There are a variety of looks available in synthetic decking. It is not a "plastic-y" looking material like it once was. Over the past 5 years, manufacturers have realized that appearance is very important when deciding which synthetic decking products to use. A deep wood grain embossed into the surface of the boards gives it a wood appearance. This has been adopted by many of the manufacturers in the market today. Other manufacturers brush the surface for a raised grain effect. Some manufacturers are even streaking colors through the materials to resemble mineral streaks and color variations.
There are generally 5 separate categories for synthetic decks. There are two types of wood & plastic composites, one is known as a polyethylene composite and the other is polypropylene composite. Polyethylene composites are made of recycled plastics that are softer (ex. clear milk jugs) and polypropylene composites are made of recycled plastics that are hard (ex. key boards), 100% plastic such as vinyl or polyethylene/HDPE (High Density Polyethylene), metal extrusion products, and vinyl membrane products.
These materials are usually 50% + recycled. They are made from Polypropylene (Hard plastic like keyboards and TV's) or Polyethylene (Softer plastic like plastic bags or milk jugs) and fine wood particles (wood flower). It takes about ten milk jugs and eight cups of saw dust to make one foot. It is manufactured under heat and pressure to encapsulate the wood in the plastic. These materials tend to lighten in color over the first couple years unless they have a UV inhibitor.
Most manufacturers produce a surface with a wood grain embosses into it. Polypropylene composite will retain its shape when you bend it to make curved railings and benches. Trex is the most popular example of this material.
These materials are recycled #2 plastic, usually milk jugs. They come in many different colors and even custom colors with larger purchases. While some manufacturers produce hollow boards, the majority are solid and mimic lumber closely in dimension and appearance. Surprisingly, this material works very much like wood. It can be cut, routed and drilled very easily. In some cases the boards also have a wood grain pattern embossed into the surface. Some are for looks, while some also help with slip resistance. These materials have a UV inhibitor to help protect against color fading and ultimately plastic breakdown.
PVC stands for Poly - Vinyl - Chloride. These products are not recycled plastics. PVC or Vinyl is extruded into a hollow core or cellular foam core shape to resemble a board. They tend to comes in a few colors (white, tan and gray).
The most popular choice of materials in the US, primarily because of cost. About 80% of pressure treated wood is Southern yellow pine. It has a very pronounced grain, with a yellow-green hue caused by the ACQ chemical treatment of the wood. It is graded Select, #2 and better, and construction grade. The industry has now recently switched over to ACQ (Alkaline Copper Quat) from CCA (Chromated Copper Arsenate) because of potential health problems from exposure.
The chemical preservative is forced into the wood cells under high vacuum pressure. Pressure treated usually has a warranty against decay and insect infestation, in most cases for up to 40 years. .
Newly cut cedar has a color range from light browns and tans to salmon pink. Left untreated it will eventually turn silvery gray and then to a very dark brown. It's graded A, B, C, or D.
This soft wood is more durable than most woods in common use. It is resistant to decay, but relatively soft and quick to weather. Preservative treatment/sealing is recommended.
These are extremely dense, tight-grained woods. Ipé color ranges from red-amber hues to dark brown. Some brands are more consistent as a dark brown. These woods are virtually clear from knots.
These imported, tropical hardwoods have a very high rating for insect and decay resistance, similar to pressure treated. These woods will turn silver gray very fast. These hard woods are very difficult to work with because they all need to be pre-drilled before screwing and nailing or they will split. Expect to pay an extra four dollars a square foot for labor to install these hard woods because you triple the time for installation.
Before applying a stain or sealer, wait for 48 hours of good weather before and after. Start out by covering the surrounding landscaping with old cloth sheets. Plastic will create a green house effect and burn the plant life. Tape off any windows with newspaper so you won't get any over-spray on the glass. If you're worried about the siding, then tape off the bottom 2-3 feet of the siding along the deck
To keep your deck from turning gray, you will have to purchase a sealer or stain with an ultra violet (UV) protecting chemical.
If you are using a clear sealer, you will most certainly expect to repeat this process every year. You can easily apply the sealer with a garden pump sprayer (1-2 Gallon). Fill the sprayer over a garbage bag so you don't spill any on the ground.
Always back roll the floor with a roller to stop puddles of the sealer from forming. If you let the puddles of sealer dry, they will tend to have a milky color or even crystallize.
The trick to using a sprayer and not wasting your sealer is to do the inside of the railing first from the deck. Spray to the side on a 45 degree angle LIGHTLY UP AND DOWN. Then, do the outside of the rail that you didn't cover.
All the over-spray from spraying the rail will almost cover 2-3 feet of the floor behind the rail.
When staining a deck, we would recommend not using a sprayer. If your over-spray gets on the house and dries, it will be hard to remove without damaging the exterior. When staining, use a roller for the floor and a brush for the railings and benches. Stains are either "tinted" (tints enhance the wood color) or "semitransparent" (this type of stain is used to mask over the wood grain and give a bolder look). Most deck stains are sealers mixed with a stain and can be applied in one step. If your stain does not include a sealer, you will have to seal the deck also. The longest lasting stains are the most opaque or "semitransparent"; they tend to last for two or three years.