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A Guide to Boat Dock Materials

by Scott Myers
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When it comes to building or refinishing a dock, there are several choices for the decking material. Each one has its advantages, and you will find people that have a preference for any of them. Let's take a look at the popular decking choices for your dock.

Related Blog: 5 Tips on How to Maintain Your Dock in the South Florida Summer Heat

Wood

Many people like the look and feel of a real wood deck. Although it can get uncomfortably warm on a hot day, natural wood provides a welcome warmth on a cool day as long as the sun is shining. Wood offers a pleasing look that allows the dock to be inviting to visitors.
But wood is not a popular choice just because of its look and feel. Woods such as red cedar or IPE hardwood contain natural oils and tannins that resist rot, decay, and insects. It can do this naturally, without the need to be pressure treated with potentially harmful chemicals.
Wood generally comes in two types, hardwood, and softwood.

Hardwood

The typical hardwood decking tends to cost more than their softwood alternative because the wood grows much slower. This means that it takes longer to replace the product when it is sold, and the price reflects this. The density of hardwood is higher, which also makes it heavier.
Thanks to its hardness, most hardwood exhibits a superior resistance to wear than softwoods. However, with proper upkeep, both kinds of wood will provide many years of service.

Softwood

Most softwood decking material is easier to work with than hardwood. You'll find that it is easier to cut and drill, which can make a difference when it comes to building a dock. Softwoods have a varying degree of resistance to decay and insects, depending on the amount of heartwood found in it. Heartwood is the densest part of a tree, and it is located in the tree's center.

Wood Maintenance

While wood has many naturally pleasing attributes, it will typically require more maintenance than aluminum or composite decking. A good rule of thumb is to power wash wood decking once every year and follow it up with a new finish or stain every three years or so. If no stain or finish is applied, quality wood decking will age to a lovely gray finish.

Composite and Plastic

Manufactured deck choices like composite and plastic require less maintenance than a wood dock, and it avoids the splinters. It never needs to be sanded, stained, or refinished, unlike wood choices. However, it should be noted that composite decking is not completely maintenance free.

Composite

As its name suggests, composite decking is comprised of several different materials. Most composite decking contains organic products, such as wood fibers, which is mixed with recycled inorganic products such as plastics. The material is bonded together using adhesives and formed to make deck boards.
Composite decking, because of its bonded nature, is more resistant to cracking than the plastic alternative.

Plastic

Decking boards made of plastic contain no organic materials and are made of polyethylene, polyvinyl chloride, or polypropylene. They can be manufactured in a variety of ways, including injection molding and extrusion.
Plastic decking is lighter than their composite counterparts, and they will have a shinier appearance when viewed under the right lighting conditions.

Composite and Plastic Maintenance

Both composite and plastic require less maintenance than natural wood decking. Since composite decking contains organic materials, it should be watched for damaging growths of mold or mildew. Regular cleaning will significantly minimize this threat.
Plastic decking is not susceptible to mold or mildew damage, but it will on occasion crack. Cracked or otherwise damaged plastic decking components should be replaced when found.

Aluminum

Aluminum decking is the most maintenance free of all of the decking choices. It will not rot or decay and remains durable after years of service. For this reason, aluminum is a popular choice for docks.
In recent years aluminum decking has become available that is powder coated to look like real wood. This gives the inviting appearance of a wood dock without the upkeep required. Aluminum can also be painted or anodized, giving a wide color choice to the discriminating dock owner.
Aluminum has excellent durability and wear characteristics, but it can be the most expensive choice for decking material.

Aluminum Maintenance

Aluminum is very easy to maintain. The only time it really needs to be cleaned is when the dock owners see fit to clean it. Since aluminum is lighter than other deck choices, it is also easy to handle in the case of seasonal storage.
Whatever choice you make when it comes to building or refinishing a dock, the important thing is to choose the product that works for you. And don't forget the right accessories, which can make a good dock into a great one.

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