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TimberTech Overview

Decking alternatives: How about composite wood?

A beautiful wood deck is the superstar amenity of a home's exterior. It is the undisputed focal point, serving both visually and as the "heart" of one's outdoor lifestyle. Much like the kitchen phenomenon indoors, decks are a social "magnet" where those who live there relax and will spend a great deal of time and it is where guests gather and socialize.

Simply put, decks in and of themselves are a great attraction with great attraction.

Say "decks" and one automatically thinks: wood. It's only natural. Wood is beautiful, there are numerous choices with various levels of quality and pricing and when warmed by the summer sun, it simply "feels" good, both physically and aesthetically.

Appearance aside, the wood you choose for your deck is generally a function of budget. The most pervasive and least expensive natural material is pine, Douglas fir and economy grades of redwood. While considered the most traditional of all decking materials, even with proper care, they have a limited lifespan, generally about 10 years or less depending upon exposure and how well they are maintained.

You can extend the lifespan of "economy" lumber (or POW, "plain old wood") by using that which has been "pressure-treated," whereby chemicals (pesticides) are driven deep into wood fibers to retard deterioration due to moisture and to provide insect resistance.

Pressure-treated wood, with proper care, is said to extend the lifespan of wood from 10 years to as much as 20 years.

The obvious pluses and benefits are offset by a modest increase in price and a minor controversy over the long-term exposure to the actual chemicals used to achieve the desired effect. The original formula, chromated copper arsenate, contained arsenic. Today's more human-friendly version, ammonia copper quaternary, uses copper-based preservatives to accomplish the benefits of pressure-treated wood and, though less toxic, still conjures up health concerns among families with little ones who might scour the surface on all fours.

Beyond economical and longer-lasting lie a number of woods that increase price-wise exponentially as do the beauty, durability and exotic aspects. The pricing stair step begins with cedar and cypress, and goes on up to and through rich mahoganies, durable and beautiful redwoods and exotics like South America ironwood, pau lope and ipe.

Budget aside, a beautiful wood deck can also put a damper on one's summer fun or entertaining with on-going maintenance. However, today's technology is steadily providing exciting new answers to this age-old nemesis.

The cost and drudgery of keeping wood looking good is rapidly giving way to a manmade species called composite wood that is giving Mother Nature a real run for her money.

Say "composite wood," and the uninformed may think: cheesy plastic? No way, not today. Along with the steadily increasing numbers of manufacturers offering a wide range of looks has come a product that truly rivals the properties, performance and reason for using natural woods.

Composite wood in general blends real wood fibers with various forms of plastic and molds it into "board form" to achieve the look and properties of conventional decking but with a host of built-in benefits.

First be aware that composite wood is only used for deck surfaces, and that all sub-structures still utilize traditional framing techniques and conventional materials. Here's where pressure-treated lumber really shines. But it is on the surface where composite wood-look decking is becoming a superstar.

Basically, composite woods last far longer than natural lumber and require very little maintenance by comparison. Periodic soap and water cleanup is all the maintenance usually required. Composite decking will stain just like natural materials, so be sure to prevent nasty spills and drips from your barbecue.

Beyond being artfully molded into planks that truly capture (and rival) the "look" of traditional decking, it does not warp, crack, rot, split or splinter and it resists insects. It handles like wood for sawing, drilling and fasteners (screws and nails), and it requires no staining, painting or finishing initially or later on.

While not a no-maintenance product, it is certainly low maintenance and the elimination of initial staining and/or sealing and re-staining and/or re-sealing over time equates to savings that more than offsets the modest increased upfront cost.

Aha, you say, there's the catch. Not really. Composite woods fall in the same price range as the upscale choices such as cedars and redwoods but without the "down the road" drastic changes in appearance and inevitable care required. Keep in mind that even composite materials will age, oxidize and turn gray with prolonged exposure to the sun. (But then so will you.)

Once you've decided that composite wood just may be your decking surface solution, compare before you buy. The Internet is a great place to start, as most manufacturers provide comparative data on their Web sites. Once you've narrowed the field down to only a few, based on that which appeals to you, head for dealerships where those products are offered in your area.

You'll find a wide range of technologies and engineering, such as reversible planks (with different graining on either side) and tongue-and-groove edges that make spacing easy and provide proper drainage. Then there are hidden fastener options (for better appearance and safety), hollow product that allows for wider joist spacing, extended warranties (up to 25 years) and composite accessory options such as matching railing systems.

