Reprinted in part by permission of: StarCraft Custom Builders of Lincoln, Nebraska.
"Maintenance Free" and "Lifetime Deck"
Composite, PVC and Vinyl Decks are
NOT "maintenance free" or "lifetime". They will Need
Cleaning, Sealing and even Color Enhancement
Composite decking emerged on the scene about 30 years ago; it was
trumpeted as a maintenance free deck that would last your lifetime.( "NOT!" ) Thousands of
home owners have been disappointed - some actually to tears as they labored to
erase mold spores, battled the green algae "monster" -- and enlisted reinforcement
to keep their composite deck clean and restore color loss.
Composite or PVC
Deck Cleaning and Restoration
There are basically 3 types of Non-Wood or composite decking material:
"Our Mission -- to provide you with the most ReMarkable service experience...ever!"
We fulfill "Our Mission" through 'Our Values"
One of our leading values is EDUCATION.
Education for "Our Team" and the "Consumer"
This page provided for your learning.
We offer proven solutions for restoring Composite Decking.
(Please see SOLUTIONS photos and information below)
- Composite Deck
- Composite Deck with Capstock
- Plastic, Vinyl, or PVC Decking
What Is Composite Decking?
A composite board is composed of a filler, usually powdered wood fibers
("wood flour") that make up the bulk of the board, a plastic binder, and
a variety of additives that facilitate, manufacture, stabilize the
plastic and help protect the material from UV damage.
MILDEW and ALGAE ON COMPOSITE DECK
Normal use of the deck wears off
the protective plastic coating that surrounds the wood particles in the
composite, leaving them exposed to mold and mildew. Wood in its natural
state contains chemicals that fight off fungus. But, the wood flour
used in composites has had most or all of these protective chemicals
removed, so it is very vulnerable to mold and mildew when the wood
particles are exposed.
The plastic used as the binder is typically high-density polyethylene
(HDPE), but may be any of a number or petroleum-based plastics including
poly-vinyl chloride (PVC) and polypropylene.
Polyethylene is the most common plastic in the world. It is used
to make grocery bags, milk jugs and those ubiquitous plastic water
bottles. It is a soft plastic with little structural rigidity. But, it
is the world's most recycled plastic, and many composite deck
manufacturers use at least some recycled polyethylene in their mix.
Polypropylene is a stronger, more rigid plastic, less
susceptible to expansion and contraction, and is the binder of choice in
PVC is less often used as a binder due to its relatively high cost, and more often used as a skin on the exterior of the board.
The binder glues the mix together and protects the filler from the
elements and gives the board its rigidity. A decking board made from PVC or polypropylene will be noticeably
stiffer than one produced with polyethylene.
Ask just about anyone why they installed Composite Decking
and they will tell you...
- Composites require little or no maintenance,
- Composites are more environmentally friendly
- Composites are longer lasting than wood.
Is any of this actually true? Regrettably NO.
Plastic Wrap Around Composite is
Called a Capstock.
(however, the core is still "wood flour")
Newer boards add a "Capstock". A
capstock composite board is made of wood plastic composite (WPC)
wrapped in a plastic (usually PVC) shell. The thin PVC wrap, shell or "cap" is
intended to protect the vulnerable WPC from the elements.
The resulting plank is known in the industry as a
"capstock board", or just "capstock". The waterproof shell
is intended to protect the wood content of the interior filler from moisture.
But, again, the practice does not quite match up to the theory --- it is
only partly effective. The manufacturing process used, called
co-extrusion, coats the top, bottom and sides of the board, but not the ends. The WPC is still exposed at the cut ends of the
board, so the WPC can still get wet, swell and permanently deform the
board (See main article). The ends are open to wick in moisture, either because it comes that way or the installer had to cut the board. All too often, there are other "cuts", breaks, cracks or incisions on the board. Sometimes, something as simple as a screw hole is enough to "sink the Titanic".
