House renovations can and should be exciting. Unfortunately, they are typically associated with higher-than-normal household stress levels, likely because of the high cost. This is also true for picking out the right deck. There are so many options, but do you need the best one for the sun?
Composite decking generally gets hotter than standard decking in the sun and is subject to thermal expansion. This is because most composite decking contains natural fibers, like sawdust. The two best options are Fortress’ Apex and Deckorators’ Mineral-Based Decking.
After shopping around and considering the various pros and cons, you have settled on buying composite decking. But you have heard the horror stories and know the deck always loses in the battle with the sun. So let’s look at some of the popular decking options and if they are right for you.
Characteristics Of Good Composite Decking Vs. The Sun
Despite all of our efforts, the sun will eventually degrade just about everything constantly exposed to it.
That being said, the best composite decking will, at the very least, have some increased defenses against the sun’s decay. Here are four factors that define a good deck for direct sunlight.
The Capping Should Be Resistant To Fading
One of the most significant drawbacks of traditional wood is that it is prone to fade quickly over time. Unfortunately, the only way to mitigate this is with continuous treatment and maintenance.
One of the biggest benefits that composite offers is that it requires very little maintenance. However, if the deck’s color fades quickly, that is of little importance. In 10 years, you may have a deck that never required maintenance, but what’s the point if the deck is so ugly that you hate it?
Many of the higher-end composite manufacturers will surround the boards’ core in a “capping.” This capping is multipurpose. The obvious purpose is to provide the finished look and feel of the boards.
If the capping is of low quality, the deck will fade quicker.
TimberTech’s AZEK is well known to have a high-quality capping resistant to fading. Trex is another company that prides itself on being fade-resistant.
Although there will be some fading in the first few weeks, it should stop. Trex has you covered with a 25-year warranty that covers fading if it doesn’t.
Two other options that also come with 25-year fade warranties are Resysta and Deckorators.
However, the potential king of fade resistance (or at least the king of fade warranties) is Fortress’ Apex, which comes with a 50-year fade warranty. Apex, Resysta, and Deckorators all use interesting manufacturing processes that we will look at.
The Decking Should Be Resistant To Heat Absorption
One area where traditional wood tends to win and lose the fight is heat absorption. The reason is that wood absorbs heat a lot slower than composites, but it also retains the heat longer.
The issue with heat absorption is that certain decks can get so hot that they aren’t all that pleasant to walk on for the people or their pets. In fact, there have been studies that showed composite decks reaching temperatures 76 degrees F hotter than the ambient temperature.
A good composite and/or capping should be able to at least ward off enough heat so that you can still comfortably walk on the deck on a hot summer’s day.
One manufacturer that has made heat absorption a goal is MoistureShield, which has developed “CoolDeck” technology. They claim it absorbs 35% less heat than the competing options. This CoolDeck technology is a unique capping material that is more resistant to heat absorption.
TimberTech’s Azek, Deckorators, and Fortress’ Apex are also promised to be a few degrees cooler.
Resysta: A Natural Heat Resistance?
Another attractive option in this area is Resysta composite decking. Unlike standard composites made from plastics mixed with organic material like sawdust, Resysta composites are made from rice husks or hulls.
It’s a fascinating concept, especially from a sustainability standpoint. Rice hulls are a waste byproduct of the rice farming industry, burnt every year. However, crushing it into a paste becomes the raw material from which many products can be made, from plates to decking.
The most significant benefit of the material is that rice hulls have one job: protecting the rice grain against the elements. Crush those hulls together, and you are left with a composite material that is naturally more resistant to heat and water.
In fact, it may be the closest competitor to natural wood when it comes to heat absorption.
The Decking Should Be Resistant To Decay
Continuous exposure to direct UV radiation will make your deck look pale; it can also lead to structural decay and degradation. For example, think of an untreated wooden deck that cracks and splinters.
Companies have tried several different approaches to combat this decay. As you can probably guess, some work better than others.
MoistureShield, for example, uses a resistant coating that is applied to the boards after the fact. It is a simple solution, but unfortunately, like a wooden deck, it requires continuous recoating during the deck’s lifetime. However, for some, that may defeat the purpose of a composite deck.
The Apex composite deck is capped with a unique acrylic cap that is highly effective at resisting degradation by blocking out many UV rays. Apex decking is also a PVC-based product that is naturally more resistant to degradation.
Resysta claims that their rice hull decking is equally resistant to degradation. Still, at the same time, they pride themselves on using a 100% degradable product, which offers a fair contradiction.
TimberTech, on the other hand, adds a chemical compound to the manufacturing process that is supposed to alter the material in a way that makes the entire board resistant to UV degradation. A pretty thorough solution, to be sure.
Like the Apex, Deckorators offers a 50-year degradation warranty on their Voyage, mineral-based composite decking, which probably says enough about their trust in the product.
The Deck Should Not Warp
Perhaps one of the biggest downsides of general composite decking options is their ability to warp into strange shapes with thermal expansion.