Collect literature and brochures for comparison and ask to visit a finished deck where you can see and test-walk the product.

In the end, a beautiful deck increases the beauty, value and enjoyment of your home and choosing (and using) the new composite wood deck surface that's right for you might just make things better in all three categories.

Today, a little homework upfront saves a lot of home "work" later on.

Organizing Spring Cleaning

Spring is a good time to tackle home and garden projects that have been on the back burner during winter. The garage, basement or carport often are filled to the rafters with items best suited for a rummage sale. A maze of cobwebs, a buildup of soot, dust-laden upholstery and window coverings and filthy windows are a few of the reasons that we engage in the annual ritual known as spring cleaning.

Cleaning is one of the least expensive forms of home maintenance. Shiny, clean surfaces not only look better, they last longer as well. And, with a regular maintenance and cleaning program, a house is easier to keep up. In the long run, it also will be worth more.

Historically, the warmer spring weather was the time to open the home after the long winter months. This was necessary to remove soot accumulation resulting from wood and coal-burning stoves. Carpets, draperies and other items were subtly darkened and dirtied by these heat sources, making necessary the airing of entire houses.

Spring cleaning to most meant carrying mattresses and rugs outside for a solid beating. Curtains came down, and windows, cupboards, closets, walls and woodwork were sanitized inside and out.

While this laborious process might still be undertaken by some, thanks to cleaner burning heating systems and more efficient home ventilation, the scope of work is not quite as intensive. We propose that you simplify matters by taking heed of a few spring cleaning hints that we've discovered over the years.

First, don't be overwhelmed by the volume. Have a family meeting to devise a plan that outlines, in detail, who will do what. It is best to divide the project into areas and functions. Each family member of age can be responsible for his or her bedroom.

Select a space where all discarded items can be temporarily stored until the local charity service can pick up. The secret to a successful cleaning program is to handle items minimally. For example, a stack of electronic equipment will need to be pulled out of a cabinet in order for the electronics to be dusted and the cabinet cleaned. The equipment will then need to be replaced. It's helpful to have a small portable table, such as a card table, that can be used throughout the house to set things on while cleaning an area.

When cleaning a bookshelf, have a box at hand in which to pack unwanted books. Once finished, the box can be toted to the holding area until all of the unwanted goods can be carried off. Moreover, it's helpful to have several storage boxes on hand to accommodate items that you no longer want in the house, but you're not willing to part with. Sturdy small and medium-sized boxes work best. Once full, they won't be too heavy to carry. Boxes of uniform size are more easily stacked and stored. Old newspapers serve as good packing material for avoiding breakage. A roll of box tape is a must to preserve the contents and keep them dust-free.

Tough tasks such as window-washing and bathroom-cleaning, which frequently involve the use of chemicals and lots of elbow grease, should be reserved for an adult with the proper tools. And even adults should be mindful of safety. Safety goggles, rubber gloves and plenty of ventilation are musts when working with chemical cleaning products.

In all cases, work from the top down. Dusty walls and ceilings, dingy light fixtures and door and window trim should be tackled before other elements in the space. Windows, closets and furniture are next. Window and floor coverings should be last. This might include floor stripping, carpet cleaning and polishing.

The kitchen, laundry and bathrooms should be undertaken before other spaces. And, don't forget to dust the top ledge of all doors.

Spring Maintenance

Keeping your home and its operating systems clean and in good working order will make everything safer, more energy efficient and will cut utility and repair bills. What's more, regular maintenance can prevent damage that can lead to hundreds or thousands of dollars in repairs.

Many home maintenance projects offer a two for one—they improve appearance and prevent costly repairs down the road. For example, a fresh coat of paint will do wonders to improve the appearance of your home. That coat of paint will also offer weather protection that prevents deterioration and rot.

Many home maintenance tasks offer multiple benefits. Changing a furnace filter will not only improve the air quality in your home; a clean filter also means that the system won't have to work quite as hard and, thus, will save money on repairs and your utility bill.

Though home maintenance is a year-round task, spring and fall are two of the most important times for it.

Fall is the best time to prepare your home for winter rains and snow. Projects such as exterior caulking will prevent leaks and drafts. Repairing gutters and downspouts, roofing and drainage systems will help prevent roof leaks and flooded basements.

Spring is a time to assess how well your maintenance work held up during the winter and what other maintenance work or repairs must be made as a result of winter. Here's our list of spring home maintenance tasks that will keep your home humming for another season.