After studying the behavior of capstock decking, Shane
O'Neill, founder of Compositology
LLC, a technical consulting firm focused on composite building reported in Deck Builder the
magazine for deck professionals:
capstock decking, you have sealed a WPC (which by nature absorb water) in a
protective wrapper. This offers many advantages, but the uncapped ends of the
boards are free to pick up water just like before. Since only the ends of
capstock decking take on much water, that's where the swelling happens. I've
measured the water absorption rate through the ends of a un-capped WPC and
found it to be more than six times higher than through the cap. Unfortunately,
the real kicker is that once the decking flares, the flare never fully goes
away. Even if you completely dry the deck, the swelling may go down some, but the
board will never be the same.”
We can get rid of the WPC, however, by making the PVC shell thicker
with some internal bracing so the shell does not collapse when walked
on. With these changes, the rigidity provided by the WPC is no longer
required — the plastic shell provides its own rigidity.
Without the WPC we also…
- Lose most of the weight of the board.
WPC is heavy, but not particularly strong, so getting rid of it does
not affect the strength of the deck, but does make installation easier.
- Get rid of the problem of water
absorption and swelling. Plastic does not absorb water, and the air
that's left on the inside of the board when the WPC is removed has no
issues with water. If water does get inside the board, it just drains
Of course, if we modify our capstock board, we end up with
plastic decking. Plastic decking is capstock without the internal
filler. Which begs the question: why would you buy capstock decking when
you can buy a PVC or vinyl deck board for about the same price, and have fewer problems? (see below)
By the way, the capstock guys are trying to
keep this on the QT, so shhhhhh, mum's the word.
NOTE: If the protective plastic coating is penetrated, the wood flour exposed to water swells, warps and bends and can even split the deck board. (see photo to the right)
YES, We Can Seal Composite Decks
Composite decks need no initial sealing because the plastic binder in the product is also the material's sealer. But regrettably this does not last forever -- in fact, by the second year, it starts breaking down.
Images from a Sherwin-Williams study. From left to right: Trex
Natural decking new, after three year's exposure, and after cleaning
with a commercial composite deck cleaner. The deck cleaned up nicely,
but the original color has all but faded away.
Eventually the deck will need to be resealed and colored. Why? Two reasons:
- First, the UV inhibitors in
the binder are not permanent. No one has yet come up with an inhibitor
that can be used in a composite mix that lasts more than a few years.
The basic problem is that the UV inhibiting chemicals are themselves
broken down by exposure to UV radiation and decline in effectiveness
over time. This is the primary reason composite decks turn gray.
- Second, decks get walked
on. Walking on the deck eventually wears through the plastic that
"seals" the wood particles that make up the bulk of the material in a
composite deck board. The plastic used in most composite decking is
polyethylene, a soft and not very tough plastic.
It will fairly quickly wear away in normal use. As will the tougher
plastics like PVC and polypropylene. It just takes a little longer.
So, even if the factory's binder creates a perfect seal, and that's
pretty rare, that perfection is soon compromised in the normal course of
using the deck.
Once the protective plastic binder is worn way, the wood particles in
the decking are exposed to weather and all sorts of unpleasant things
are likely to happen. Probably the first thing a homeowner will notice
is white spots on the deck. These are exposed wood particles bleached
by the sun and rain. This is a sure sign that the deck's seal has been
damaged. Exposed particles, besides creating unsightly white spots,
swell when the get wet, and can cause the decking to split and degrade
The wood fibers in composite decking also provide a friendly home for
mold and mildew which happily puts down roots into the exposed wood.
Once well anchored in the wood particles, mold and mildew are very hard
to eradicate. Wood decks repel mold and mildew better than composites.
