The Deck Handbook: Part 7
Composite Decking Reviews

This part of our article 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 article 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 manufacture-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 a number of 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, but here is what each columns 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 of the manufacturer of the decking. Clicking on the manufacturer name will take you to the product web site.
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 on line. The MSDS is require of all products that contain potentially hazardous materials — and 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 on line.
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.
Advanced Environ­mental Recycling Tech­nologies, Inc.
ChoiceDek®, MoistureShield®, LifeCycle®
Certification: ESR-2388
Certified & approved for use as decking material.
Manufac­turer Composi­tion Attach­ment Cost
Factor
War­ranty
Advanced Environ­mental Recycling Tech­nologies, Inc. (A.E.R.T.)
914 N. Jefferson
Springdale, AR 72764
800-951-5117
Extruded wood-plastic compo­site: 49-52% red oak fiber filler, 45-48% recycled polyethylene, zinc borate (biocide), carbon black (UV protection) and pigments. Capstock material: polyethylene.

Material Safety Data Sheets


ChoiceDek: surface at­tach­ment only.

Moisture­Shield: surface or proprietary hidden fasteners*.
2.35 to 3.45 times the cost of treated pine decking. ChoiceDek  Limited "Lifetime", pro-rated, not transferable. The ChoiceDek pro ration to 80% starts in the 11th year, after a 10 year starter period, and declines to 10% after 22 years.

MoistureShield Essentials  Limited 20 year, pro-rated, transferable (notice required). The warranty pays for 100% of any defect for the first year and is pro rated 5% per year for each year after the first year.

MoistureShield Vantage  Limited "lifetime", pro-rated, transferable (notice required). The warranty pays for 100% of any defect for the first year and is pro rated 2% per year for each year after the first year. After the 50th year, pays 2% of the of the "original warranty coverage."

MoistureShield PRO   Fade & Stain Warranty. The company's capstock product is guaranteed against color fading or staining for 25 years.

ChoiceDek®, MoistureShield® and LifeCycle are manufactured by Advanced Environmental Recycling Technologies, Inc. (A.E.R.T.) and are the same product, made by the same process, using the same materials. The difference is that ChoiceDek is sold exclusively through Lowes stores, and MoistureShield is sold by everybody else in North America. LifeCycle is just 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:
[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. A.E.R.T also produces a capstock board, MoistureShield PRO, 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.

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 reduce weight and allow air circulation between the deck boards and framing.

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 (11.81 inches) inches center to center, and most installers use a 12" joist spacing to provide a level or 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 determined, 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 castock 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 (see main text), 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. web site and the web sites for both ChoiceDek and MoistureShield to see what changes have been incorporated into the product to reduce mold and mildew, but found no mention of any. 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 is 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 that generic hidden fasteners.

Warranty: The company characterizes its product warranties as "industry leading". Actually, they are about average and to 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.

3/6/16
Tamko Builders Products
EverGrain®, EverGrain Envision™
Certification: CCRR-0177
Certified and approved for use as decking material.
Manufac­turer Composi­tion Attach­ment Cost Factor Warranty
Tamko Builders Products
220 West 4th St.
P.O. Box 1404
Joplin, MO 64802
800-641-4691
Pressure molded partial capstock on top and sides, not on bottom. Wood product filler.

Material Safety Data Sheet

Surface attach­ment and propri­etary hid­den fast­en­ers.

Cer­tain non-pro­prie­tary hid­den fas­ten­ers will also work well.
3.5 times the cost of treated pine decking 20 year. pro-rated, limited warranty includes the labor required to fix the deck for the first 5 years. No warranty against staining or fading.

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, better bonded board, with rich detailing and better color retention. Certainly EverGrain's wood-grain surface pattern is about the deepest in the industry.

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, the company's CCRR report (see above) allows a maximum of 17" on center. The 1" x 6" boards require joists 12" on center to give the deck the rigidity of real wood.

Composition: According to Tamko's Material Safety Data Sheets, the products are 40%-60% polyethylene, 40%-60% wood fiber dust.

Color Retention: 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.

Construction: The product's capstock is not a full wrap. It is a 3/4 wrap. The sides and top are wrapped, but the bottom is exposed. So are the ends of the cut boards. This means that water can get in the ends and swell the wood-based inner core. This causes what is called a flare, and once flared, the boards do not un-flare.

