You might be able to get away with using composite decking products on small residential decks. But when it comes to large-scale areas open to the public, you really don’t want to risk it. In addition to the 6 reasons we already looked at in Part 1 and Part 2, we have some words for the wise if you’re a city planner or in some other capacity making decisions regarding the selection of building materials for boardwalks.
Reason 7: Easily Scratched Surface
The inferior hardness that we discussed in Part 1 translates into another problem with composite decking: its surface is easily scratched. This is really significant when you consider the fact that one of the reasons some people prefer composite decking is based on appearance. Remember that the most commonly used plastic is polyethylene, an extremely weak plastic. No matter what kind of plastic is used, however, the outer shell of composite decking is thin and easily scratched. And when it’s scratched, it exposes that inner wood flour core to water and mold — which is a major issue, as we discussed in Part 2. In fact, many composite decking manufacturers warn against using a metal snow shovel to clear the deck for this very reason.
Reason 8: Lack of Fire Safety
You’re probably thinking that wood isn’t very fire safe either, right? Well, the #1 tropical decking species, Ipe, actually has a class A fire rating. By contrast, composite decking responds quite disturbingly to fire. Since it’s made of plastic, it can actually melt. And as it does so, it releases toxic gases. Now think of all the potential fire hazards to which a public boardwalk is exposed: cigarettes, grills, deep fryers, and more. Not only could such a situation pose a threat to those in the vicinity, but think of every board that will need to be replaced. Unlike wood, it’s not biodegradable. Which leads us to our next reason for preferring tropical decking over the composite stuff.
Reason 9: Lack of Biodegradability & Renewability
One of the main reasons composite decking has been growing in popularity is because environmental groups tout it as a “green” product. Despite that fact, when it’s torn up or damaged, it will inevitably wind up in a landfill or in the ocean, where it will stay for thousands of years. By contrast, even extremely strong, hard tropical hardwoods such as Ipe will completely degrade in a landfill or in the ocean in about a decade. Lumber is environmentally friendly.
Not only is composite decking non-biodegradable, but it’s also non-renewable. As petroleum products, composite decking manufacturers rely on one of the most environmentally unfriendly industries in the world. In fact, composite decking actually got its start as a response to mandates that the oil companies find uses for their byproducts. While their waste is being put to use, the industry that produces it is causing plenty of harm. So yes, they’re using recycled products, but the whole system still lacks the renewable quality of natural products such as good, old-fashioned, natural wood.
Read the Series
• Composite Decking or Tropical Decking: Which Is Best for Boardwalks? Part 1
• Composite Decking or Tropical Decking: Which Is Best for Boardwalks? Part 2
• Composite Decking or Tropical Decking: Which Is Best for Boardwalks? Part 3
J. Gibson McIlvain Company
Since 1798, when Hugh McIlvain established a lumber business near Philadelphia, the McIlvain family has been immersed in the premium import and domestic lumber industry. With its headquarters located just outside of Baltimore, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company (www.mcilvain.com) is one of the largest U.S. importers of exotic woods.
As an active supporter of sustainable lumber practices, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company has provided fine lumber for notable projects throughout the world, including the White House, Capitol building, Supreme Court, and the Smithsonian museums.
For more information on J. Gibson McIlvain’s lumber products and services, call Monday-Friday toll free (800) 638-9100 to speak with one of their representatives.
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