Wood in its natural state contains chemicals that fight off fungus. If
wood did not have them, all trees would soon die of fungal
infestations. Some species are so well protected by their internal
chemicals that they are virtually mold and mildew proof. But, the wood
flour used in composites has had most or all of these protective
chemicals removed, so it is very vulnerable to mold and mildew when the
wood particles are exposed. Trex, the largest manufacturer of composite
decking, has been sued more than once due to excessive mold and mildew
build-up on its composite decking, and had to pay out big dollars in
settlement. The only sure cure for this condition is prevention —
sealing to restore the barrier that protects the wood particles from the
Faded composite deck re-stained using a stain formulated for composite decks from Messmers, Inc..
The sealant available for composite decks is not very different from
that used on wood decks, so once you start sealing a composite deck, the
sealing interval is about the same: every 3 to 7 years. Composite
decking is actually no different than wood decking when it comes to the
need for sealing.
Any number of manufacturers claim that their composite product never
"needs" staining. The keyword in this phrase is "needs". The bright,
crisp composite decking color you get fresh from the factory is not
going to be the color you see a year after installation. All composite
decks fade. Non-capstock WPC decks fade a lot. Some eventually fade
to a dingy, weathered gray that looks little different from the color of
dingy, weathered wood.
Capstock deck boards, with their plastic shell, fade less than uncapped
composite boards. Most will fade a little, but because the exposed
material is plastic, the fading is minimal. Some capstock
manufacturers, such as Fiberon and Timbertech, now guarantee some of
their products against excessive fading. But, most continue to
specifically exclude color changes, fading and graying from their
Whether a composite deck "needs" staining is essentially an aesthetic
decision. You car never "needs" washing. It will happily run for many
years as dirty as a coal pit. Your clothing never "needs" ironing. A
severely wrinkled suit still works as a suit. We wash our cars, and
press our suits because we don't like the look or dirty cars or wrinkled
If you don't mind a faded, graying, tired-looking deck, then it's true:
your deck never needs staining. On the other hand, if faded, graying
and tired-looking is your preferred aesthetic, you can get the same
effect by never staining or sealing a treated pine deck, and for far
less than the cost of a composite deck.
The "never need staining" claim of the early days of composite decking has proven over and over again to be largely a myth. The theory was that by coating the wood filler material with plastic
containing UV inhibitors, the wood would be protected from the two
elements that cause fading — sun and water.
Experience has shown that the theory does not work as well as expected.
Rather than each tiny wood particle in the WPC mix being coated with
plastic, the particles tend to clump together during manufacturing and
it is the relatively large clumps that get coated, not the individual
particles. Once the plastic coating is penetrated, as, for example, by
the wear and tear of walking on the deck, sun and water can reach the
wood powder inside causing fading over time. Add to that the fact that
chemicals that protect against UV do not provide either perfect or
permanent protection. The chemicals evaporate and deteriorate over
time. No UV inhibitor lasts much past five years.
Some manufacturers are very up-front about color fading. ChoiceDek and
Trex are among those manufacturers who will show you post-fading colors
so you can see what you deck will really look like after a few months.
What none will show you is what they will look like after three years.
Testing organizations like Consumer Reports are conducting tests
that look at, among other things, color changes over time. Coatings
manufacturers like Sherwin-Williams have already finished testing some
of the composites, and the results are not encouraging. After three
years, most un-capped composites tested were gray or nearly gray.
Once fading starts, there is no cure but to seal the deck with a sealant
that protects against water and UV rays from the sun to prevent further
fading. If you want to restore the original color, the only solution
is to stain the composite. Almost all uncapped composites can be
stained. But, don't expect the manufacturer to advertise the fact —
suggesting that composites can be stained implies that they may need to be stained, which is contrary to the advertising claims of most composite deck manufacturers.
Generally, however, buried somewhere in their cleaning and maintenance
instructions, manufacturers will recommend a stain for use on their
decks. Use the recommended stain. But, if you stain the composite, you
have to periodically re-stain the composite. Manufacturers are silent
as to how often re-staining may be required, but our experience is that
it should be done every 3-7 years; or about the same schedule as a
Protecting Your Investment -- Is finally affordable.