As the material absorbs heat, it expands, and during this expansion, it can change shape. And, just like a clock that has struck 12, when the deck cools down, the new forms stay.
I’ve seen some terrible pictures of people’s beloved decks warping in all manner of weird ways.
Despite doing well on some of the other tests, TimberTech’s Azek has been known to fail often in the arena of thermal expansion.
Unfortunately, in most cases, this warping results from a poorly installed deck. Think back to middle school science; when you first learned about contraction and expansion, you should remember why rail tracks have gaps.
The small gaps between the rails allow for heat expansion. If those gaps weren’t there, the rails would kick up against one another and possibly cause damage to the track.
A deck is no different. If the decking is installed without the correct fittings or the needed expansion gaps, you could see a deck warp out of shape during hot days. This is why many manufacturers subject their warranty to installation by an approved contractor.
However, certain manufacturers have come up with better ways to limit thermal expansion. These include Resysta’s rice hull recipe, which doesn’t heat up as much and therefore doesn’t expand as much. Resysta also benefits from being virtually waterproof, so there isn’t any hydro expansion either.
The Fortress Apex’s Construction
We’ve mentioned the Apex several times, and it should be no surprise given its proven quality. The Apex isn’t just pretty on the outside, but it is also interesting on the inside.
While the PVC capping is durable and UV resistant, the core is made from foam. This foam practically retains no heat and makes the boards lighter than typical composite options.
The foam core is reinforced with bamboo to provide strength and rigidity. This combination is renowned for being less likely to expand and contract. Fortress claims that the Apex expands 25% less than other PVC decking options.
The Deckorators’ Mineral Based Composite Decking
One of the newer advances in the composite decking market is Deckorators’ mineral-based composite (MBC) decking.
Unlike most other composite options, including even the Apex, MBC decking is 100% synthetic. It doesn’t contain any natural or organic material. Instead, it is made from minerals and polymers, including calcium carbonate and polypropylene.
Once they have mixed up the raw compound, it takes an innovative turn. The raw compounded is squeezed and stretched through a series of dies, not unlike stretching hard candy.
During this stretching phase, the compound takes on a fiber-like form, and the air is trapped in between the fibers, known as cavitation.
You are left with a material that resembles natural wood in all the right ways while resolving most weaknesses.
MBC has the same strength to weight ratio as wood, meaning that it is very strong and light. It also handles and cuts a lot like wood and even has a type of “wood grain.”
Most importantly, it is currently the reigning king of thermal expansion because thermal expansion is almost absent. Top that off with the fact the synthetic makeup means that hydro expansion is also virtually absent, and it’s hard not to get excited about MBC decking.
Choosing The Deck Champion
It is helpful to break the playing field into categories to find a winner. It promotes strengths and exposes some critical weaknesses.
While options like the Azek thrive on the playing field of fade resistance, they fall short of preventing thermal expansion and contraction.
Resysta’s rice hull seems a great option. It performs above average in most areas relating to sunlight, except, perhaps, for long-term decay.
Deckorators and Fortress’ Apex have gone toe to toe every round. The Apex leads the industry in fade prevention, and Deckorators’ MBC is a complete breakthrough in preventing thermal expansion.
Perhaps, to choose a winner between the two, we need to go beyond the scope of sunlight and introduce an additional element: water.
In theory, if we subject both to water, the MBC option will come out on top, thanks to the 100% synthetic design. In fact, Deckorators even extend their warranty to decks installed in contact with water.
However, the Apex’s capping is highly slip-resistant, an area where Resysta completely misses the mark with its slippery rice hull design.
What About Traditional Wood?
Going into the composite decking market, you should prepare yourself to see prices that are often considerably higher than usual or traditional wood options. This begs the question of whether you shouldn’t consider traditional wood as the best option.
My answer to that would be, “maybe.” You should accept that a wood deck doesn’t come with a 50-year warranty but rather a 50-year responsibility to maintain and care for it. If you are happy with that arrangement, it may be the perfect deck for you.
My father is a retired forester, and my father-in-law was a carpenter. So, needless to say, I get nostalgic about wood. And wood decks have a lot going for them; just approach the commitment with a sober mind.
If you are looking for a lower maintenance options, then natural wood isn’t the way to go. However, if you don’t mind the effort, a wood deck may even be a better option. Do some research and make sure to pick the species of timber that is best suited for your climate.
The composite decking market is swiftly expanding. Many of the original challenges and drawbacks are mitigated through creative and innovative designs. Most of these drawbacks are related to decks exposed to continuous sunlight. Composite decks tend to absorb more heat which makes them hotter and causes warping.
They also tend to fade and degrade over time. Therefore, the best composite decking option should be the one that deals with all the challenges of direct sunlight as best as possible. This leaves two clear winners, Fortress’ Apex decking and Deckorators’ innovative Mineral-Based Composite decking.