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Decking Options- Tropical hardwoods, plastic, and wood-plastic composites are gaining favor over pressure-treated
Pressure-treated lumber, long the material of choice for exterior decks, has lost some of its appeal in the last ten years. Concerns about the toxicity of CCA-treated lumber, coupled with the demands of homeowners for a better-looking, more maintenance-free decking material, have led to the development of a variety of safe, durable, more attractive alternatives. In this article, we’ll look at representative products in three categories: wood pressure-treated with non-toxic preservatives; naturally rot-resistant domestic and imported hard- woods; and a growing list of synthetic materials made with recycled plastic.
Several new developments in pressure-treated lumber processing are aimed at answering objections to the material’s color and to the need to paint or stain it to prevent unsightly checking and splitting.
ACQ Ultrawood- The preservative ACQ was first developed in response to concern over the toxic hazard of CCA-treated lumber. Like all treated lumber, how- ever, ACQ decking develops small checks and splits, which can lead to decay in the center of some boards and detracts from the finished appearance of the deck.
To eliminate the need for brush-on coatings, a product called ACQ Ultrawood includes a water repellant that is applied along with the non-toxic preservative during pressure treatment. The water repellant penetrates deep into the interior of the decking, so cut ends, notches, and drilled holes are protected. The manufacturer of Ultrawood claims there is never any need to apply additional coatings, although the material will accept paint and stain to match exterior color schemes. (Like most treated lumber, Ultrawood weathers naturally to gray.) Accessories such as posts, balusters, and rails are also available. The 5/4x6 Ultrawood deck boards cost about 80¢ per linear foot.
Deck Cap- Another way to keep the water out and hide unsightly cracks is to use a two-part decking system called Deck Cap The pressure- treated boards are specially milled with four kerfs along the top surface that accept the fins on the underside of an extruded vinyl cap. Once glued in place with a proprietary adhesive, the plastic cap hides all fasteners and directs surface water into the airspace between boards. The cap’s edges are left unglued to allow the vinyl to expand and contract with- out buckling.
The exposed surface of the cap is embossed with a cross- hatched pattern, which the manufacturer claims is slip-resistant even when wet, and the light, UV-resistant colors reflect sunlight so the cap stays relatively cool to the touch, even on the hottest days. To avoid butt seams that open and close with changes in temperature, deck boards should not exceed the 20-foot max- length of the plastic caps. The material can be worked with ordinary carpentry tools, but because the cap is flexible, it’s easiest to do all trimming and make all cutouts after the cap has been glued to the boards and allowed to dry for 24 hours. The Deck Cap system sells for about $1.65 per linear foot, and can be fitted with matching vinyl railings.
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