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Decking: Polypropylene Composite, or Polyethylene (PVC-Based)?


Ron Porasik, co-owner of Screwheads Decking in Racine, Wis., builds up to 40 decks a year. "I really like the polypropylene boards. They just feel sturdier. They're more durable long-term, but also less likely to crack, chip or splinter during installations." Photo: DuraLife Decking & Railing

The conversation rages as builders, designers and homeowners debate the merits of wood vs. composite decking. Many enjoy wood's natural look and feel as well as its earthy smell. Others would rather work with wood products ranging from pressure-treated pine to ipe and cedar, given their usually lower price when compared to composite deck boards. Wood, however, comes with its own set of challenges. This includes the ongoing need to seal and stain most wood decks annually or at least semi-annually to prevent the rotting, fading, cracking and discoloration that can occur over time and even more often in acidic environments.

Composite decking offers a low-maintenance, long-lasting alternative. It doesn't need sanding, scraping or refinishing. Composites are also typically weather and stain-resistant; there's no splintering, warping or rotting. So, is composite decking all about the same?

"There is a definite difference between decking products made with polypropylene composite material, as opposed to polyethylene or other PVC-based decking," says Mike Descoteaux of DuraLife Decking & Railing. He explains that polypropylene is a high-performance polymer used in everyday applications that require resistance to heat, chemicals and staining, while remaining structurally sound and durable.Car batteries and fluid reservoirs, chemical storage containers and industrial housings are made from polypropylene.

Descoteaux notes that a deck board's modulus of elasticity (MOE) and modulus of rupture (MOR) are excellent indicators of a deck board's ultimate performance and resistance to flexing or sagging between joists. In short, the higher the MOE and MOR values, the better the performance.

"Performance testing shows polypropylene decking measures at approximately 700,000 elasticity psi, while regular polyethylene boards come in at 500,000, and regular PVC at 195,000," he explains. "Polypropylene products produce a rupture PSI of approximately 5,000, in comparison to 3,800 for regular polyethylene and PVC products."

"We've used polypropylene deck boards on hundreds of projects over the years," said Jim Meriwether, president and owner of Merco Marine in Wellsburg, W.V. "I'm particularly impressed with their durability. They are more rigid and sturdier than other composites. This is especially important when working with a floating frames on a river bank in an environment with wide temperature ranges and severe weather."

As seen in LASN magazine, October 2016.

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June 18, 2019, 6:40 pm PDT

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