The decking dilemma—which to choose?
Probably the most difficult decision to make when building a dock is what type of decking to use. Pressure-treated and composite decking share similarities. They’re all rot resistant to varying degrees, and can all be cut and installed using conventional tools and fasteners.
There’s no perfect choice, all 3 options below have trade-offs. Figure out what characteristics are most important to you, then make your selection based on that.
What is pressure treated wood and should I use it on my project? Pressure-treated wood is wood that has been infused with chemical preservatives to protect the wood from rot and insects. The best way to think about pressure-treatment is that it protects the wood from internal decay, while sealants like Thompson's Water Seal protect the wood from external damage and prevents the wood from drying too fast resulting in excessive warping. Pressure-treated wood can also be painted or stained, but the wood must first be allowed to dry for one to two months to enable proper adhesion. Pressure treated wood is stainable and hard enough to resist abuse. Not all treated woods are created equal though. Standard treated decking at your local lumberyard is inexpensive but is often full of moisture and will shrink unevenly and twist when it dries. It is also not treated to the same retention rate as what we use.
At WaterJack we use premium #1 grade ground contact treated boards that are treated to 0.40 retention. Whether your dock has treated decking or not, the substrate or framing (girders, cross-bracing, floor joists etc.) will most always be pressure treated. As a high volume purchasing contractor we are able to purchase #1 grade decking for the same price you might pay the big box stores for #2 grade decking. These #1 grade boards have fewer knots and a straighter grain and there is no bark on the edges like you sometimes see with #2 grade decking. Since many of the higher grade choices are kiln-dried both before and after pressure treatment, they have less tendency to warp.
“I’ve heard nightmare stories about Composite Decking” is a phrase we hear regularly – and it’s no secret that as this industry has evolved that early Trex composites had their fair share of issues. What’s worth pointing out is that any manufactured product suffers from early teething problems as manufacturers iron out defects but what manufacturers like Trex have done is respond to criticism by continuing to advance the technology and process that goes into making their products and improve how they perform. This is one reason why we use and recommend Trex products on all of our dock projects.
Why do you use Trex when there are so many other options? In 2012 a Lake Wylie client in Reflection Pointe (Belmont, NC) told us he awarded us his business for several reasons <smirk> but one of them he said was because we were willing to use the Trex decking product he selected. Other contractors he had spoken to insisted they use their recommended decking. At that time we did not use Trex for many of the same reasons mentioned in the paragraph above. When we began decking his dock the first thing I heard from our crew was, "man that stuff is so much heavier than the other decking we use". At that time I think we were using Wolf and Azek decking. Trex is 'heavier' because of the density of it's core. Most all composites these days have a PVC cap made up of their own special blend; and a composite core. This composite core is the structural component of the deck board - increased density = a stronger deck board. Trex was heavier because it was engineered to be stronger than what we had been using resulting in it being considerably heavier. Unlike many others manufacturers Trex uses a 3-sided core so the deck board can breathe - this helps reduce expansion and contraction at the joints. They also use a thicker cap that allows their premium Transcend line to be deeply embossed offering a natural stained look. We have found that competing products have a thin core with a shallow grain and look more like plastic.
Unlike many of the composite companies today, most that you likely haven't heard of, Trex was founded in 1996 and is responsible for pioneering the wood alternative product category. They are the Kleenex of the decking industry and have been around for 20 years now. We often see a competing contractor recommending decking with a 30-year warranty and after see so many decking manufacturers come and go over the last few decades I can't help thinking, "what good will a 30 year warranty do if they're not around to honor it?". We do not have that concern with Trex. Trex has the largest market share of composite decking in North America and a growing international footprint. They lead the industry on a global scale and their products are backed by a 25-Year Limited Residential Fade & Stain Warranty. In 2015 alone their sales revenues were 441 million dollars - that's almost half a billion dollars!
WaterJack is considered a TrexPro which means we have received training directly from the Trex and then had to demonstrate that we understood and adhere to their installation procedures. Our first three docks were inspected by a Trex representative. You'd be surprised by how strict they are with their installation guidelines, I know I was.
According to our realtor friend Drew Choate from Wilkinson and Assoc. (www.TheLakeWylieMan.com) who says, "I think most buyers know the difference between treated wood and composite materials. I definitely think the higher quality materials and maintenance free aspects are a sales feature to be highlighted when selling a home". If near-zero maintenance is your goal, buy Trex composite decking. As compared to wood, composites will always be more expensive but once it’s down, it won’t rot, splinter or twist. Every 20 feet of Trex decking contains about 30 pounds of material that would have ended up in a landfill. Trex is the first and largest of the composite manufacturers and recycles 6 million pounds of plastic each year. Maintenance involves spraying it off with a hose. If you want to relax on your dock instead of work on it, bite the bullet and spend that little bit extra, it will pay for itself several times over and you'll enjoy the savings over time because your dock will look as good as the day we installed it.
Lake Wylie Dock Builder - Lake Wylie Docks