The Deck Handbook: Part 7 Composite Decking Reviews
This part of our series on composite decking reports the results of our reviews of nine manufacturers of some of the most popular composite decking sold in the U.S. and Canada. There are over 60 domestic manufacturers of composite and PVC decking and a dozen or so Asian manufacturers that export to North America. We don't even try to keep track of them all.
The reviews assume that you have read all of the parts of this series that precede this part and understand the terminology and basic processes of how composite decking is made. If terms like "capstock" and "extrusion" are not familiar ones, you would probably benefit from starting at the beginning.
Our Sources of Information
Our reviews are based on our hands-on experience with the product and tests and studies by organizations such as Consumer Reports® and other independent testing organizations, for example, Intertek Plastics Technology Laboratories, to help us decide how one composite decking material compares to another. By "independent", we mean organizations that do not manufacture, distribute or sell composite decking. While we take into account manufacturer-sponsored testing, we also take the results with a small grain of salt.
Consumer Reports® has been testing decking materials, including standard treated yellow pine, for several years for resistance to slipping, flexing, sagging, mildew, staining, and color fading and scored each product on a scale of 1 to 100. Treated pine rated 67, and only two composite products rated above 67, and the best of these, CorrectDeck, scoring 73, is out of business. Consumer Reports® also rated GeoDeck a "Best Buy" just a few months before it was recalled nationally as being completely unsafe. The organization also still scores CorrectDeck its highest-rated composite decking product although the company declared bankruptcy in 2009 and is out of business.
We have a few concerns about the design of the Consumer Reports® tests. First, we think the most important factor, ease of maintenance, was wholly ignored. Possibly, it is too complicated and multi-faceted to test easily but the effort should have been made. Second, and possibly more important, Consumer Reports® did not test for heat retention. If heat retention had been considered, we suspect almost all of the composite materials would have rated lower because almost all composite materials retain a lot of heat, much more than wood.
We also rely on documentation provided by manufacturers themselves for information about the composition and manufacture of the product, and the company's actual level of confidence in its decking. These include the company's warranty, the material safety data sheet for the product, and the product's certification report.
Companies that don't manufacture composite decking have also conducted tests of the materials. Sherwin-Williams, the paint and coatings company, tested samples of composite decking over three years by exposing them to actual weather conditions to see how the color of the decking held up. The results of the study were not widely reported but showed convincingly that every composite material in the test lost color by the third year of exposure.
What the Report Contains
The information in the report for each company is somewhat compressed to save space and cut reading time but here is what each report contains.
Certification: The name of the certification report for the material, and a link to the report. The certification report will tell you, among other things, the conditions and limitations imposed on the material by the engineers that certify it as safe for use. These may include a maximum joist spacing limitation and attachment restrictions.
Manufacturer: The name, address and other contact information for the manufacturer of the decking. Clicking on the manufacturer name will take you to the product website.
Attachment: How the decking can be attached to the deck framework: surface or concealed attachment, or both, and whether the decking can only be installed with its manufacturer's proprietary fasteners.
Composition: What the composite is made of and how it is made. Most decking is made through an extrusion process in which semi-liquid material is forced through a die which gives the decking its shape but some decking is made using other manufacturing methods. This column will also contain a link to the manufacturer's Material Safety Data Sheet if one is provided online. The MSDS is required of all products that contain potentially hazardous materials — as all composite decks do. So, all decking manufacturers are required to provide an MSDS for each type of composite deck they manufacture. Some manufacturers, however, do not provide a copy of their MSDS documents online.
Cost Factor: Our calculation of the cost factor for the decking. The cost factor is simply the difference between the average retail cost (street price) between a composite decking material and a standard treated and sealed pine deck, based on 100 square feet of decking. To compare apples to apples, the cost of sealing a pine deck with an appropriate 5-year sealant is included in its price. We score a treated wood deck as 1. A number above 1 indicates a costlier material. For example, a factor of 2.6 indicates that the material is 2.6 times more costly than sealed, treated pine. We have yet to find a composite material that costs less than sealed treated pine, so there are no minus numbers in the ratings.
Warranty: A summary of the product's warranty and a link to the actual warranty document. This summary is often supplemented and expanded in the report text.
ChoiceDek® • MoistureShield®
914 N. Jefferson
Springdale, AR 72764
Surface attachment only.
Surface or proprietary hidden fasteners.
ChoiceDek®, MoistureShield®, and LifeCycle are manufactured by Advanced Environmental Recycling Technologies, Inc. (A.E.R.T.). All are the same product, made by the same processes, using the same materials.
ChoiceDek is sold exclusively through Lowes stores, and MoistureShield is sold by everybody else in North America. LifeCycle is the name given to MoistureShield that is sold outside of the U.S. and Canada.
The basic decking is a no-frills composite deck board, composed of 49-52% red oak fiber, 45-48% recycled polyethylene plastic — the stuff found in plastic grocery bags and milk jugs — additives and pigments. A.E.R.T. claims that the product is composed of 95% recycled materials, a claim that has been verified by the International Code Council Evaluation Service (ICC-ES).
