Question: We are looking for a decking that has a green option. – Frank and Susie, Prescott
Answer: Decking is now a $9 billion-per-year industry and is growing daily. The original decking material was just plain old wood, and homes had covered porches for which the wood was painted. In the 1950s, sun decks became popular, and with them came exposure to the sun and maintenance requirements. That maintenance often involved toxic solvents, paints, stains and sealers.
Now we have evolved into a greener society and today, if cost is not a factor, the greenest decking is a plantation-grown wood product that is naturally resistant to rot and bugs and does not need further preservative treatment. Eco-friendly decking includes black locust or tamarack, or domestic and tropical woods (redwood and teak), and all are certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council.
We all want our decking to last for many years without maintenance, and that alone is a big challenge. Many homeowners want to “set it and forget it.” There are many products that are made from recycled content such as composites, plastics and vinyl.
Composite decking is created by combining plastic resins with wood, organic fiber and sometimes fiberglass. Composites look and act like wood. Most composites are a 50-50 mix of wood fiber and resin, and are a fairly green choice and have a long lifespan. Popular manufacturers known for sustainable products are Trex, Nexwood and Timbertech. These products have been known to last for up to 20 years with little maintenance; however, you must keep in mind that all of these products will weather and some warping may occur. Composite decking is as strong as wood, and it looks and feels like wood. When selecting this type of decking, it is important to verify how well this product holds fasteners.
Plastic decking refers to decking composed of high-density polyethylene, which is 100 percent recyclable, nontoxic and also has a long lifespan. This is the same product that milk jugs are made from. In fact, a 12-foot piece of plastic decking has more than 1,000 plastic jugs in it.
Plastic decking comes in hollow product or solid material. It is important to consider the load application in order to determine if hollow or solid best fits the project. Of course, hollow plastic decking costs less. Plastic decking material does not possess the strength of wood and is probably more suited to tables, benches or low-load applications.
Vinyl or PVC decking is also considered green, but it does present environmental hazards, including the emission of dioxin and mercury. However, many forms of vinyl are extremely stable once they are created and they can be recycled.
There are some completely non-toxic wood treatments that are on the market. This product is made from a process that wraps individual wood fibers with a layer of glass, and this barrier keeps those pesky microbes and other organisms from recognizing that the wood is a form of food.