Seal-Once™ Eco-Friendly Composite Wood Decking Waterproofer is
a "GREEN" stain/sealer product formulated for exterior use on properly
prepared, composite decking and railings. Engineered specifically to
eliminate water absorption and
protect against mold and mildew.
All-Things-Wood does more than
just clean your Composite Deck
....we ReStore and Protect it.
1) chases away the GREEN Algae "monster"
that grows on your composite
2) battles that filthy black mold that
steals your beauty
3) arrests the mildew that causes painful
slips and falls
4) transforms unsightly grey back to
a healthy appearance
Not just cleaned... but ReVived, ReColored and ReStored
"You Are Not Alone"
...in the deep black hole of
composite decking disasters
Trex Settles Product Lawsuits
September 14, 2004
Trex and Exxon-Mobil (the former owner of Trex) have agreed to settle a
class action lawsuit. The suit claimed that Trex decking rotted,
splintered and degraded, contrary to widespread advertising and
marketing claims by the company, and that Trex failed to live up to its
warranties against product defects. After initially calling the lawsuit
"frivolous", Trex agreed to stop all advertising claims that its deck
products do not require sealant and are maintenance-free. Trex also
agreed to replace any defective product sold between 1992 and 2004.
Trex settled a similar suit by one of its large distributors in 2000
for fraudulent business practices in which it was claimed that Trex
materials tended to "disintegrate, crumble, turn pink, turn blue, spot,
bubble, blister, contain lumps, contain hidden defects such as metal
objects…, or grossly warp if exposed to sunlight or weather" and that
the company failed to honor its warranty. The actual settlement terms
GeoDeck Products Recalled
August 16, 2005
Proving that even the experts can be fooled, the GeoDeck composite decking products, top rated in 2004 byConsumer Reports, have been recalled for safety issues. The Consumer Products Safety Commission announced a voluntary recall
of certain GeoDeck products manufactured by Kadant, LLC for dangerously
rapid degradation, especially in hot climates. Although no one has yet
been hurt, the recall was prompted by several hundred confirmed reports
of composite deterioration to an unsafe condition. Kadant, LLC is a
subsidiary of Kadant, Inc. Kadant sold the assets of its composites
business to Liberty Diversified Industries. Kadant, LLC used the money
received from the sale to pay warranty claims and has reportedly paid
out $4.6 million on its defective GeoDeck product. When the money ran
out in September, 2009, it simply ceased business and shut down its
recall web site.
EON Declares Bankruptcy
January 7, 2009
CPI Plastics Group Limited, the maker of EON decking, announced that
it has been unable to withstand the ravages of the current economic
crisis and was seeking relief in bankruptcy. Its CEO and all of its
directors have resigned. The company is being liquidated under Canadian
Trex Sued Again
January 13, 2009
Trex has been sued again for warranty violations. In the lawsuit, a
Washington homeowner claims his two-year old deck began degrading,
cracking and rotting and is now unusable and unsafe for his family. The
homeowner claims Trex offered to replace the damaged boards but refuses
to pay for associated labor costs. In exchange for the new materials,
Trex asks for a signed release freeing the company from further
liability. The lawsuit alleged Trex's warranty documents violate the
federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, a consumer protection regime. After first responding that it had fully honored its warranty, Trex
settled the lawsuit in 2010, agreeing to replace any defective materials
and paying part of the labor cost of replacing the defective products.
Louisiana-Pacific Decking Recalled
May 13, 2009
The Consumer Products Safety Commission with the voluntary cooperation
of Louisiana-Pacific Corp (LPC) has recalled composite decking
materials made by the company and sold under the trade names LP
WeatherBest®, ABTCo, and Veranda®.
The recalled decking can
prematurely deteriorate and unexpectedly break. Consumers can fall
through broken decking and suffer serious injuries. LPC has received 37
reports of composite decks breaking, resulting in 14 injuries.