The company has mastered using relatively inexpensive materials in composite decking to keeps its costs low. It gets its plastic from recycled goods rather than virgin plastic, and over the years it has learned how to convert ever-lower grades of polyethylene into usable plastic for deck manufacturing. A.E.R.T. uses relatively large flakes of wood rather than finely ground wood flour, which is more expensive. It uses a patented manufacturing process that the company calls "total encapsulation". The trade-off, however, is that its boards are more granular and coarser looking than is typical due to the larger wood particles in its composition.
The company claims that its manufacturing process is unique. It states:
"[O]ur products are manufactured under several unique patents wherein the wood fibers are aligned and encapsulated in plastic. The plastic surrounds and bonds to the wood fibers, making them moisture resistant. The wood fibers reinforce the plastic, making it stiffer and greatly reducing its thermal movement. Our decking planks are extruded and allowed to cool slowly, which means the boards will not twist or warp."
The company produces three grades of decking:
MoistureShield Essentials is its economy product, renamed ChoiceDek for sale in Lowes stores.
MoistureShield Vantage is its premium non-capped deck board.
MoistureShield PRO is a capstock board introduced in January 2015, which is essentially MoistureShield Vantage capped with a polyethylene plastic wrapper. Polyethylene is a relatively soft plastic that does not have the wear or scratch resistance of other plastics used as caps such as PVC.
Form & Shape
All three MoistureShield boards are flat with wood grain embossed on both sides. We think the wood grain looks fake and contributes to excessive accumulation of dirt and surface wear. The Vantage Collection features a wider 6" plank that makes the material a little stiffer. Neither, however, is particularly stiff.
ChoiceDek, manufactured for Lowes, is profiled to save material, reduce weight, and allow air circulation between the deck boards and framing. The benefit of increased air circulation is not identified.
Installation instructions state that the larger Vantage boards can be installed on joists spaced 16" apart for boards install perpendicular to the joists. However, the Canadian Construction Materials Centre (CMCC), which certifies building products for use in Canada, requires all MoistureShield boards to be installed on joists spaced no more than 300 mm (12 inches) inches center to center, and most installers use a 12" joist spacing to provide a level of rigidity that feels more like real wood.
A.E.R.T. claims to have never had a reported material failure "in the field" due to "product delamination, decay or rot". There is no question that the decking has a much better history of reliability than other composite decking products. So far as we can determine, it has never been sued for defects in its decking, while companies like Trex have been sued several times.
Colors & Color Retention
ChoiceDek, the Lowes proprietary brand equivalent to MoistureShield Essentials, is available in three colors: brown, redwood, and gray. MoistureShield is available in three standard colors, walnut, tigerwood, and desert sand, and 5 more "premium" colors. MoistureSheield PRO, the company's new capstock board, is available in three colors and comes with a 25-year warranty against fading or staining.
Consumer Reports® found that the uncapped products' resistance to color fading was "very good". On the other hand, in the color retention tests by Sherwin-Williams, ChoiceDek's uncapped products showed significant color fading all the way to a dingy gray just three years after installation. This test did not include MoistureShield PRO.
Mold & Mildew Resistance
Mold and mildew are a frequent problem with non-capstock composite deck boards (More information here.), and the uncapped A.E.R.T. products are no exception.
A.E.R.T. products seem to have serious problems with mold and mildew build-up over time. Consumer Reports® rates the mold resistance of MoistureShield as only "fair", and ChoiceDek as "poor". The difference is puzzling since the two brands are actually the same product. ChoiceDek along with Trex was also one of the worst performers in the Sherwin-Williams exposure test (see image above) of composite deck materials. We scoured the A.E.R.T. website and the websites for both ChoiceDek and MoistureShield to see what changes have been incorporated into the product to reduce mold and mildew but found none mentioned. The company does not guarantee freedom from mold or mildew, and, in fact, states:
"Since mold and mildew are naturally occurring in the environment, we cannot guarantee they will not grow on your deck".
Even the new capstock board, MoistureShield PRO, is not guaranteed free of the problem. In fact, the stain and fade warranty specifically excludes mold and mildew staining from coverage.
The remedy the company suggests is "periodic cleaning" with a mold-killing cleaner. What "periodic" means in this context is not defined but experienced installers suggest that a thorough cleaning at least once each year is required, and in very humid climates, as often as every 90 days.
Proprietary Hidden Fasteners
Only A.E.R.T.'s proprietary hidden fasteners have been certified by A.E.R.T. for use with its products, and the use of any other hidden fastener may void the A.E.R.T. warranty. Not surprisingly, A.E.R.T. proprietary fasteners are quite a bit more expensive than generic hidden fasteners.
The company characterizes its product warranties as "industry-leading". Actually, they are somewhat below average and do not stand out in any way except the registration requirement. A.E.R.T. requires warranties to be registered within 90 days of installation — a little trap for the unwary since you will not find out about the requirement unless you actually read the warranty, and who does that? Without this registration, the company says it will not honor the warranty. Both warranties promise only to replace defective materials. The labor to remove the defective materials and install new materials — by far the lion's share of the total cost — comes out of your wallet. The warranties specifically exclude color changes and fading, staining on uncapped products, and mold and mildew accumulation on all products.
