Alternative decking is material made of something other than wood. These materials are considered environmentally friendly because they don't degrade and they don't use natural materials, such as wood, so they won't need to be replaced or treated with chemicals that could harm the environment.
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In looking for alternative decking materials, you can choose from vinyl, composite decking or aluminium. Vinyl decking is manufactured by companies such as Azek and Trimax. Trex is probably the best known maker of composite decking. Makers of aluminium decking include LockDry and DeckRite.
Both vinyl and aluminium decking look like deck planks from above, but are actually hollow underneath. Composite decking is meant to look like real wood, but is made from recycled plastic and wood components. All of these products come in a variety of colours and styles. The standard practice is to use wood to build the framework for the deck and then use these alternative components for decking and railings. The reason for this is that these alternative materials don't provide enough structural support.
Vinyl, or PVC, decking is recyclable and waterproof. It doesn't splinter, doesn't require sealing or waterproofing, and is impervious to insects. Aluminium has many of these same features, and also may have a system that drains water away from the deck structure. Composite decking has these same benefits and the added benefit of looking like real wood from all angles, even underneath.
The low-maintenance claim may not be completely true. While these types of decking don't need chemical sealers, and won't be destroyed by insects, they still may be subject to weathering and will need cleaning. Some surfaces may show dirt more than others, and more than regular wood; if you've ever left a cheap plastic deck chair out in the rain all summer, you know it doesn't stay clean and new looking. And if you decide to paint your alternate deck surface, the paint will be subject to flaking and will need to be repainted periodically, just like wood.
Some alternative deck materials get hot in the sun. Obtain a sample of the material you are considering and leave it in the sun to test it. Another consideration is how the product will wear. If at all possible, find someone who has had a deck made of this material for a few years and ask to go look at it. Find a contractor who is experienced in using and installing the type of decking you choose. There are tricks, special tools and hardware that might be required and you don't want your contractor learning by the mistakes he makes on your deck. If you decide to install it yourself, find out about fastener systems that work from underneath the decking, and whether you should pre-drill holes. The more you know before you start, the better.
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