  • Gutters and downspouts: Even if you cleaned them in the fall, a mulch can collect in the gutters that can hasten rust and deterioration and make gutters sluggish during spring showers. Use a garden hose, a gutter scoop and a nylon brush to flush the gutters and downspouts. Use a wire brush to remove rust and peeling paint. Repair leaks and seal joints with a high-quality exterior grade caulk. Prime bare spots and add a fresh coat of paint.
  • Siding: No matter the type of siding, after a long winter's wear, it needs a good cleaning. One of the best means of brightening dingy siding is with a thorough pressure washing with water. If the siding is chalked or streaked, scrub it using a nylon truck brush along with a mild solution of powdered laundry detergent and hot water. Rinse thoroughly with fresh water. Check for cracks, peeling paint, missing or damaged mortar and caulking, and make the needed repairs.
  • Roof Leaks: Inspect the roof for loose or missing shingles. Binoculars work well for making an on-the-ground inspection. Look in the attic for water stains on the underside of the roof sheathing and on the rafters. They are telltale signs of a roof leak that might yet produce enough water to make its way to your ceiling. You don't need to wait till it rains to check a roof for leaks. Use a garden hose at suspicious areas to determine if your roof is leaking. Unless the roof needs replacement, damaged shingle replacement, flashing repair and roofing cement or caulking usually will do the trick.
  • Caulking: Caulking can take a real beating during winter. Spring is a good time to caulk around window trim and door frames, especially if you missed doing it in the fall. Do this after you have washed the exterior siding. Caulk tends to crack in concrete, foundations and basement walls.
  • Window and door screens: If you have trouble getting a good view of your spring flowers through your freshly washed windows, it might mean your window screens need cleaning or replacement. Remove window and door screens and give them a cleaning with a solution of powdered laundry detergent and hot water. Brush the screens with a nylon brush and give the screens and frames a rinsing with a garden hose or, better yet, a pressure washer. Mend tears and replace deteriorating material with new fabric. Lubricate hinges on screen doors and adjust hydraulic closers to make sure that the door closes fully.
  • Decks and fences: Decks, fencing and other exterior wood finishes should be cleaned and finished regularly to keep them looking good and to extend their life. Most high-quality exterior stains and wood finishes will last for two to three seasons—depending upon climate and the severity of the elements. However, a good spring cleaning is always in order. A solution of liquid chlorine bleach, powdered laundry detergent and hot water will remove mold and mildew from almost any exterior surface. For best results on wood decks, use a commercial deck-cleaning product that won't damage the finish. If the deck cleaner doesn't do it, try using a commercial deck brightener. If the finish is worn, try light sanding along with a fresh coat of finish.
  • Landscape irrigation: April showers may bring May flowers, but after the showers are gone, a good irrigation system will keep flowers blooming and turf green all summer. Spring is the time to clean, adjust, lubricate and tighten sprinkler heads. Most heads have an adjustment screw that will control water volume and, thus, the area covered by the sprinkler. Most modern sprinkler heads contain a filter that can be removed and cleaned. Replace broken filters. Clean or replace valve diaphragms to make sure that they are sealing properly. If you have an automatic timer, adjust the program to provide adequate watering time and don't forget to replace the battery that backs up the irrigation program.
  • Concrete patios, paths, driveways and carports: If your driveway or carport looks like an Indy 500 pit stop, a good cleaning is in order. Clean and degrease exterior concrete surfaces with a commercial concrete cleaner-degreaser. Use cat litter to absorb as much of the grease or oil first—by grinding it into the area with the soles of your shoes. Dispose of the oil-tainted cat litter as you would paint, used motor oil or other household toxic substances.
  • Air conditioner: Don't wait until the first heat wave to have your air conditioner serviced. If you do, chances are you will have a long wait. Save money and beat the heat by having a heating and air conditioning specialist give your system a good going over. Change filters, clean the coil case, check the blower, the temperature drop and the coolant pressure, lubricate the system and make sure that all components are operating to capacity.
  • Barbecue: Make sure the barbecue is in tiptop shape for serious spring and summer grilling. A good cleaning is all most barbecue grills need. Clean rust using a wire brush and rust solvent. Spot-prime using a heat-resistant metal paint. For gas barbecues, use compressed air to remove spider webs from burner assemblies. Clean or replace grates as necessary.