EverGrain® • EverGrain Evision™
220 West 4th St.
P.O. Box 1404
Joplin, MO 64802
Tamko uses a compression molding process to make its capstock deck rather than the more common hot extrusion process. The company claims that it results in a stronger and better-bonded board, with rich detailing and better color retention. Certainly, EverGrain's wood-grain surface pattern is about the deepest in the industry, an effect not available from extrusion with current technology. Compression molding is, however, more expensive because it is considerably slower than extrusion.
As for the rest of the claim: the boards are springy, and while Tamko claims its 2"x6" boards can be set on a 24" center-to-center joist structure, in making that claim it is ignoring the test results of the product's CCRR report (see above) that mandates a span not greater than 17" on center for safety. The 1" x 6" boards require joists 12" on center to give the deck the rigidity of real wood.
We know from experience that the product will fade. Darker colors fade more aggressively. However, the capstock boards hold at least some color for many years. Tamko admits that the product will fade in the first few months after installation, and offers no warranty against staining or fading.
The product's capstock is not a full wrap. It is a 3/4 wrap. The sides and top are wrapped but most of the bottom of each board is exposed. So are the ends of the boards. This means that water can get in the ends and swell the wood-based inner core which may cause what is called a flare, and once flared, the boards do not un-flare. The only cure is replacement.
EverGrain has had deterioration problems with its boards made prior to 2008. The capstock shell granulates, crumbles, splits and just falls apart after a few years. The problem seems to have started in 2004 and was still a problem as late as products installed in 2007. The company says it now has the issue under control but only time will tell.
A number of customers have reported long delays in getting warranty claims processed by Tamko — up to six months. But, is not possible to determine how much of that delay was the customer's responsibility rather than the company's.
Mold & Mildew
No especially serious or widespread mold or mildew problems have been reported. Tamko recommends a periodic washing to reduce mold and mildew buildup.
All composite decking warranties make some attempt (mostly ineffective) to restrict a consumer's rights under state warranty law but Tamko goes completely overboard. In fact, when we first read the warranty, we thought it was a spoof — someone's idea of a joke. Turns out that it really is Tamko's warranty.
The Tamko warranty tries to create its own private statute of limitations, restricting the buyer's right to bring a lawsuit against the company to one year — most states allow three to five years. It also seeks to impose arbitration rather than litigation as the means of settling disputes and tries to prohibit customers from joining any class-action lawsuit against the company. The warranty even tries to prohibit anyone from reproducing or copying the warranty document "in any manner". So, if you download the warranty here or any place else on the internet, you are actually violating the terms of the warranty by "reproducing" it on your computer.
We feel that any company that believes that it has to go to such extreme lengths to protect itself against consumer claims has almost no confidence in the long-term durability of its decking. You, as a potential buyer of the product, should keep that in mind.
8 Morin Street
Biddeford, ME 04005
Sawdust composes 0 to 70% of the decking by weight, p[olypropylene 25-50% and other materials 10-35%.
DuraLife started in 1999 as CorrectDeck manufactured by Correct Building Products. The company, founded by extrusion industry veterans Jim Poulin and Martin Grohman. It was a well-regarded product with a vocal deck-installer fan club. The company was considered an innovator in the field, creating the first co-extruded capstock composite board: CorrectDeck CX. The product was rated a best buy by Consumer Reports® based on its excellent resistance to staining, mildew, and sagging; and its exceptional color retention.
Having a good product, however, is no guarantee of success. Shortly after the Consumer Reports recommendation, Correct Building Products, severely hit by the housing recession and facing a possible class-action lawsuit for mold problems with its non-capstock decking, declared bankruptcy. Its assets were sold to GAF Building Materials and the company ceased to operate. GAF renamed both products. CorrectDeck CX became DuraLife Siesta.
Then, in October 2011, the ink on the new name barely having dried, GAF abruptly decided to exit the composite decking industry. GAF sold DuraLife back to the original owners, now doing business as Integrity Composites, LLC.
Colors & Color Retention
CorrectDeck offered co-extruded capstock composite deck boards in seven solid colors. In its new incarnation, the original seven colors are once again available in the company's premium Siesta line, supplemented by four premium variegated wood-tone colors designed to simulate walnut, teak, and cherry, along with a tonal gray that looks like badly weathered pine. Why anyone would want a composite deck designed to look like badly weathered pine, we don't know. Chacun a son gout. A starter line called MVP is available in just three of the seven basic colors. The company's warranty guarantees against fading, and color changes of greater than 5 Delta E, which is a barely perceptible color change but warns that the boards may fade unevenly depending on the amount of exposure to the sun.
The company manufactures deck boards in two profiles: a rectangular board with flat edges and a board with grooved edges intended for installation with the company's proprietary Fastenator® hidden fastener system. The MVP has a different profile with a corrugated bottom, intended to reduce weight with little sacrifice in rigidity.
