Looking for a low-maintenance deck? Consider one made from virgin vinyl

Q. I would like to replace my wood deck with a material that requires less maintenance, such as vinyl. I live in the Northwest, and have to deal with a rainy climate.

- M.B., Kirkland, Wash.

A. You have three basic choices of materials, says Nadav Malin, editor of Environmental Building News in Brattleboro, Vt.: wood treated with preservatives, recycled plastic, or virgin plastic.

The best woods for such outdoor use are redwood and cedar, but these have become scarce - and costly - resources. So many builders turn to preservative-treated wood, which is environmentally suspect. Over time, the chemicals tend to leach out and can create a hazardous condition.

You may want to look for wood that has been preserved with a less-toxic chemical, called ACQ Preserve. Call 800-421-8661, or visit the Web at www.treatedwood.com

A better solution, and one that addresses your concern about less maintenance, is recycled plastic. This product is made from recycled HDPE (high-density polyethylene), commonly used in milk jugs.

Recycled-plastic decking is environmentally friendly because it doesn't use preservatives, it's impervious to moisture and insects, doesn't splinter, and doesn't need maintenance beyond an occasional washing.

The downside to recycled plastic is that, in direct sunlight, it tends to reflect more heat than wood does. It tends to shrink and swell to a greater degree than wood, and requires more support (the understructure should still be made of wood for strength). Recycled plastic - especially if reinforced with fiberglass - can also be more expensive in the short term.

Brand names include: Trex (www.trex.com), SmartDeck (www.smartdeck.com), ChoiceDek (www.choicedek.com), and Carefree (www.usplasticlumber.com).

The third option, virgin plastic, includes vinyl. It is stronger than recycled plastic and reflects less heat.

Vinyl DreamDeck - Thermal Industries (www.thermalindustries.com).

Wrong word In the May 5 Resident Expert column, a reader is advised not to plant vegetables near a septic system because of danger from "chloroform" bacteria. It is more likely that "coliform" bacteria was intended.

- K.S., Richmond, Calif.

Editor's note: The reader is correct.

Readers: Pose your questions and we'll seek out experts on home repairs, gardens, food, and family legal issues. Send queries to the Homefront Editor, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115 or e-mail home@csps.com

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