Deterioration: 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: As is the case with all capstock decking, no especially serious or widespread mold or mildew problems have been reported. Tamko recommends a periodic washing to reduce mold and mildew buildup.

Warranty Restrictions: 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 an 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. These measures are a bluff and a poor attempt at customer intimidation — none of them would likely be upheld by any court. 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.

03/08/16
Integrity Composites, LLC
DuraLife™
Certification: CCRR-0160
Certified and approved for use as decking material.
Manufac­turer Composi­tion Attach­ment Cost Factor Warranty
Integrity Composites, LLC
8 Morin Street
Biddeford, ME 04005
800-866-8101
Extruded cap­stock, sawdust filler, poly­pro­pyl­ene binder. Capstock is poly­pro­pyl­ene with additives.

Com­po­si­tion in­for­ma­tion pro­vided in Ma­terial Safe­ty Da­ta Sheet is too vague to be use­ful.
Surface mounting and proprietary Fastenator® hidden fastener system. 3.2 times the cost of treated pine Lifetime non-pro-rated, limited warranty includes 25-year warranty against staining or fading. Materials only. You pay the labor required to replace the defective material.

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. The next year GAF acquired the Cross Timbers com­po­site decking line from Elk Corp., which had acquired the line, then named PermaLumber from Advanced Composite Technologies in 2002. GAF renamed both products. CorrectDeck CX became DuraLife Siesta and Elk Cross Timbers was reborn as DuraLife Natural Grain with a rice hull filler.

Then, in October 2011, the ink on the new names 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. The former Elk product was not part of the sale, and has evidently been discontinued.

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.

Profiles: 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 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.

03/04/15
Fiberon, LLC
Horizon®, Veranda® & Pro-Tect™
Certification: CCRR-0108
Certified and approved for use as decking material.
Manufac­turer Composi­tion Attach­ment Cost Factor War­ranty
Fiberon, LLC
181 Random Drive
New London, NC 28127
800-573-8841
Wood plastic composite: 10-25% wood flour filler, 75-90% PVC, additives and pigments. Capstock and non-capstock.
Material Safety Data Sheets
We are unable to find an MSDS for ProTect or Sanctuary decking, and the Horizon MSDS is out of date.
Surface or Hidden using "Deck Pilot" system. 2.75 to 3.15 times the cost of treated pine decking. 25 year limited, pro-rated decking warranty. Does not include labor. Limited protection against excessive staining and color fading. Not transferable. Includes unusual provisions that seek to force the consumer into small claims court or into arbitration and prevent the buyer from participating in a class action lawsuit against the company.


Fiberon, LLC (formerly Fiber Composites, Inc.) is a privately owned company manufacturing com­po­site decking, railing, and fencing. It makes essentially three decking products, a full capstock board, a 3/4 capstock board, and a non-capstock board, but it makes them with minor variations and sells them under several trade names.

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 over blown 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 get dumped in the landfill.
  • ProTect Advantage is intended to be a mid-priced decking with a 3/4 capstock. The top and sides are wrapped in a protective plastic shell, but the bottom and ends are unprotected WPC. The same product with 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 that is unaffected by fading or staining. 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 with a plastic shell more emphatically embossed to resemble the look of rough-sawn boards, and provide improved slip resistance. 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 in just three states as of this update: Montana and North and South Dakota.
  • Good Life™ is Fiberon's economy 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 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 has 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 product 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.

Problems and lawsuits: The company formerly made a 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 is caused by improper homeowner maintenance, it nonetheless agreed to a settlement in which it pays compensation to owners of its products sold under various brand names. 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.

The Many Aliases of Fiberon Decking
Product Description Sold by Fiberon As: Sold by Home Depot As: Sold by Certanteed As:
Full Capstock Horizon® Horizon® *EverNew PT
3/4 Capstock Pro-Tect™
Sanctuary®
Good Life™
Veranda ArmorGuard™ N/A
Non-Capstock *Fiberon Classic™ *Veranda TD *EverNew 20
* Indicates discontinued products
Warranty: 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 pro rated 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 a 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 nay appear in its advertising and promotion.

Color Retention: 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, or 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.

03/04/15
Green Bay Decking, LLC
GeoDeck®
Certification: ESR-1369
Certified and approved for use as decking material.
Manufac­turer Composi­tion Attach­ment Cost Factor War­ranty
Green Bay Decking, LLC
1518 S. Broadway
Green Bay, WI 54304
(877) 804-0137
Non-capstock molded high-density polyethylene composite modified with calcium carbonate (chalk) and kaoline (a form of clay) added.
Material Safety Data Sheet
Surface attachment. hidden fasteners optional, but desirable. 3.7 times the cost of a treated pine deck. 20 year limited, pro-rated warranty does not include labor or any guarantee against mold, mildew, color fading or staining.