Mold & Mildew
The old CorrectDeck, before the capstock was added to make CorrectDeck CX, had many problems with excessive mold, fading, and discoloration. Correct Building Products narrowly avoided a class-action lawsuit similar to those against other composite makers only because it declared bankruptcy first. The new capstock product, CorrectDeck CX, now DuraLife Siesta, does not appear to have these problems to any significant degree. But, it has had problems with capstock delamination in which the plastic covering cracks and exposes the wood composite underneath.
Horizon® • Veranda® • ProTect™ • Sanctuary® • Good Life™
181 Random Drive
New London, NC 28127
Fiberon, LLC (formerly Fiber Composites, Inc.) is a privately owned company manufacturing composite decking, railing, and fencing. All of its products are capstock boards: a full capstock board and a 3/4 capstock boards. They are sold under several trade names as Fiberon products and as private brands sold by Home Depot. At one time they were also sold by CertainTeed but that relationship has ended.
Fiberon makes several styles of composite decking:
- Horizon® is its flagship "outdoor flooring" product. It is a fully capped reversible WPC deck board with muted woodgrain lightly embossed on both sides and tonal coloring with slight color variations to more closely resemble the look of actual stained hardwood. A slightly different pattern is impressed on each side of the board to increase the variations in the look of the boards. The embossing gives the boards slight shadowing and is subtle enough to be fairly convincing, unlike the overblown grain of most composite deck boards. The color tones are intended to simulate three hardwoods — Ipe, Rosewood, Tudor Brown (a medium walnut) — and two shades of weathered wood — Castle Gray and Graystone. Graystone has a slight tan undercast, while Castle Gray is just gray with the convincing worn and weathered look of deck wood right before it gets dumped in the landfill.
- ProTect Advantage is a mid-priced capstock decking with a 3/4 capstock. The top and sides are wrapped in a protective plastic shell but the bottom and ends are unprotected. Substantially the same product with a different profile (the bottom is corrugated with five arches) is sold "exclusively" by Home Depot as the Veranda® ArmorGuard™. The shell is highly embossed in a woodgrain pattern. It is intended to provide a slip-resistant, wear surface. Three colors are available: Chestnut (a medium brown), Gray Birch, and Western Cedar. Like the coloring in Horizon boards, the decking contains slight tonal variations to better imitate the look of stained wood.
- Sancturary® is also a mid-priced 3/4 capstock intend to provide a highly slip-resistant surface. Its plastic shell is more emphatically embossed to resemble the look of rough-sawn boards and provide improved traction. Produced in three colors: Earl Gray (a medium gray), Espresso (a dark brown), and Latte (a medium brown). All feature tonal variations to more closely resemble actual stained wood. It is available only in Canada and four states as of this update: Canada, Washington, Montana, and North and South Dakota.
- Good Life™ is Fiberon's bargain composite. It does not have the tonal color variation of the pricier models, and its embossed graining is less convincing but it does feature a 3/4 capstock that the company claims is slip-, stain- and fade-resistant. It is made with a bottom that is corrugated with two arches to save material and reduce weight while retaining rigidity.
All of Fiberon's decking boards are made in two profiles: a solid plank for surface mounting and stair treads, and with a side groove for use with hidden fasteners. The boards are typically 5.4" wide and just under 1" thick. Most are flat on both top and bottom, while the Good Life boards have a double arch profile on the bottom and Veranda ArmorGuard™ has five arches. The arches are intended to reduce the cost and weight of the board by using slightly less material without significantly affecting the board's strength or rigidity, and, in the case of ArmorGuard, to visually distinguish the Home Depot store brand from its Fiberon sibling, ProTect.
Fiberon describes its composite decking as "ultra-low care" due to its patent-pending proprietary "non-organic" (meaning "plastic") capstock wrapper which it calls Perma-Tech™. The wrapper includes Lumenite™ technology which, according to the company, keeps the deck cooler, sheds dirt more easily and does not provide a hospitable environment for mold and mildew. Its care and maintenance instructions do not reflect the "ultra-low care" claim, however. They specify substantially the same level of periodic maintenance as any other composite deck and include the same precautions against things that can stain composite decking, such as tannic acid. The most amusing part of the instruction was the recommendation that the deck be kept "always clean and dry". We don't know how to keep a deck, or any outdoor structure, "always dry". unless it happens to be located in Death Valley — and even that's not for certain.
Problems and lawsuits:
The company formerly made several varieties of non-capstock composite decking including Fiberon Classic™, Fiberon® M Pro Series, Fiberon® Tropics, and Portico® all of which appear to have been discontinued. Louisiana Pacific used to manufacture Home Depot's proprietary Veranda® decking. When Fiberon bought LP, it took over this production, manufacturing Home Depot's non-capstock economy board called Veranda TD, which looks a lot like the old Louisiana Pacific's Veranda® board, although Fiberon technical support says it's not. This board had a lot of structural problems in 2006-2007 which led to its recall. Fiberon also manufactured decking products for CertainTeed, including the EverNew® 20 and EverNew® PT lines.
