has tremendous expansion and contraction (a 16' stick will vary by more than 1/4" in a day in my environment), so you must make sure you have adequate expansion gaps. It was over 100F when we installed it, so we installed it no gaps end-to-end and haven't had a problem. However, since it shrinks I have found some ends that come off the bearing and the joists below need some blocking to keep you from stepping through the deck. The Yakima hidden fastening system doesn't restrain the deck from expansion and contraction (as screws would), so this is a function from my fastening system as much as the material itself (the hidden fastening system allows the deck to float on the joists).

Composite decks also need more support, as the composite material isn't terribly strong and is flexible. Most composite manufacturers will tell you that joist spacing of 16" o.c. is adequate for perpendicular decking (12" o.c. if your decking is diagonal), and this is what I did. However if you get down to the deck level you can see some undulations in the deck surface, although not quite noticeable from standing on the deck and looking down. I would definitely use reduced joist spacing next time. Yakima is less flexible than some others (Trex), however the stiffest I found was Elk. Hands down, I would say the Elk composite was the nicest composite I saw, although the Elk price was also the highest price.

Yakima also doesn't come with a matching handrail system, so if you want matching handrails, you better look for another option. We looked at vinyl, contrasting composite, cable (these are really nice, but I found about $90/l.f. for vertical airline-grade stainless cable - ouch), wrought iron, and aluminum. I ended up with ACQ, which I will paint to match the house this spring - we considered painting it white to look like vinyl, but then thought it would look even better painted to match the house. 

Lastly the Yakima hidden fastener system allows the deck to float on the joists, so the joists need some additional bracing as you can feel them moving under your feet (and this is different than the sponginess you get from a Trex deck when you feel the deck material itself deflecting under your weight). As I have access under my deck, additional bracing will be another easy springtime project. The fasteners are galvanized for contact to ACQ so make sure you get coated deck screws, as stainless steel screws will set up a galvanized reaction and cause corrosion of the sacrificial anode (ACQ is wet and contains a lot of copper). 

Would I use it again - yes. However, I would also use have reduced my joist spacing to 14" or so to give a smoother surface and would brace the joists better. The look is tremendous, I like the faded color, it fits within the decor of the house, and it should wear quite well.


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By Andrew in Corpus Christi, TX on 1/11/2006


I am planning to do concrete decks. I've been looking in to using either Insul-Deck or Lite-Deck ICF Flooring systems. I will be building ICF, so it should be a good match. The house will be a three-story Spanish/Mediterranean style. Present plans are to use Sonotube support columns and build a box around each column to which we will add arches, and banding. The deck will be topped off in ceramic tile, with stucco on sides and bottom to match house. I will be taking advantage of the ICF method of construction and will run lines for electrical, gas, and plumbing in the slab for a barbecue island. Also planning on embedding lines and nozzles for a water misting system in the overhead perimeter of my deck.

Installed cost is around $11/sf for the raw Insul-Deck/Lite-Deck product. Add of course for balusters, tile, lights, exterior finish, etc... and you are up in the $18-$22 sf range for the finished product. I believe this to be quite competitive with composite decking and is pretty much a no-brainer for me being down here in hurricane country.

Maintenance should be quite low (pressure-wash dirt, and perhaps some occasional tile/grout work). The ICF flooring systems are a probably a little too pricey for me to use for my interior floors, but for exterior decks in my neck of the woods, this seems like the slam dunk way to go 

I am perhaps lucky that this type of construction will blend in nicely with my chosen architectural style. I realize though that this would not be the case in all neighborhoods so you gotta use what the locale dictates.

Anyone else out there planning on doing something similar??? Please let me know.

Andy


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/12/2006


Please note that composite deck prices are priced per lineal foot, not per square foot as I identified above. So my price for material was $1.4X/lineal foot, or double that per s.f.

My installed deck price including materials (lumber, composite, hangers, hardware) and labor (I subcontracted it out) was under $10/s.f. I found the deck contractors were very expensive, and didn't want to separate material cost from labor cost, but since I purchased almost all of my material separately (and therefore from the deck contractor bids I could determine exactly how much labor they were charging - wow, I need to be a deck contractor) I needed to search a bit further for a subcontractor.

Around here, installed price on a Lite-Deck system was about $12/s.f., not including the Sonotube columns or any finish materials (tile, balusters, stucco, etc.). Concrete is definitely the lowest maintenance deck, and if it fits with your architecture, definitely a top-notch product.