CorrectDeck Sheds Warranty
Liabilities in Bankruptcy
July 2, 2009
Correct Building Products, LLC, manufacturer of CorrectDeck, a
composite decking product line, has filed for reorganization in
bankruptcy and a quick sale to GAF subsidiary Building Materials Corp.
of America (BMCA). Once completed, the CorrectDeck product line will be
added to GAF's newly formed Decking Systems business division. The
sale, under Section 363 of the Bankruptcy Act allows sale of
"distressed" assets free of liens and warranty claims. (Editor's Note.
GAF renamed the product Duralife Siesta, then discontinued making the
decking entirely in 2011.
Fiberon is being sued in a class action over excessive mold buildup on
its Portico Decking. Fiberon responded that it was improper homeowner maintenance that caused the problem. The lawsuit is still pending.
Portico was discontinued several years ago and is no longer being made.
But, it looks to us a lot like a BIG Box store brand recently introduced.
Real Considerations in Composite Decking
- Expansion and Contraction
- Heat Retention
- Higher initial construction costs.
- Composite decks (not PVC) when exposed to moisture and UV will warps, cup, bend and even split,
- Sealed and maintained wood deck lasts about as long as a maintained composite deck -- except in the landfill where composite decking will last an ugly state of 1,000 years vs treated wood which will return to nature in 10 years or less, and untreated wood in as little as 2 years.
- Post-Consumer YES, GREEN -- well not exactly -- only in the fact that it is made of recycled wood and sometimes recycled plastic. Composites use enormous amounts of power in the manufacturing process.
Did someone say...
Mold and Mildew
Composite decking that is not protected by a plastic wrapper or
capstock seems to have a particular susceptibility to mold and mildew.
Trex and Fiberon, major manufacturers of uncapped products, have been
sued over this issue in class action lawsuits.
How does mold and mildew get a foothold on a supposed "maintenance free" deck?
...After a while,
foot traffic on the deck wears off some of the plastic coating that
surrounds and protects the wood particles in the composite material,
exposing them to the environment. This is the cause of "white-spotting"
as the sun fades the particles. It also gives mold and mildew an
opening to root in the deck.
NOTE: Dirt, air-borne contaminants and even fertilizer from grass or plants can help grow mold or mildew on a capstock deck. It should be professionally cleaned and treated for mold. Then the home-owner should wash the deck at least twice a year with a mild dish washing detergent.
wood contains mold-inhibiting chemicals, but wood particles used in
composite decking have been stripped of these chemicals. Once mold gets
a toe hold in a composite deck, it is almost impossible to exterminate.
All cleaning does is knock off the the surface mold, but does not
touch the embedded root structure. Which means that the mold will
quickly spring back up.
Manufacturers are adding mold-inhibiting
chemicals to their composite slurring, but so far these do not seem to
be having much effect.
SOLUTION: Professionally cleaned and sealed by All-Things-Wood.
All-Things-Wood is experienced in Mold-Remediation for both interior and exterior wood and composite decking.
Vinyl, Plastic, PVC
and Thick Capstock Decks
Still Need Special Cleaning
Battling wood-plastic composite decking for market share are all-plastic
decking products know as PVC or Vinyl decking. Their composition and maintenance is DIFFERENT! These have quietly come on strong in the past dozen
years with little of the publicity or bad press of the wood-composite
products. As of this writing, all-plastic decking is generally superior
to wood-plastic composites, but this superiority comes at a price.
Plastic decks tend to be more expensive than wood-composite decks.
Plastic decks have several advantages over wood-plastic composites.
First, and foremost, since they contain no wood products in any form,
the usual wood-destroying problems with swelling and cracking when the
wood products get wet is eliminated. Further, they resist fading at
least as well as the best capstock composite decking because the
capstock is almost always some form of plastic, and plastic, with the
right UV protection, has good fade resistance.