All of these products have been discontinued. Fiberon, then organized as Fiber Composites, L.L.C., was sued in a class action (Fleisher v. Fiber Composites, LLC) for staining and mold build-up in its non-capstock products. The suit claimed that the decking contains a defect that causes "extensive mold, mildew and other fungal growth" that manifests itself as a uniform spotty discoloring across the entire deck, and that Fiberon failed to honor its warranty.
Although Fiberon denied the allegations, calling them "completely false" and stating that the mold and mildew are caused by improper homeowner maintenance, it nonetheless agreed to a settlement in which it paid compensation to owners of its products sold under various brands. The number of customers involved has been estimated at $150-200,000. A final settlement order was entered on March 5, 2014. In response, Fiberon has stopped making non-capstock decking. CertainTeed has gotten completely out of the composite decking business (although it still sells a composite railing system), and Home Depot no longer sells non-capstock Veranda TD.
Fiberon offers a 25-year warranty on its capstock products. It offers a separate fading and stain guarantee on its capstock and partial capstock boards. Both warranties are prorated declining to just 10% of the cost of replacing defective materials after 20 years and actually offer very limited protection, although you may have to read the warranty carefully to find this out. Actual coverage is buried under an avalanche of restrictions, limitations, and disclaimers.
The warranty seeks to force anyone making a claim against Fiberon into either small claims court, where the recovery is severely limited, or into binding arbitration. It also tries to prohibit buyers from participating in any class-action lawsuit against the company. For a manufacturer that expresses a lot of confidence in its products, these restrictions suggest that the company might not be as sure of its products as it may appear in its advertising and promotional materials.
Tests of the decking material by Intertek Plastics Technology Laboratories in 2008 using accelerated weather testing intended to simulate 2000 hours of outdoor sun (about 4 months) resulted in fading of Horizon decking of about 9 Delta E. If you don't know what a Delta E is, don't worry, we didn't either until the term appeared in this test. But, in substance, a Delta E Unit is a measure of overall change in the color of a material. Most people cannot see a color shift of 3 Delta E or less, and a 5 Delta E shift is still very subtle. A 9 Delta E color shift is, however, probably going to be noticed.
Staining and Fading Warranty
The Fiberon warranty against staining offered on its capstock product lines specifically excludes rust. The company warrants against fading of more than "5 Delta E… units". By comparison, the fading standard for vinyl siding is 4 Delta E, a barely perceptible color shift, so 5 Delta E is still a little more color change than we like to see. But, it's a start and Kudos to Fiberon for providing even a limited fade guarantee. Of course, collecting under the warranty could be a problem. You are almost going to have to rely on the company's test unless you are willing to spring for the not inconsiderable cost of a test by an independent laboratory. We'll have to see how that works out. If you have made a warranty claim for color fading, please tell us about your experience or leave a comment below.
1518 S. Broadway
Green Bay, WI 54304
GeoDeck claims to be the "best overall composite decking solution in the industry."
How confident it is of this claim is suspect, however. Its 20-year limited warranty is one of the shortest in the business for a premium composite decking and offers no guarantee against staining, color fading, or mold. The warranty suggests strongly that the company does not actually have as much faith in the superiority of its product as it claims.
GeoDeck's patented composite decking formula reportedly contains no wood. The filler, according to the company website, is rice hulls which do not absorb water, and recycled waste paper (which does). However, the company's Material Safety Data Sheet lists merely "cellulose fiber" as the filler material and component proportions are not disclosed. In third-party comparison tests sponsored by Geodeck, its decking absorbed the least amount of water after 2,000 hours of submersion of all the major deck brands tested.
The cost of the material is kept competitive by making it hollow, which uses less material, and reduces weight, making it less likely to retain heat, and lighter and easier to work with but does not, according to company research, affect its strength or rigidity. This is born out by the Consumer Reports® tests that resulted in a rating of "very good" for resistance to sagging. GeoDeck claims that its boards are stiff enough to be installed on 24" on-center joists and still feel firm underfoot, not "springy" like some other decking material. The ESR prepared by ICC Evaluation service (see link above), requires joists to be spaced at 16" apart except for some heavy-duty commercial boards which can be spaced 24" apart.
The density of the material makes it very resistant to impact damage, such as dents.
Profile and Appearance
The decking comes in several profiles including a traditional rectangular board, a tongue and groove board, a heavy-duty board for commercial use, and the new DuxxBack profile that acts not only as decking but also a water-shedding roof to keep whatever is under the deck dry. (See GeoDeck boards being made here.)
Because the board is hollow, exposed end cuts have to be disguised with a special glue-on end cap or hidden under a trim board. We think the end cap looks a little cheesy, so we prefer to use trim boards. But, the fact that GeoDeck offers trim boards, is a big plus. Most composite decking manufacturers have not thought this far ahead nor analyzed the installation process as thoroughly.
The brushed finish on GeoDeck looks more like varnished wood than the fake woodgrain of other brands.
According to 2009 tests conducting by Intertek Plastics Technology Laboratories, GeoDeck experienced the least color fading during a test that simulated about 4 months of exposure to the sun. GeoDeck faded about 6 Delta E units or a barely perceptible color change. However, unlike Fiberon and Trex, GeoDeck does not warrant its products against fading or staining.
