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Synthetic decking put to the test

Older synthetic decking didn't hold up, but newer products are much improved and need less maintenance than wood decks, Consumer Reports found.

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Makers promote synthetic decking as a low-maintenance alternative to wood decks. Long-term tests by Consumer Reports see if the product can live up to the promises.

Wood decks need to be stained every few years, or they can crack and fade. Homeowner Abbot Fluer said his six-year-old wood deck looks great, but only because he recently re-stained it.

"I think it's going to last a couple of years, and then I'll have to do another coat," Fluer said.

Synthetic decks don't need to be stained but cost two to three times the price of pressure-treated wood. The industry is getting a share of the market – one in five homeowners put in synthetic decking.

Consumer Reports tested 17 types of synthetic decking. Planks were put on a deck at the magazine's New York headquarters two years ago, and boards were left out for a year in Arizona and Florida.

"It faded quite a bit in Arizona. And in Florida, there was a lot of mildew growth," Consumer Reports staffer Bernie Deitrick said. Removing that mildew will take a lot of work.

Over time, some of the synthetic boards sagged, Consumer Reports found. That could be a problem, even when a deck's supports are close together.

After five years, some older synthetic deck also didn't look very good. A type called GeoDeck actually disintegrated. That product, which was sold nationwide from April 2002 through July 2005, has been recalled.

However, newer synthetic decking is much improved, Consumer Reports says. Some wears well and requires far less maintenance than wood.

Among plastic decking, Eon Classic is a good choice. It comes in a variety of colors and costs $600 per 100 square feet.

For those who prefer the look of a composite – plastic mixed with wood fibers – Consumer Reports' top pick was Symmatrix. It is especially good at resisting mildew and costs $525 per 100 square feet.


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