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 skimpiness of the warranty suggests strongly that the company does not actually have as much faith in the superiority of its product as it claims.

Composition: GeoDeck's patented com­po­site decking formula reportedly contains no wood. The filler, according to the company web site, 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 denting.

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. Because the board is hollow, 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 painted on varnished wood that the fake woodgrain of other brands. The material comes with trim pieces that make it easy to disguise seasonal expansion and contraction and the hollow ends of the boards.

Color Retention: 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, GeoDeck does not warranty its products against fading or staining.

Defects and Lawsuits: GeoDeck has a very checkered history. Originally manufactured by Kadant Composites, LLC, a subsidiary of Kadant, Inc., the product was rated a "Best Buy" by Consumer Reports® in 2004. Then, the very next year, the company recalled thousands of dangerously defective deck boards, advising that "decks affected by oxidative degradation are potentially unsafe, and should not be used until they are repaired or replaced." Kadant, Inc. then sold GeoDeck to Liberty Diversified Industries (LDI),a private equity firm. Kadant Composites, LLC. used the proceeds from the sale to pay warranty claims until the money ran out, then simply closed its doors. Kadant, Inc. then denied that it had any further liability for the warranty claims against its defunct subsidiary.

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. Claims were being accepted until September, 2012, but are now closed.

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 reported. Company literature states: "…For 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."

03/13/15
RRM Composites LLC d/b/a Natures Composites
TerraDeck®, TerraDeck Premium & TerraDeck Ultimate®
Certification: ESR-3176
Certified and approved for use as decking material.
Manufac­turer Composi­tion Attach­ment Cost Factor War­ranty
RRM Composites LLC
d/b/a Natures Composites
1302 Industrial Park Ave.
Torrington, WY 82240
(877) 810-4029
Extruded polyethylene com­po­site with wheat straw filler. TerraDeck Ultimate® features a full capstock.
Material Safety Data Sheets
We cannot find Material Safety Data Sheets for this company on line. Ask for paper copies before you buy.
Surface attachment. Hidden fasteners approved for this deck are the Mantis 396 Deck Clip System™, the Tiger Claw™, and the Trex® Hideaway. 3.2 times the cost of a treated pine deck TerraDeck: 20 year limited warranty does not include labor or any protection against mold and mildew or color fading.
TerraDeck Ultimate: 25 year limited warranty does not include labor or any protection against mold and mildew. Includes a warranty against fading of more than 5 Delta E units. See text for more detail.

Natures Composites 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 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.

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 products have 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.

Organic Coloring: 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 six colors: four standard and two special order. 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.

Composition & Profiles:TerraDeck and TerraDeck Premium are non-capstock com­po­sites. The TerraDeck Standard profile is a grooved plank with a profiled bottom. It is designed to be installed with hidden fasteners, but can also be face screwed. TerraDeck Premium offers two profiles, a grooved plank with a flat bottom for hidden fasteners and a square edge plank for face screw installation.

TerraDeck Ultimate is essentially TerraDeck Premium with a full capstock. It is available in the same profiles as the premium decking. The capstock is made of recycled HDPE with a matte finish, available in three variegated colors. HDPE (high-density polyethylene) is the plastic used to make grocery bags and milk jugs. It is softer than PVC, which is the other plastic used as capstock, and scratches more easily.

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 web site that include chemicals that inhibit mold and mildew formation.

03/08/16
TimberTech Limited, LLC
Earthwood Evolutions™, Twin Finish™ and Reliaboard™
Certification: CCRR-0128
Certified and approved for use as decking material.
Manufac­turer Composi­tion Attach­ment Cost Factor War­ranty
TimberTech Limited, LLC
894 Prairie Avenue
Wilmington, OH 45177
800-307-7780
Wood plastic com­po­site fully wrapped in a PVC-based capstock.
Material Safety Data Sheet
Face screwed with com­po­site screws; proprietary hidden fasteners, generic hidden fasteners. 2.1 to 3.7 times the cost of treated pine decking 25-year pro rated limited to material replacement. Drops to 10% recovery in its 22nds year. Does not include labor or mold and mildew protection, but does provide limited protection against staining from food and beverages (but not non-food staining), and color fading.

