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Taking Sides & Stacking the Deck

Composite Lumber (Courtesy TREX Company Inc.)

When it comes to siding and decks, there are options other than wood that are attractive, durable and sustainable and require less maintenance.

By Lisa Truesdale

There aren’t many “sure things” in life, but it’s a safe bet that any home you enter will have wood in it somewhere. From framing and siding to flooring and decking, wood has long been a prime component of most homes. The grain, smell, beauty and applications are unparalleled—or are they?

Photo by EKY Studio
Photo by EKY Studio

Maybe you’re tired of painting your wood siding every few years or fed up with splinters from your wood deck. Maybe you’re concerned about widespread deforestation, the threat of extinction of certain trees and the planet’s health. If so, it’s time to look at wood alternatives.

We found ways to counter wood in siding and decks, with options that are just as beautiful and more often than not sustainable. (For wood flooring alternatives, see “Green Guide: Stylish & Sustainable Flooring” from the fall 2009 issue.)

Stacking the Deck in Your Favor

Decks are fabulous for soaking up our sunny days or entertaining outdoors on a summer’s eve. If you’re thinking of installing a deck, here are alternatives to wood that won’t leave you with tweezers in one hand and a staining brush in the other.

Recycled Plastic Lumber (Courtesy American Plastic Lumber Inc)
Recycled Plastic Lumber (Courtesy American Plastic Lumber Inc)
Recycled Plastic Lumber

What is it? Post-consumer and post-industrial recycled plastic from milk jugs, water bottles, and some detergent and shampoo bottles.

Why it’s good: It’s made from 100-percent plastic with more than 90-percent recycled high-density polyethylene. It’s also 100-percent recyclable, it comes in a variety of colors, it’s chemical-, PVC- and BPA-free, it resists UV damage, scratches, stains, mold and mildew, termites, and it’s warranted not to split or splinter for 50 years from purchase date.

Drawbacks: Some people eschew all things plastic.

Costs: $6.25-$15 per square foot, plus installation. (American Plastic Lumber website)

Groutless Deck Solutions (Courtesy Jefferson Builders)
Groutless Deck Solutions (Courtesy Jefferson Builders)
Groutless Deck Solutions

What is it? Locally quarried granite tiles that “float” above a waterproof substrate or conventional deck framing. The custom shapes and sizes can be as large as 40 square feet per tile.

Why it’s good: The stone is locally sourced and blends in with the Front Range landscape. The groutless design allows for sufficient drainage, the stone is virtually indestructible and maintenance-free (except for cleaning), and it accommodates temperature extremes without buckling or warping. The textured surface is nonslip but still comfortable on the feet. Drawbacks: The high price.

Costs: $50-$100 and up per square foot, depending on difficulty of prep work and installation. (Jefferson Builders website)

Mod Rocks, Recycled Glass Mosaics (Courtesy Modwalls)
Mod Rocks, Recycled Glass Mosaics (Courtesy Modwalls)
ModRocks  Recycled Glass Mosaics

What is it? Post-consumer recycled bottles that are crushed into small pieces, then tumbled and mesh-mounted onto interlocking 12-by-12-inch sheets.

Why it’s good: It’s made from 100-percent recycled glass and requires little energy to produce, since no melting is involved.

Drawbacks: Price, and it’s possibly not as durable in all applications as standard 12-by-12-inch tiles.

Costs: $20-$30 per square foot, plus installation. (modwalls.com)

Composite Lumber (Courtesy TREX Company Inc.)
Composite Lumber (Courtesy TREX Company Inc.)
Composite Lumber

What is it? A combination of plastic and wood fiber. (Brands include Trex, TimberTech and Weatherbest.)

Why it’s good: It requires less maintenance (never needs stain or paint) and has a longer life span than wood. It’s also resistant to mildew and insects, and most brands use recycled plastic and wood.

Drawbacks: Since wood fiber is porous, it can retain water and cause mold. The material can fade or stain, and some people don’t think it looks natural enough. Composite decks generally cost more than wood decks.

Costs: $5-$10 and up per square foot, plus installation.

Taking Sides

Siding does more than protect a home from the elements. Depending on the material, it can give a house the “wow” factor. Here are siding options that are durable, attractive and just plain cool.

Fiber Cement (Courtesy James Hardie Technology Ltd)
Fiber Cement (Courtesy James Hardie Technology Ltd)
Fiber Cement

What is it? A mixture of sand, cement and cellulose (wood fibers); manufacturers may also add other proprietary ingredients. Why it’s good: Resists rotting and cracking, as well as flame spread, fading, snow, ice, insect pests and woodpeckers. Many products carry a 30-year residential warranty. Drawbacks: Installation is more labor-intensive (and therefore more expensive) than with other siding types, and it may not have a high enough R-value to keep your home properly insulated (check with the manufacturer for the different types they offer).

Costs: $5-$10 and up per square foot, plus installation. (James Hardie Technology website)

Parklex Facade (Courtesy Finland Color Plywood Corp)
Parklex Facade (Courtesy Finland Color Plywood Corp)
Parklex Façade

What is it? High-density, stratified-timber panels manufactured from Kraft paper treated with resins that are thermoset under high pressure and temperature, and finished with natural timber veneers.

Why it’s good: It’s resistant to UV radiation and weathering, and it’s available in a variety of colors and finishes that won’t fade.

Drawbacks: It has an ultra-contemporary appearance that may be at odds with conventional home designs. But it can be dressed down when used in combination with stone or stucco.

Costs: $11 per square foot, plus installation. (Parklex Facade website)

Zalmag Galvanized Steel (Courtesy Millenium Tiles LLC)
Zalmag Galvanized Steel (Courtesy Millenium Tiles LLC)
Zalmag Galvanized Steel

What is it? Galvanized steel with zinc, aluminum and magnesium in the coating.

Why it’s good: Zalmag has 10 to 15 percent more corrosion-resistance than regular galvanized steel. The material eventually acquires the gray patina of zinc, and it’s warranted for 40 years.

Drawbacks: None so far.

Costs: $2.20-$3.40 per square foot, plus installation. (Millenium Tiles website)

Stainless Steel, Color Tiles (Courtesy Millenium Tiles LLC)
Stainless Steel, Color Tiles (Courtesy Millenium Tiles LLC)
Stainless Steel Color Tiles

What is it? 100-percent stainless steel tiles made from 85-percent recycled material. The tiles come in many colors, which can vary slightly depending on natural lighting conditions.

Why it’s good: It’s an extremely green product that’s durable and nontoxic. It saves on air-conditioning costs, resists dents and buckling, is impervious to hail, lasts forever, and is 100-percent recyclable. The tile colors constantly change due to the incoming light, creating a neat visual effect. They can also be used for roofing.

Drawbacks: The cost.

Costs: $10 per square foot, $16-$20 fully installed (it’s easy to self-install if you have any mechanical skills). (Millenium Tiles website)

Stucco (Photo by Andy Dean Photography)
Stucco (Photo by Andy Dean Photography)
Old Standbys:  Stone, Stucco and Brick

What are they? Stone options include granite, limestone and slate; stucco is made of cement and limestone; bricks are made of sun-baked or kiln-dried clay and siding can be solid brick or a veneer.

Why they’re good: All three are low-maintenance, natural-looking options that are available locally. Many homeowners prefer using a combination of these materials for siding.

Drawbacks: You can’t easily alter the exterior look of your home if you want a change.

Costs: Price variations for these three products are too great to list here, but all three options generally cost more than wood siding.

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