Defects and Lawsuits
GeoDeck owners disagreed and in 2007 brought a class-action lawsuit against Kadant, Inc. and LDI that resulted in a settlement in which the defendants agreed to pay some part of the cost of replacing defective GeoDeck boards or provide new boards at a discounted price, up to $5 million.
In 2009, LDI decided that GeoDeck "decking and railing lines were not meeting the expectations set forth by the Parent Company" and sold the product to Exteria, LLC which changed its name to Green Bay Decking, LLC, the current manufacturer of the line.
Mold & Mildew
No special problems were reported. Company literature states that "… [f]or the most part, algae and black mold sit on the surface and consume pollen without degrading the board. These types of stains can be removed by the use of a pressure washer, plastic bristled scrub brush, and cleaners designed to remove mold and mildew."
1302 Industrial Park Ave.
Torrington, WY 82240
Natures Composites is a composite fencing company that also makes composite decking. Its decking materials are very new. RRM Composites did not even file the trade name Natures Composites until April 2010. They are marketed as ecologically friendly because the manufacturer uses 60% wheat straw filler rather than wood powder, and a binder made mostly of high-density polyethylene recycled from milk jugs and plastic bags.
The material comes in two grades: TerraDeck Classic and TerraDeck Premium. As far as we can tell, the difference between the grades is only the shape of the boards. The premium boards are flat on top and bottom, so they are reversible and available with grooved edges (for hidden fasteners) or with flat edges (for surface fasteners). Three finishes are provided: Rosewood (a dark brown), Timber Brown (mahogany), and Charcoal Grey. The company has a fourth finish, Black, that it uses on fences but it does not appear to be available for decks.
The Classic boards are extruded with a scalloped bottom, so they are not reversible, and only with a grooved edge in the same three colors. The scalloping saves material without detracting from the rigidity of the boards.
Both are made from the same materials. They are marketed as ecologically friendly because the manufacturer uses 60% wheat straw filler rather than wood powder, and a binder made mostly of high-density polyethylene recycled from milk jugs and plastic bags.
The company claims that its decking is made of 94% either recycled or rapidly renewable materials. This has garnered the company a lot of attention in ecological circles, and a lot of friendly press. We applaud these efforts to be friendlier to the plant but it's not clear to us how using straw rather than wood by-products destined for the landfill necessarily makes the product any greener. We are obviously in the minority since TerraDeck has been listed by the Green Building Initiative and GreenSpec, and can be used to accrue LEED points.
At one time the company produced a capstock board called TerraDeck Ultimate. Essentially it was TerraDeck Premium with a co-extruded HDPE cap. It's not clear whether it is still made. It appears in the TerraDeck brochure but is no longer shown on the company website.
RRM Composites has a decent pedigree in the organic-based composites industry. It started as Heartland BioComposites, a company that produced composite lumber from 2006 until its doors closed in 2009. After that, its assets were purchased by a group of investors that included Heartland president Heath Van Eaton. The company was revived in 2010 with a new name in its original location in Torrington, Wyoming, and now produces decking.
We think the company's approach to synthetic decking is sound but only time will tell if it works. What we don't know at this point, because the products are so new, is how well they hold up. The decking has no track record to speak of.
Wheat Straw Filler:
The company does have some rather impressive data from the University of Wyoming that says wheat straw filler is marginally stronger and more resistant to impact damage than wood-flour composites but it is no more resistant to deflection caused by seasonal expansion and contraction, and like all composites, special installation measures are needed to control and disguise expansion and contraction.
Of considerably more interest to us is the use of the wheat straw filler to provide color to the material rather than adding pigments. This is indeed a novel idea. The decking is available in three colors. In color retention tests, TerraDeck showed fading of Delta E 11.54 compared to other (unidentified) wood plastic composite of Delta E 16-20. Delta E is a measure of fading. Fading of Delta E 3 or less cannot be seen by most people. Delta E 5 or greater is noticeable. However, this is an organic color, and in general organic colors tend to fade more than non-reactive chemical colorants.
Mold & Mildew
No extraordinary problems reported. The company warns that "mold and mildew are part of the environment and naturally occur." It suggests that mold and mildew can be "easily removed" from TerraDeck products using cleaners identified on its website that include chemicals that inhibit mold and mildew formation.
5215 Old Orchard Road
Skokie, IL 60077
Formerly owned by Crane Plastics of Columbus, OH, Timbertech was sold to CPG International Inc. in 2012. It also owns AZEK Building Products which manufactures cellular PVC trim and decking products. In 2018 the company changed its name to The AZEK Company LLC.
Product Lines and Profiles
Azek makes several lines of Timbertech composite decking.
- Legacy is its top of the line full capstock decking. The capstock is applied to all four sides. The edges are grooved to accept hidden fasteners or square for use with exposed screws. Seven colors are available: Sapele, Espresso, Whitewash Cedar, Ashwood, Mocha, Pecan, and Tigerwood. It comes with 30-year limited warranties against defects and fading. It is very pricey, roughly equal to a premium deck hardwood like Ipe.
