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Low-maintenance decking is good news. Traditional wood decks look great, but you have to refinish or reseal them every few years to keep them looking that way. Low-maintenance alternatives now promise much of the same look and feel of wood, but without the worry that they'll crack, split or warp if you neglect them.
Wood composites (mixtures of wood fiber and plastic) are leading the way. We'll introduce you to two types of composites—solid boards and a variety of hollow shapes. We'll also tell you about vinyl and aluminum decking options that require even less maintenance than composites.
If you like the look of a traditional wood deck, solid composites are for you. They imitate the look, feel and workability of wood deck boards. They're roughly the same size— about 1 to 1-1/4 in. thick and 5-1/2 in. wide. They're tough and durable, and they resist insect and rot. The finished deck will have a solid feel underfoot with minimal flex. Every composite board is identical and flat, without twists, warps or knots to slow installation time. However, composites may require an annual cleaning to remove mildew and dirt. They aren't structural (use wood joists).And solid composites are heavy; they're a chore to handle if you're working alone.
If you're accustomed to working with wood, it's easy to make the transition to solid composites. You can cut a board with a circular saw, round over the edge to a bull nose with a router, and soften the ends or erase a scratch with a sander. Use a 24-tooth carbide circular saw blade and carbide router bits (high-speed steel dulls quickly). Frame your deck with pressure-treated wood joists 16 in. on center (12 in. on center (o.c.) if you set the decking at a 45-degree angle).
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