Click Below To Schedule FREE Estimate
But, there are also disadvantages. The most important of these is
seasonal expansion and contraction which is most pronounced in an
all-plastic product. Plastic decking can be made to look somewhat like
wood, but it cannot be made to behave like wood. Expansion and
contraction is the number one structural problem in plastic decks.
By far, the most common plastic used in plastic decks is polyvinyl
chloride (PVC or vinyl). PVC is a synthetic plastic made from
petroleum, and is the third most common plastic after polyethylene and
polypropylene. In its unmodified form it is a white, brittle solid and
has no commercial use. To be useful chemicals that make it more flexible
and softer called "plasticizers" must be added. The most common of
these are esters of phthalic acid, called phthalates, of which there are
over 25 in common industrial use. Many of these are linked to health
concerns in humans, including asthma, allergies, breast cancer, hormonal
disruption and birth defects. Phthalates are not a problem when they
are inside PVC. But, they don't stay inside the PVC and over time
out-gas into the atmosphere. As they leach out, PVC becomes
de-plasticized and eventually returns to its original brittle state.
The extensive use of PVC means that quite an amount of these
plasticizers are now loose in the environment, and showing up in human
tissue, which has some health authorities concerned.
PVC is also frequently modified by additives to make it more impact,
scratch and fire resistant, and less affected by changes in temperature.
Chemicals to kill or retard bacteria and mold, and pigments are also
common additives, as are UV absorbers. In exterior applications, it is
particularly important that PVC is protected from ultra-violet light
(UV), which tends to degrade the material very quickly without UV
PVC is not well regarded by the eco-conservation crowd. It is not at
all "green". Not only is it made from a non-renewable resource,
petroleum, but its manufacture throws off some very nasty chemicals
including monovinyl chloride, known to cause cancer, and uses massive
amounts of energy.
PVC is used in the construction industry for siding, window frames, and
exterior trim because it is relatively cheap, durable, and easily
worked. It has become an increasingly popular choice for deck components
because of its low maintenance requirements and ability to withstand
the ravages of sun and water. Vinyl planks used as decking typically are
embossed with treads or graining that enhance the look of the deck,
maximize traction and disguise scratches and other normal wear and tear.
Without them vinyl is slippery and quickly shows scratches and dings.
Benefits and Disadvantages of Using Plastic Deck Components
- Does not warp, rot or splinter, or absorb water.
- Immune to wood-destroying insects, because it's not wood. There are no plastic-destroying insects — yet.
- Does not need to be stained. In fact,
it cannot be stained with any success. So the original color you pick
is the color you get.
- Very little maintenance. A periodic washing with dish soap will usually suffice.
- Easily incubates mold, mildew and algae on top of any dirt left on the surface.
- Fade resistant. Will keep its color
without substantial fading. Most products are warranted against
excessive fading for the lifetime of the owner. But what constitutes
"excessive" fading varies widely from manufacturer to manufacturer.
- Stain resistant, but not stain immune. Light colors stain more easily than dark colors.
- Has a somewhat better resistance to fire than wood, but if it does burn it produces toxic gases.
- Posts covers, railings and balusters
(but not deck boards) scratch and mar fairly easily which can be a
problem in heavy traffic areas.
- Retains much more heat than wood and
more than most uncapped composites. The most heat-retentive material
other than aluminum. Not suitable for sun-side exposure in hot climates
- Pricey and more labor intensive to construct than wood, about the same as premium capstock composites.
All-Things-Wood is a trained and authorized contractor in the cleaning and restoration of Vinyl and PVC Decks or R using:
Embarrassed by your Vinyl
or PVC Deck or Railing?
Disappointed because it is
NOT maintenance free?
Tired of the GRAY "salt & pepper"
look of an expensive deck?
Let the Triad's Decksperts
ReStore it's Beauty!
This article researched & reprinted in whole or in part by permission of: StarCraft Custom Builders of Lincoln, Nebraska. Click link below for one of the best research sources we know of:"The Deck Handbook" |