Composite decks are becoming increasingly popular due to their low maintenance needs and environmental benefits. However, homeowners who install composite decking are often surprised to find that when winter hits, their decking materials react differently to climate changes than a cedar deck would.
The following is a look at what to expect from your composite deck in winter, as well as some maintenance tips.
In theory, composite decking offers the best of both worlds. The wood provides strength and aesthetics, while the plastic provides protection against the elements. In reality, while the plastic does shield the wood from most moisture and sun damage, it doesn't always fully encapsulate every wood fiber. As a result, your deck may end up with some exposed wood fibers on the surface. These wood fibers can fade when exposed to the elements, and may even rot away over time. During the winter, a composite deck may experience some discoloration.
As technology and manufacturing processes improve, exposed wood and discoloration are becoming less and less of a problem; however, it is something to be aware of. You can head off a lot of these issues by carefully selecting a quality composite deck manufacturer.
Mold and Mildew Growth
Many homeowners who bought composite decking when it was relatively new were shocked to discover that after being exposed to winter rains, their decks showed signs of mold and mildew growth. Despite the protective plastic in these decking materials, the wood fibers are still susceptible to mold and mildew, particularly in moist weather conditions.
Many manufacturers now add mold inhibitors to the decking material to help prevent the growth of fungus. Additionally, the best defense against mold and mildew is regular cleaning. Keep your deck clear of leaves, dirt and other debris, which act as food for mildew. Make sure your deck boards have proper spacing to allow for air circulation, and remove any potted plants from your deck during the winter months, as water can pool beneath them and provide a breeding ground for mold and mildew.
If mold and mildew growth does occur, it's important to tackle the problem immediately to prevent any further staining or damage. In most cases, scrubbing with liquid dish soap will take care of the problem. If you use a deck cleaner, follow the manufacturer's recommendations.
Many professionals don't recommend power washing a composite deck, but if you choose to use one, it's crucial to take extra care not to damage your deck. Use a fan tip nozzle and spray with the grain pattern of the wood. Too much pressure is a bad thing for your decking material, so make sure not to go above the recommended maximum pressure of 1500 psi. Also, take the proper safety precautions when handling any type of equipment.
When snow builds up around your home, the natural reaction of many homeowners is to haul out the snow shovel and get to work. However, shoveling is not the way to clear your composite deck of snow. Snow shovels can gouge the surface of your deck, causing permanent and unsightly damage.
Instead, try sweeping the snow off your deck. You can also use salt to melt the ice, but if you do, don't forget to rinse off the salt residue once the weather warms up.
Composite decking was created to solve many of the problems associated with wood decks, and it's become a highly successful and sought-after decking material. But it's important to keep in mind that "low maintenance" doesn't mean no maintenance, and the quality of decking varies between manufacturers. The best way to ensure you'll be satisfied with your composite deck is to do your research, choose a high-quality product and keep the surface of your deck clean throughout the winter.
~Ben Anton, 2010