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By Andrew in Corpus Christi, TX on 1/12/2006


To All,

The letter below was a private response that I sent to Tom and felt this was worth sharing with everyone:

I researched a lot of ways to build my decks, actually the whole house. The building technology market has just exploded here the last few years. I’ve kind of settled on the Lite-Deck/Insul-Deck method of construction. I wanted to build both hurricane proof as well as low maintenance. I actually will be building two 18’x20’ decks on my second and third stories. I wanted to have them dried-in (roof over), and if you research you will find that there are lots of products out there for drying-in conventional decks. I figured why do this as an afterthought? Better just to build a solid deck in the first place. Building with ICF I wanted to see if I could continue and build my decks with concrete. I checked out a lot of products and construction methods such as Block Joist, composite corrugated steel/concrete slab, composite steel joist/slab, Autoclaved Aerated Concrete etc… The ICF forming system just seems like the easiest most efficient way to accomplish my end goal. As I stated, I think that using concrete Sonotubes is probably the easiest way to build the support columns. As an added bonus you get to extend the rebar up through the column and tie it into the structural concrete beam that you will form around the outer perimeter of your deck with plywood or OSB. When building this way, you should be able to pour support columns and slab at the same time (see below). The forms will rest on the inner edge of this ledger as shown in the second photo. Notice the 18” - 24” pieces of rebar coming off the house. This will make for an extraordinarily strong house/deck bond. 

Wrapping the columns in foam should work real well or if you want round, then you could go with pre-made architectural foam columns. I was originally thinking OSB or plywood, but foam won’t rot and there are foam products out there for forming arches and such, which I will probably use.

As for the misting system… While in Ft. Lauderdale, I was at a Bar/Restaurant there that had water mist nozzles spraying a fine mist around the perimeter of their outside deck. You wouldn’t believe how well it cooled things down. I researched this and found out that there are numerous places on the Internet that sell the supplies and hardware to build just such a system. Something like this; (see next post).

They claim that by using medium pressure water at 300-400 PSI you can deliver a fine mist that quickly evaporates does not leave you feeling wet and by drawing off the latent heat of evaporation can cool the affected area by up to 15-20 deg. F. It gets so hot around here in the summer, this would actually make my decks so much more usable year-round and certainly be a good selling feature should I ever decide to move.

Also, by using the ICF system for my decking I will be able to embed lines for natural gas, hot and cold water, sewage, and electrical for my barbecue island. I can also embed conduit for low-voltage DC lighting and exterior audio circuits as well. Topped off with an exterior grade tile, and coated with an EIFS stucco to match the house, this should be about as low maintenance as you can get, and as I said the price is very competitive for the end product.


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By Andrew in Corpus Christi, TX on 1/12/2006


As per above, a picture of a misting system in use.
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By Peter in Gilford, NH on 3/6/2006


Tammy,

I'm going to use WeatherBest composite decking. It doesn't fade like Trex and others. The product has pros/cons as compared to other composites. 

Pros:

1. It doesn't seem to weather much (most dealers have samples they keep outside for you to see the effects of weathering).
2. Since it's made out of a mixture of 50/50 plastic and wood, it's heavy like wood and feels like wood under your feet.
3. The material is the same through the board; i.e., it's not a film at the surface with something else underneath. So when it gets scratched, it won't show as much.

Cons:

1. It can't be curved like Trex and other composites.
2. I don't like their matching railing system.

In NH, the price is $40 for 16 feet (5.5" wide boards) or about $2.50 a sq ft. The matching post sleeves are $50 each.

I'm going to install the deck in the next week or so; I will upload a picture when it's done.

Peter


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By Tom in Orange City, FL on 4/1/2006


Andy,

We have approx. 1,700 sf of decking with multiple stairs. I don't think the Insul-Deck is compatible on stairs. Are you aware of that or not?

Tom


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By Tom in Orange City, FL on 4/1/2006


Andrew,

Can you please PM me? I have read and read your email and looked at the pictures and it seems as though this is the route I want to go as well, but I am not sure about the supports (i.e. joists, etc.).

Thanks

Tom


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By Ivan in San Francisco, CA on 4/16/2007


Peter,

Earlier you posted that you were installing a WeatherBest Deck. I'm considering using WeatherBest for a small deck I'm putting in. Are you satisfied with yours? Has the color held up? Staining? Sagging? Anything I should be aware of? I'm going with the 'Cedar' finish. What color is yours? Any pictures?
Thanks much,

Ivan
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By Peter in Gilford, NH on 4/22/2007


Ivan,

Here is what I decided to use:

I used:

Peter


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By Danze in Ft. Lauderdale, FL on 4/28/2009


I am looking to install a deck down here in South Florida and have been drawn to these composite decks that are installed with hidden deck fasteners. My first question is: what hidden deck fastener is the best? These were the types I had heard about and am not sure what experience you guys may have had with them:

  1. EB-TY - been around since 1997, but haven't ever seen a deck with this installed.
  2. Trex - I know it's only for the Trex grooved decking, but I like that decking.
  3. TimberTec - Only for TimberTech grooved decking, but again, I have no problem with grooved decking.
  4. Invisifast - Seems like you just install it with nails, seems easy enough. Except you have to install in from underneath the deck. I'm not sure that would work with my low deck elevation.
  5. TigerClaw - This would give more options on the style of wood I can choose from, but has anyone here used TigerClaw before? They also seem to have a power tool that installs these quicker which seems like it would save me on labor costs?

Would love to hear feedback from you guys on this.


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