Composite decking is popular in non-residential applications, too.
By Brent Gwatney, MoistureShield
You can scarcely open a home-improvement or design magazine without encountering at least one article on outdoor living. The American Institute of Architects’ (AIA, aia.org) Home Design Trends Survey for second quarter 2017, reported that “outdoor living rooms have taken the top spot in terms of growing consumer interest among special function rooms.” The survey also found that outdoor kitchens are growing in popularity faster than indoor kitchen products and features.
Outdoor living is undeniably hot in the residential sector, but what about in commercial architecture? Many of the factors that lead homeowners to pursue outdoor living projects also are influencing materials and designs in commercial/institutional projects ranging from hotels to restaurants, marinas, zoos, and public parks.
The desire to be outdoors seems to be hardwired in humans. Many architects are familiar with the concept of biophilia, which biologist Edward O. Wilson defined as “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life.” Wilson elaborated on the concept by saying we have “an innate and genetically determined affinity” for nature.
Research shows that people derive many health benefits from being outside—from improved mood to enhanced concentration. “Just looking at a garden or trees or going for a walk, even if it’s in your own neighborhood, reduces stress,” said Judith Heerwagen, a Seattle-based environmental psychologist, as quoted in a Huffington Post story.
In another article, Heerwagen offers design tips for tapping into people’s “intrinsic attraction to natural beauty.” These include providing, “distant views, a sense of enclosure or refuge, green and flowering vegetation, water, moderate levels of complexity, spatial variability, and pathways that suggest safe movement between places.” Architects increasingly incorporate these factors in their residential and commercial projects, and further draw people outdoors by crafting exterior spaces that have many of the same comforts and amenities as home and building interiors.
Beyond the home
From sidewalk cafes to boardwalks through landscaped areas, commercial property owners have long sought to provide their customers with outdoor experiences. Although this is common in warm climates, the desire to connect people with the outdoors can be found at virtually any latitude. While the typical tourist likely pictures a sunny Mediterranean location, such as Rome, for a restaurant with outdoor seating, sidewalk pubs can be found in rainy London. Even far-north Stockholm sports popular sidewalk cafes.
Beyond the sidewalk, popular commercial outdoor living spaces include hotel swimming pool decks and patios, oceanfront restaurants, rooftop bars, and marinas. In the public sector, parks are the quintessential place for many people to spend time outside relaxing and having fun.
As with residential outdoor living spaces, many of these applications feature decking. Historically, amenities with decked surfaces—including decks, docks, and boardwalks—featured wood decking, given the material’s abundance and beauty. Now, though, many building professionals are seeking innovative alternatives.
Durability is crucial on commercial jobs, as decked surfaces often must withstand high foot traffic, along with demanding weather exposure. At the same time, for a successful job, the decking must be attractive and offer a range of aesthetic benefits that appeal to the facility’s owners and users. Choosing the correct decking material will ensure projects look beautiful and stand strong against the elements for years to come.
Next to concrete, wood decking has been the default material for commercial decks, docks, and boardwalks for many years. In light of recent advancements in materials science, more building pros are using wood-alternative decking products, such as composites. Market researchers at Principia, Malvern, PA (principiaconsulting.com), predict that within the next few years, composites and cellular PVC will represent 40% of total value of decking sold. As they explain, “the products provide superior weathering properties, highly attractive aesthetics, and ultra-low maintenance.”
Project teams value modern composites for their rich, warm look with realistic wood-grain details. Embossing and coloring are two of the most distinctive beauty characteristics of composite decking. In the past, shallow wood-grain embossing and uniform coloring fueled complaints about composites looking too much like plastic. With recent technology advances, manufacturers have developed methods for applying pigments to create a variegated appearance and randomizing the embossed grain pattern so no two boards are alike. The result is composites that more closely resemble wood deck boards. Today’s composites not only help create outdoor spaces that connect people with nature, they also emulate natural materials.