- Tropical is similar to the Legacy line. It features embossed graining and streaked coloring to look more like tropical hardwood. Otherwise, it is of the same composition and has the same 30-year limited warranties against defects and fading. Timbertech prices it slightly lower than the Legacy collection. Its colors are Amazon Mist (gray), Caribbean Redwood (red-brown), Antique Palm (mahogany-ish), and Antigua Gold (yellow-brown).
- Terrain is a scalloped board — part of the underside is scooped out to save weight. The advantage of scalloping is that the board requires less material and weighs less but is still rigid. The disadvantage is that is it is not reversible. It is still a four-sided capstock — the cap extends right over the scalloping — and the 30-year limited warranties. Its colors are Brown Oak, Rustic Elm (dark brown), Sandy Birch (tan), Silver Maple (medium gray) and Stone Ash (light gray).
- TwinFinish is a non-capstock product — the wood-plastic composite that forms the core of the premium capstock boards is exposed in this board. It is intended for use where extra traction is needed to avoid slipping. One side of the board is deeply embossed with simulated wood grain, the other is serrated. Its edges are not grooved for use with hidden fasteners, although there are some after-market fasteners that could be used. It has the same Timbertech 30-year limited defect warranty as the pricier boards but is not protected against fading. Finishes available are Cedar and Gray.
- Reliaboard is TwinFinish with a simulated wood grain top and a scalloped bottom, the same two finishes, and the same warranty.
- Docksider is Tembertech's commercial product, thicker than its other boards and specially formulated to stand up to exposure the water and harsh elements. It is available in the two basic colors, Cedar and Gray, and has the same 30-year limited defect warranty but no fading warranty.
TimberTech warrants its top-of-the-line Legacy, Tropical, and Terrain capstock decking against color fading of more than 5 Delta E units. In tests conducted of decking products in 2009 by Intertek Plastics Technology Laboratories, Earthwood Evolutions, the predecessor to Legacy, faded 7 Delta E units after a simulated four months of exposure. Fading of 3 Delta E units is undetectable by most people, and 5 Delta E units represent slight fading. The other Timbertech products are not warranted against fading, and you can expect the substantial fading that is typical of non-capstock WPC decking.
Mold and Mildew
Around 2012 Timbertech's non-capstock products were widely reported to have mold and mildew issues and to develop white spots. There have been no reports of this problem since the company changed ownership. TwinFinish, Reliaboard, and Docksider are, however, subject to embedded mold and mildew. Once established, the fungi are almost impossible to get rid of. The manufacturer does not offer any warranty against mold and mildew infestation of these products.
Timbertech's warranty is unusual in that it is transferable to subsequent owners of the deck. Most composite warranties protect only the original owner. It is, however, a prorated warranty in which protection declines as the deck grows older. TimberTech pays for 100% of the costs of the material need to repair defects to the decking for the first 10 years, then a progressively lower percentage, ending with 10% after 23 years.
The company will only provide the materials required for the repair. It will not pay for shipping the materials to your house or the labor needed to remove defective boards and replace them with new boards. These expenses are likely to far exceed the cost of the materials.
Specifically excluded from warranty coverage are mold, mildew, and staining, fading or color changes, and "normal weathering", whatever that is, any damage from the application of a "surface chemical" that is not recommended "in writing" by TimberTech.
Legacy, Tropical, and Terrain capstock boards are covered by a separate fading warranty. Timbertech will provide new boards if its capstock decking fades more than 5 Delta E units over the 30-year lifespan of the decking.
A Delta E Unit is a measure of overall change in the color of a material. Most people cannot see a color shift of 3 Delta E or less, and a 5 Delta E shift is still very slight. A 9 Delta E color shift or more, however, probably going to be noticed. Essentially, the warranty protects against any fading that you can notice, although you may see some slight fading.
It is important to note, however, that only fading is covered. Color changes are not covered, nor is staining.
160 Exeter Drive
Winchester, VA 22603-8605
Trex, founded in 1996 by former executives of Exon Corporation, is easily the 800-pound gorilla of the composite decking industry with a market share that is consistently over 80%. It was the original composite decking company and today is by far the largest company engaged exclusively in the manufacture of composite and PVC decking and related products.
Trex makes a product at every level of composite decking technology, from the entry-level Trex Accents to the cap-stock wrapped, premium Trex Transcend. Trex sells throughout the U.S. and most of the world. It is strong in small and medium-sized communities where its full line of products appeals to lumber store owners who like the idea of having a single-source supplier of every level of composite decking product.
Profiles & Attachment
All Trex products may be attached with surface or hidden fasteners. Its decking is made in solid, square edge planks for use with surface screws, and grooved planks for use with hidden fasteners. Trex makes a good, price-competitive hidden fastener system for use with its products, and there are several non-proprietary systems that work well.
Trex Transcend is a 3/4-wrap capstock product. The cap-stock is wrapped only into the top of the grooves of the grooved plank, leaving the bottom of the board uncapped. The 3/4 wrap, according to Trex, "allows the board to breath", and moisture to escape. Exactly where the moisture comes from that needs to escape, Trex does not say. In any event, with a board wrapped on all four sides such as those made by Timbertech, it's not easy for moisture to get in, so there is no reason for the board to "breath".
