From Franklin to Ophelia, hurricanes have ravaged the Atlantic Coast, making 2017 one for the record books. For the first time in over a century, in 10 weeks’ time, as many hurricane-level storms have punished coastal areas. Among all the many needs those storms have left in their wake, one is that of rebuilding boardwalks. As significant as top-quality tropical decking lumber — along with proper installation — is for residential use, those components become even more crucial when they’ll be tested with myriad feet, as public boardwalks undoubtedly will be.
Hardly a Choice
Did you know that Ipe or Cumaru decking is far superior to Composite Decking when it comes to hardness? And we don’t mean just a little: we’re talking here about a 10-fold difference. For a single family or an occasional backyard BBQ, the disparity in hardness might not be noticeable. But for a public boardwalk on which thousands of feet will walk on a daily basis, hardness becomes extremely significant. A boardwalk made of Composite Decking will ultimately experience damage to its outer core. (We’ll look at the composition of these materials in further depth, under another point.)
Did you know that, essentially, Composite Decking is made of plastic? Depending on the manufacturer, the outer shell may be made up entirely of polyethylene (yes, the same stuff used to make disposable water bottles - the ones many of us try to avoid using). Sometimes, the plastic is blended with ground wood product (also called “wood flour”). Either way, Composite Decking contains plastic. Of course, plastic reacts to direct sunlight by getting extremely hot, and it retains heat far longer than most other materials. In a shady area, that might not be a big deal. But on an ocean-front boardwalk? Big deal, for sure. For one thing, no matter how many signs you post, some beach combers will go barefoot. (Can we say “ouch”?!)
But there are even more significant reasons this heat issue is a problem. One is that when plastic is heated, it begins to break down. (This is the same reason children’s car seats now have “expiration dates.”) Some types of plastics let off gases, while others exude oils; however they decompose, they will become weaker. And you’ll be able to smell that weakening process in the air, in the form of that “burnt plastic” fragrance we all know and, well, fail to love.
In addition to the initial issue caused by heat, boardwalks made of Composite Decking will retain the heat well after the sun sets, causing the plastic to continue breaking down. The result of all this breaking down is a boardwalk that will require a replacement long before it should.
Continue reading with Part 2.