Fortress Blog

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Decking Materials for Temperature Swings: Choosing Decking for Colorado

Over my career, I’ve built structures on three continents and in a wide variety of climates. I’ve worked under the hot sun of Hong Kong, in the dry desert of Arizona, in the long winters of Finland, and the rainy climes of the Pacific Northwest. But in all that time, I hadn’t yet been to a place that combined all of those elements in one. That is, until I found myself in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

This area presents a uniquely challenging climate in which it is difficult to build. When the sun shines, it does so with heightened intensity due to the altitude.  And in winter, the amount of snow is prolific. Vail, for instance, averages 190 inches per year. These long, cold, snowy winters are quick to turn cracks in a deck into larger fissures. While there are ways to help your standard wooden deck meet the challenges of Colorado’s difficult four-season climate, composite decking materials addresses them all – all with the benefit of hardly any maintenance. Fully capped bamboo-based composite decking performs well against the cold of winter and the blazing heat of the summer sun, resisting moisture and UV rays without becoming warped or misshapen.

Finding the Most UV-Resistant Decking

The sun is one of the primary agents of weathering. At 6,000-8,000 feet in elevation (a pretty normal altitude for CO), exposure to UV rays can be increased by 25% compared to sea level. With the highest mean altitude of any state, Colorado elevations make it possible to get a sunburn on a sunny day in the middle of winter. This makes UV-resistant decking especially important in this state.

With decking, the first kind of weathering that most people notice is the grey color that wood develops as it ages. You may know that this is the result of the sun, but what many don’t know is that the greying is actually a sign of more fundamental damage to the cellular structure of the wood. Once wood has greyed to a certain level, it requires a deep sanding -- down to the level of the healthy non-greyed wood -- followed by the application of a UV-resistant stain and sealer. Composite decking, on the other hand--specifically fully capped composite decking--possesses in its enclosing cap all the UV protection it will ever need, meaning no sanding, no sealing, no staining, and no greying.

Protection from Colorado’s Snow and Rain

Most of the snow-related damage done to a deck isn’t from the cold, per se, but comes when the snow melts and re-freezes. This is a cycle that residents of any state in an area that gets snow are familiar with, but the cycle can be especially dramatic in Colorado. Here, the altitude can cause a big difference between the day’s high and low temperatures, which can rise and fall drastically in a short period of time.

This cycle of freezing, thawing, and refreezing allows water to seep into any crevices it can find. When that water freezes, it expands within those crevices, ultimately creating large cracks, which are unsightly and can potentially weaken the deck. By persistent force, rain also weathers the wood of a deck. While vertical surfaces are spared much of the erosive force of rain, horizontal surfaces aren’t spared. For a deck to last a long time, it requires a treatment to keep the water out of those crevices and to keep it from breaking down the surface of the wood.

The solution for wooden decks is a strong sealer, generally applied every other year or so, depending on the wood, the climate, and the type of sealer used. So long as the sealer is applied frequently and carefully, a wooden deck will stay in good shape, especially if the shaded undersides of the planks were well sealed when the deck was installed. Capped composite decking, on the other hand, solves that problem with a rigid, impermeable, plastic capping, capable of lasting without maintenance for decades.

Dealing with the Extra Weight of Snow on Decks

When choosing a material for your Colorado deck, keep in mind the other means by which snow breaks down a deck--the sheer weight! Snow can come down in piles and stay for weeks unless it’s removed from the deck.

When it isn’t shoveled, the weight from these piles can add more than enough weight to warp some of the wooden boards, especially if the piles are unevenly distributed. Weight can really become an issue when the structural integrity of the boards has already been compromised, which, as we mentioned, can happen when moisture gets into the boards. With this in mind, in humid or snowy areas like Colorado I tend to favor composites that contain bamboo, as opposed to those that contain sawdust. While wood easily absorbs water, bamboo is relatively hydrophobic, taking on very little moisture.

Choosing Decking for the Centennial State

The climate changes and temperature swings of Colorado are legendary. Dealing with all of this in one place makes carrying out deck maintenance in Colorado much tougher than it is in more temperate states. Having a deck here can be a lot of work – unless you choose a material that removes the need for all that maintenance.

If you have the time, the energy, and the money to keep up a wooden deck, it can be a rewarding labor of love. But, if you’re interested in directing those resources into other activities, then I’d advise choosing an option that’s light on maintenance while still durable in any temperature or climate extreme. For that, moisture- and UV-resistant fully capped co-extruded bamboo composite decking by Fortress Building Products is an excellent choice. Contact us to ask about our Infinity Decking, or visit the Fortress® website to learn more about our family of companies making innovative building products.

 

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