Composite decking’s attributes are illustrated by the following commercial/institutional decking projects that deal with demanding climates, as well as a high foot-traffic volumes:
Maxx Royal Kemer Resort Hotel, Antalya, Turkey
Nestled on the Turkish Riviera, the Maxx Royal Kemer Resort (maxxroyal.com/en/kemer-resort) is known for its Mediterranean-style luxury. Online guest reviews often remark on the resort’s exceptional architecture. A finalist in the 2015 World Architecture Festival Awards, in the hotel-and-leisure category, several architecture critics have ranked the property as one of the most beautiful hotels in the world. Among the hotel’s many opulent features, the Azure Turk restaurant’s beachfront deck made of composite decking beckons guests to relax to views of the Mediterranean Sea. Private poolside verandas also feature the eye-catching decking. The project team chose a high-performance composite for its beauty and durability in the demanding Mediterranean climate.
Port Royale Marina, Gainesville, GA
Lake Lanier is a boater’s paradise located an hour outside Atlanta. The Georgia lake attracts more than 7-million visitors each year, and on the western shore, the 500-slip Port Royale Marina is the gateway to the lake’s scenic north end.
As part of a multi-million dollar upgrade, the marina’s owner and operator, TEI Industries, Gainesville, GA (bestinboating.com), is installing composite decking throughout the facility, including:
• main deck
• access bridge
• raised walkways
• finger piers
• restaurant deck
• children’s spray park
“We chose composite decking because we didn’t want to have the maintenance issues associated with regular wood decking,” said Brent Pearson, operations manager for TEI Industries. “Prior to a high-performance composite, we always used 2×8 pressure-treated lumber. Long-term durability is the key, of course; that’s why we chose the composite. Plus, our customers love it.”
Pearson noted that while composite decking weighs more than treated lumber and requires additional flotation on docks, it weighs much less than concrete and does not have the maintenance problems of wood and concrete. Composite decking is also a cost-effective choice. “There are other alternatives, such as fiberglass, but they are more costly,” said Pearson. “Ironwood or ipe have incredible strength, easily work with 24-in. on-center structural supports, and last a long time, but are twice the price these days of composites.”
The composite decking used in Port Royale Marina relies on a unique manufacturing process that encapsulates wood fibers in water-resistant polyethylene plastic, making it so resistant to moisture that it can be installed on the ground, in the ground, or even underwater. This moisture resistance made it a perfect choice for the marina’s decking, which is subject to high moisture exposure from Georgia’s humid climate and contact with the lake water. One of the marina’s amenities that receive especially intense water exposure is the Water Play Place, a special deck with water fountains in which children splash. Here, too, TEI Industries used composite decking, which can stand up to repeated soakings, and is splinter free for bare feet.
Gulf Breeze Zoo, Pensacola, FL
From high heat and moisture to hurricanes, the Florida climate really tests outdoor building materials. After 18 yr. of punishing weather, including Hurricanes Ivan and Dennis, the treated wood boardwalks at the Gulf Breeze Zoo (gulfbreezezoo.org) near Pensacola were severely deteriorated.
As part of extensive upgrades to the locally popular, 50-acre attraction, zoo officials replaced the damaged wood decking with 1,500 sq. ft. of moisture-resistant composite decking. “The owners were looking for decking that would stand up to our demanding Gulf Coast climate and look great for years–and composites really fit the bill,” said Dennis Meredith, president of Meredith & Sons Lumber, Pensacola, (meredithonline.com). “Plus, the composite decking is splinter free, which is important for children who go barefoot.”
“In addition to the composite’s durability and good looks, the zoo was sold on the decking’s simple maintenance—it never needs to be painted, stained, or sealed,” noted Meredith.
Lower Yahara River Trail, Dane County, WI
In August 2017, the Dane County, WI, Parks Department opened a 2 1/2-mi. trail connecting the towns of Madison and McFarland. The trail features North America’s longest boardwalk bridge dedicated to non-motorized transportation. The mile-long bridge spans Lake Waubesa, and is subjected to Wisconsin’s well-known snowy conditions. To provide a beautiful and durable decked surface, the county chose moisture-resistant composite decking.
As more commercial and institutional facility owners seek to provide their customers with memorable outdoor experiences, many building professionals are turning to composite decking to help bring people outside, and to create high-performance surfaces with the good looks of nature.
Since their introduction in the 1980s, composites have advanced in performance and aesthetics. From moisture-resistant boards that can be full submerged without decaying to newly developed composites that absorb much less heat than traditional composites, today’s building pros can find a solution for virtually any design need.
Brent Gwatney is senior vice president for sales at MoistureShield composite decking, (moistureshield.com), Springdale, AR, and a member of the North American Deck and Railing Association (NADRA).