The Deck Turns Green? Oh No!

At our old houseOne of the questionable and most pricey features of our house will be the decking – front and back porches. My husband really wants an enjoyable outdoor space for our family – complete with a fireplace, screened porch and cozy chairs. Sounds perfect to me! Just add lemonade! The question, what type of decking material shall we use? When we first started this process two years ago, I remember the only thing I really wanted was plastic lumber decking – it would last forever, be maintenance-free and it’s made from recycled milk jugs and laundry bottles! What could be better? I even promote plastic decking during my “recycling presentations” at work. Growing up in Virginia, having to stain our wood deck just about every year and then get a splinter in my foot every few weeks, I just knew that I didn’t want wood.

Well, most recently, I’ve heard stories about mold issues coming from the plastic lumber decking (also called composite decking). I did some research and learned that you do have to take care of the decking. What? Oh man – something more to add to the list. I guess nothing is truly maintenance-free in a home. But then again, who wants a moldy, mildewy deck? uhh….nobody!

Read the fine print because composite decking is not “maintenance free” but “low maintenance.” That is a difference! While it is true that you don’t have to paint, stain or sand the deck, you do have to wash it twice a year. Ok, I can handle washing, but unfortunately with mold – it will be hard to kill without harsh chemicals. One of the major manufacturers of composite decking is Trex, which makes decking material out of HDPE plastic from recycled laundry bottles, etc. Sounds positive, right?? However, Trex has been involved in some consumer lawsuits, including one with Hagens-Berman that involves a Washington state homeowner and the Trex product warranty. The one before this was a class-action lawsuit that Trex addresses on its website. One of the major flaws of the product is the entrapment of moisture that causes a terrible mold issue. I am no expert on mold, but I do know that any mold is bad mold. Trex and most other composite decking material may contain up to 50% wood fiber, which makes it susceptible to mold, mildew and insects.

According to the Trex website on technical information: ‘Trex is no exception. Periodic cleaning of Trex decking will remove dirt and pollen that can feed mold. If mold colonies appear, clean the deck with a commercial deck wash containing a detergent and sodium hypochlorite, commonly known as bleach. This chemical will remove the mold, but please be aware it will also lighten the wood on the surface.”

I don’t know about you, but I personally do not want to wash my desk using bleach! The deck is outside and washing it with bleach would only drip and leak to the ground below….???? Right…how green is that? Let’s build a $10,000 deck using recycled milk jugs, save space in the landfill, but kill plant life and harm groundwater resources along the way! Yikes! This is not for me.

So we found some alternatives to the treated wood and to the plastic decking, which we will call Semi-Green Deck Choices, which I found to claim to be better  for these environmental and maintenance issues:

1)      CorrectDeck – the name suggests someone else did it wrong first (cough cough….Trex?) and on their website they claim, “enhanced anti-microbial protection that adds resistance to mold and mildew for ultra-low maintenance.” Well at least its not just low maintenance, it’s ultra-low. Can anyone define that?

2)      Ipe Wood – it comes from Brazil and is considered to be one of the tallest trees in the Amazon. How is it green? Ipe Wood is considered to be eco-friendly lumber because it is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and they monitor the process of how lumber is cultivated and harvested.

3)      TerraTec Natural from McFarland – using rice hulls and recycled plastic. According to this company, rice hulls are naturally resistant to mold, mildew and insects. Sounds great, but this company is in Washington state and won’t ship a sample to South Carolina. Besides, I haven’t seen this product available at our local stores. I’d like to stay local.

4)      Concrete – According to the Cement Association website on LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, concrete is very green. The five ways that concrete is green include: 1) creates sustainable sites, 2) enhances energy performance, 3) contains recycled materials, 4) manufactured locally, and 5) builds durable structures. Also, it is ultra-low-maintenance!

5)   Cascade Replast – Permadeck – Product boats maximum durability, no painting, and no staining. The Canadian website claims it is made from 100% plastic and the New Zealand website claims it is made from both plastic and wood fibers. Which is right? I don’t know! Again, it says that it is relatively maintenance-free that it requires regular cleaning with household cleaners. Regarding mold, the NZ website says, “PERMADECK™ is generally quite resistant to mould, however if it doesn’t have sufficient ventilation or there are areas where pollen can collect and doesn’t get exposure to sun, mould may appear. Mould and mildew may grow on the deck in some circumstances, especially in damp shaded areas, or if it ‘sweats’ under the plastic cover (especially in rain) before installation. Failure to keep packs dry in storage can lead to the growth of mould spores on boards. Clean as per directions under ‘Care and maintenance’.”

So far, we’ve decided to go with concrete for the sustainable reasons, the maintenance reasons and the cost reasons! Just like most people, I am not a fan of cleaning. Less is better for me, so if all I have to do is sweep and/or pressure wash, concrete is the winner for us.

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