Transcend is available in ten wood-tone colors including gray, and its porch flooring board in two more. The false wood grain is deeply embossed and very similar to Tamko's EverGrain. We don't think either product looks very much like real wood, and the embossings are a dirt trap in both products.
Enhance is Trex's very new mid-line product. It is available in only two colors, a cedar-like brown and dark gray. Like Transcend, it is a 3/4 capstock product and is formed in solid and groove planks. The bottom of the board is not protected. Its capstock is not as thick, so its embossing is not as deep as that on the Transcend product.
Accents is the successor to Trex's original non-capstock WPC product. It now features simulated wood grain but other than that it's hard to see that it has improved much over 25 years. It seems to still have all the old problems. It is very susceptible to mold and mildew, and fades over time, eventually reaching a light gray color. The boards are a little more color-fast, these days, so fading takes longer but it will occur. Trex admits that fading will occur, and shows on its website the faded colors of its Accents products.
Trex warrants its top-of-the-line Transcend and mid-level Enhance products against color fading of more than 5 Delta E units. Fading of 3 Delta E units is undetectable by most people, and 5 Delta E units represent slight fading. Trex Accents is not warranted against fading, and you can expect the substantial fading that is typical of non-capstock WPC decking.
Trex does not make it easy to claim under its fade and stain warranty. First, you have to clean the deck yourself following a very strict regimen specified by Trex. If that fails, you have to have it professionally cleaned, again at your expense. If that fails, Trex will send you a new board but you have to pay freight to have the boards delivered to your house and the labor costs of having the stained boards removed and new boards installed. And, you should not expect the color of the new board to match the faded colors to the existing decking, so the new board will probably stand out more than the stain ever would.
Mold and Mildew
The original Trex WPC decking had a very bad reputation for mold and mildew build-up, which led to several lawsuits. Trex appears to be continuing the old tradition with its Accents product which seems to harbor mold at least as well as the original Trex.
The company's solution is to admit that the product will harbor mold and recommend frequent cleaning — so much for its "look of a wood deck without the maintenance of a wood deck" claim in its advertising. The Trex warranty expressly excludes any responsibility for mold or mildew.
All non-capstock composite decks are prone to warp and twist but Trex seems to be more prone than most. The warping and twisting can be so severe that it detaches the deck board from its fasteners. Trex has been so far reluctant to admit that its boards warp and twist that severely, claiming that such defects are the result of improper installation. But, on the boards we examined, the installation seemed to be more than adequate. It was the boards that had the problem.
Trex refers to its decking warranties as "industry-leading" offering "unmatched protection". The Trex 20- and 25-year structural warranties are not pro-rated, which is unusual in the industry but provide no more protection than the usual warranty. The warranties will replace defective decking materials but only the defective materials, even though the likelihood that the new materials will be the same color as the faded and worn defective materials is very small even after just a few months of exposure to the weather. Trex will not pay the labor to replace the materials, or the cost of freight to get the new materials to your driveway. How this is "industry-leading" escapes us.
Trex has a long way to go to overcome its very bad reputation for honoring warranty claims. Trex has reportedly failed to respond to claims, refused to honor valid claims, used a variety of technicalities to avoid paying claims, and imposed unusual requirements on claimants, including demanding that the customer sign a release of all future claims and a non-disclosure statement as conditions of honoring its warranty obligations.
Trex has been sued in class actions so many times that it is hard to keep track. The company appears to settle at least one nationwide class-action lawsuit every four to six years. It settled a suit by distributors claiming deceptive business practices in 2000. It then settled a lawsuit in 2004 for selling decking products that deteriorated (Kanefsky v. Trex Co., Inc.). Trex agreed to pay the full cost of replacement of the defective decking, including labor costs, and agreed further to stop falsely advertising its decking products as maintenance-free and never needing sealing.
In 2008 the company was sued again for surface deterioration in Ross v. Trex Co., Inc. This lawsuit was settled in 2010 and Trex again agreed to replace the product, and pay some labor costs. In 2013 it settled yet another class-action lawsuit for excessive mold, fading, and discoloration of its decking materials. Trex appears to have taken all of this litigation cost in stride, and repeated multi-million dollar settlements with unhappy customers do not appear to have slowed the growth of the company much at all.
The New Jersey appeals court in Kanefsky gave what should be a wake-up call to composite manufacturers when it found that the Trex warranty, which sought to limit the company's obligation to merely replacing any defective decking, could be found to have failed "of its essential purpose" if the product itself is "inherently defective". Kanefsky argued that replacing an inherently defective product with more product that is also inherently defective is not a real remedy. Since Trex's warranty does not provide a real remedy, Kanefsky should not bound by the Trex warranty's "exclusive" remedy but may look to the more expansive remedies available in Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). It was only after the appeals court determined that Kanefsky might be entitled to UCC remedies and sent the case back to the trial court of more evidence that Trex decided to settle to avoid that unpleasant possibility.