Timbertech "Earthwood Evolutions" is known in the industry for its realistic colors and graining and its full wrap capstock. On grooved planks, even the groves are wrapped.

Formerly owned by Crane Plastics of Columbus, OH, Timbertech was sold to CPG International Inc. in 2012. CPG International also owns AZEK which manufactures cellular PVC trim and decking products.

Timbertech makes a variety of decking products, including a PVC decking, Timbertech XLM, and three lines of com­po­site decking:
  • Earthwood Evolutions is its top of the line capstock decking. It is very pricey, equal to a premium hardwood like Ipe.
  • Reliaboard is a non-capstock decking at the bottom at the bottom of the lineup. It is made in just two colors: cedar and gray and is not designed to be installed with hidden fasteners. It is intended to complete with every other manufacturer's bottom of the line product, and is not particularly distinguishable in any way.
  • Twin Finish is the mid-level non-capstock product. It adds Redwood to the color lineup and can be installed with hidden fasteners. Neither of these is a capstock product.
A tongue and groove decking and porch flooring product, Floorizon, has been discontinued and is no longer available.

Colors:Earthwood Evolutions is the most realistic wood look of the company's com­po­site products and is available in three "woodish" colors loosely resembling walnut, rosewood, and teak. The colors include deliberate variations and shadings to make them look more like stained hardwood. In 2012 Timbertech added three more colors to the Earthwood Evolutions line: slate, brick and brownstone that complement the basic cedar, gray and redwood colors available in the Twin Finish and Reliaboard lines.

Profiles: The decking is available in grooved planks for use with hidden fastener systems, or solid planks for face attachment and for stair treads.

Color Retention: TimberTech warrants its top of the line Earthwood Evolutions product 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 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 represents 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: Installers report that there seems to be some sort of film on TimberTech materials that will show spots after rain. This may be mold or possibly tannin bleeding through. It also may be a coating applied by the manufacturer. So far as we can determine, TimberTech has not acknowledged the problem. The cure is to pressure wash the decking after installation with the washer set at its lowest setting and widest spray fan. Twin Finish and Reliaboard are 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 its products.

03/05/15
Trex Company, Inc.
Transcend®, Enhance®, and Accents®
Certification: ESR-3168
Certified and approved for use as decking material.
Manufac­turer Composi­tion Attach­ment Cost Factor War­ranty
Trex Company, Inc.
160 Exeter Drive
Winchester, VA 22603-8605
800-280-8739
Wood plastic com­po­site. Top of the line Transcends and mid-line Enhance are 3/4 wrap capstock boards.
Material Safety Data Sheet
Face screwed with com­po­site screws; proprietary hidden fasteners, generic hidden fasteners. 2.1 to 3.7 times the cost of treated pine decking 25-year non-pro-rated warranty limited to material replacement. Does not include labor, shipping or transportation of replacement products. Mold and mildew specifically excluded from any warranty. The standard warranty is transferable one time during the first 5 years of the warranty, and thereafter is not transferable. Transcend has a separate 25 year and Enhance a 20 year pro-rated limited warranty against staining and color fading.
Trex, founded in 1996 by former executives of Exon Corporation, is easily the 800-pound gorilla of the com­po­site decking industry. 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: Trex Transcend is a 3/4-wrap capstock product somewhat comparable to EverGrain, and at about the same price level. The cap-stock is wrapped only into the top of the grooves of the grooved plank. Leaving the bottom of the board uncapped, according to Trex, "allows the board to breath", and moisture to escape. Of course, with a full wrapped board, 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 realistic.

Trex Enhance: 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 it's embossing is not as deep as that on the Transcend product.

Trex Accents: 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 web site the faded colors of its Accents products.

Color Retention: 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 represents 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 replace the stained board, but you have to pay freight, and the labor cost 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.

Warping: All non-capstock com­po­site decks are prone to warp and twist, but Trex seems to be more prone than most. Indications are that the warping and twisting can be so severe that it detaches the deck board from it fasteners. Trex has been so far reluctant to admit that its boards warp and twist so 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.

Warranty: 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 a few months. It will not pay the labor to replace the materials, or the cost of freight to get the new materials to you driveway.

Trex has 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 to sign a release of all future claims and a non-disclosure statement as conditions of honoring its warranty obligations.

Lawsuits: 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 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 and 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.

  

Rev: 03/05/15
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