While the main argument for composite decking products is their environmental friendliness, that misconception is really almost laughable when you consider that composite decking is neither renewable nor biodegradable (see Part 1). But while green building is certainly a significant factor when choosing decking materials, there are plenty of other areas that make Ipe and other exotic hardwood decking species far superior to composite decking materials — especially when they’re used for commercial applications such as boardwalks.
Hard and Not-So-Hard Materials
There’s no question when it comes to the hardness of Ipe decking. A startling 10-fold greater hardness compared to composite decking products, Ipe is able to handle foot traffic by hundreds of thousands of people that populate popular public boardwalks. Using composite materials for such a well-used surface, however, can cause major damage, making injuries and costly reconstruction unfortunate results.
Consider the fact that composite decking products are, essentially, made from plastic. Typically, the outer shell is made from polyethylene, the same low-grade plastic used for disposable water bottles. Some manufacturers actually blend the plastic with the wood flour core. Either way, the ground-up wood product lacks the strength it once had. And we all know how reliable and stable plastics can be when exposed to the heat and other elements.
Cool To the Touch vs. Too Hot To Handle
As we described above, composite decking is essentially made from plastic. When plastic is exposed to direct sunlight and heat all day long, do you want to touch it? We didn’t think so. But people like to walk barefoot on boardwalks and decks, don’t they? In addition to that comfort issue, there’s an even more significant problem that comes up when plastic is heated: it breaks down. When some plastics are heated, they exude oils, while others let off gas byproducts; but either way, they will become weakened over time.
When plastic is exposed to heat, it also retains heat for a longer time frame than does wood. When the sun goes down, your Ipe boardwalk will cool off; however, the composite one in the next town will remain hot to the touch. The longer the plastic remains hot, the longer it will continue to break down. The result of such perpetual breakdown is that the boardwalk will require replacement sooner, rather than later.
Slip-and-Fall Accidents for the Win?
What happens when plastics are wet? They’re slippery, of course. Because plastic is an oil-based product, a composite deck or boardwalk becomes slippery when it rains. Even with added texture, the surface of a composite deck will easily become a potential liability. If it begins to degrade and weeps oil, the issue will be intensified. And if it’s a public boardwalk near the ocean, the constant exposure to water will combine with various other products, ranging from sunblock and surf wax to soda and ice cream sundaes, to keep it slick and prone to cause the city a steady stream of liability headaches.
Continue reading with Part 3.