I was born next to a little lake in southeastern Wisconsin, not so far from the much bigger lake–Lake Michigan–that forms Wisconsin’s long eastern border. It’s where I grew up and where I first started building, first with snow, sticks, and leaves, and later with lumber. Having built and rebuilt quite a few decks in my old neck of the woods, I became very familiar with the challenges brought about by months of snow, sleet, ice, freezing rain, cold moist wind, and everything in between.
Wisconsin brings together moisture and cold like few other places on the planet. Dealing with this moisture is of great importance when taking care of a deck. After a few recent trips back to the state, in which I helped some old friends with their decking projects, I’ve found that the new generation of fully-capped bamboo composite decking is an excellent choice when it comes to meeting the challenges of Wisconsin’s moist lakeshore climate.
The Challenge of Snow, Ice, and Heavy Rains
While Wisconsin isn’t typically on the receiving end of the (in)famous lake-effect snow, it receives plenty without the extra boost. The big challenge to keeping a deck healthy in this part of the world is keeping the moisture out of the boards. This takes some doing in any climate with enough precipitation. In Wisconsin, it is made even trickier due to the presence of ice. Ice causes a problem because when it melts, even slightly, water moves into any cracks and pores that might be present on the decking materials, only to freeze when the sun goes down. This occurs both in wood and in other porous materials, like cheap composites. When water turns to ice, it actually expands, which then expands the cavity it happens to be in, ultimately causing large cracks and fissures. The repeated melting and refreezing allows moisture to seep ever deeper into decking boards, which also leads to warping, and very often, problems around the deck screws called mushrooming.
After the long cold winter, snow and ice may melt off the roof, but the precipitation is far from over. In Wisconsin, April showers typically bring plenty of May puddles, and test the resiliency of any horizontal surfaces exposed to them. Indeed, spring and summer both tend to be warm and humid, with plenty of rainfall and powerful thunderstorms. In terms of deck care, it’s very important to keep this moisture at bay.
How to Tackle Wisconsin’s Cold and Moisture Issue
With traditional wooden decking, the answer to these challenges is to apply plenty of deck sealer regularly, while also choosing highly moisture-resistant woods, like cedar, redwood, or ipe. While this is one option, it will cost you in labor or money. In addition, even if the surface of the deck is religiously sealed, the underside, where the boards meet the decking joists, will invariably collect moisture as the original seal coat wears down. The often-hard-to-reach sides of the boards will absorb moisture as well. Once those areas absorb water, the process of board deterioration will be underway, no matter how well the top is protected.
The first generation of composite decking featured no protective plastic, and even current, second generation composite decking often only has a protective plastic cap on top and on the sides, with no protection on the underside of the deck boards. This design led to the same problems with moisture as in wooden materials. The latest innovation, fully-capped composite decking, is built with a rigid and impermeable shell on all sides of the board, which greatly increases the deck’s resistance to moisture.
The Moisture-Resistant Benefits of Bamboo
The addition of bamboo to composite decking material increased moisture resistance even further. Most composite decking is a combination of plastic and sawdust infill. Sawdust is very water absorbent, and when moisture seeped into the boards, they would start to deteriorate in much the same manner as wooden boards. Bamboo, on the other hand, doesn’t absorb as much water as sawdust, making it an excellent decking material in wet climates.
With moisture from snow, melted water, spring rains, and humid summers, any deck built in Wisconsin will have to resist water absorption in order to have a long lifespan with as little maintenance as possible. Infinity Decking, produced by Fortress Deck, is among the vanguard of the newest generation of fully-capped composite decking, incorporating strong, water-resistant bamboo. The result is a durable, aesthetically pleasing, and low-maintenance deck well-suited for the Wisconsin climate. For more information, contact Fortress Deck, and feel free to check out the Fortress Building Products website for more innovative building materials from Fortress.