A friend of mine had a great year at work, becoming the number one salesperson in the company. This was reflected in her Christmas bonus, and it allowed her to purchase new patio furniture to put on her deck. She’d been wanting to throw out her old plastic Adirondack chairs and replace them with something that better matched her farmhouse-style deck. When we moved those old chairs, though, we saw that they’d left the recognizable outline of an Adirondack chair in a darker color on the wood of her deck. This prompted my friend to wonder if these chairs, bought by her ex, would haunt her forever.
The culprit, in this case, was ultraviolet light. UV light is a short wavelength, high-frequency light beyond the visible spectrum that is energetic enough to prompt chemical reactions. It’s the part of sunlight that burns skin, and it can cause organic molecules to break down. This includes wood and textile fibers, and the chemical pigments that give them color. It’s what had faded the stain on most of my friend’s wood deck–except for where her chairs had been. The incident made my friend muse about replacing her wood deck surface with no fade composite decking or even PVC, but I had to caution her that how well either resisted fading was going to be determined by the efforts of the manufacturer. While some man-made decking resists UV better than wood does, ultraviolet light’s effects on plastics are frequently even more pronounced than they are on wood.
How Ultraviolet Light Damages Plastic Decking
Before we get into talking about plastic, let’s talk about why a deck owner might consider plastic or composite. Most people know that wood’s color fades rather quickly, and a silvery tone will set in after a few months to a year after a deck is built. Using a stain or a sealer soon after a deck is put in can prevent this fading, but a great many deck owners either forget or don’t plan to do this. If they do treat the wood when the deck is new, they often forget to do it in two years when it’s needed again. A few years later this usually leads to a faded and splintery deck. Some plastic and composite decks, on the other hand, can keep their colors longer and don’t require regular maintenance like staining. However, whether or not they fade will depend on how well the manufacturer deals with ultraviolet light.
UV light’s damaging effects are mainly due to its effect on carbon, in which it breaks the electron bond in the carbon-to-carbon pairing. In plastics, this leaves carbon atoms free to bond with atmospheric oxygen. What does this mean for a material like plastic? Well, it causes chalking as the oxygen bonds with severed carbon, and cracking as it bonds with freed carbon ends still in the long molecular chain in the main body of the plastic. It fades colors by severing the carbon bonds and allowing the carbon to bond with oxygen from the air or hydrogen from the material, both of which change the color of the object. UV light is also more of a hazard where the atmosphere is thinner, so the best decking for high altitudes is strongly resistant to UV.
In order to defend against these problems that UV light causes, manufacturers of decking and paints add UV stabilizers to the mixture. These are chemicals that either absorb or reflect UV radiation and keep it from affecting the molecules of plastics, paints, and even textiles that may be exposed to UV light. Stabilizers that work by absorbing the UV light generally dissipate the energy as heat, and this can be a problem with a material, like decking, that you step on with bare feet. Reflectant stabilizers lack this issue, and are the better choice for decking.
Looking at the Numbers: What No Fade Really Means
With any material, even synthetic decking engineered to resist fading, there will always be some loss of color due to UV light. UV light is omnipresent, and even with UV stabilizing agents there will always be at least a few affected molecules. What is possible is to keep this fading too small to be noticed by all but the most observant eyes. High-quality decking manufacturers try to keep fading at or below five delta E units of color change. Some manufacturers, though, tier their warranties so that this number of delta E units is acceptable in two years, with greater fading not falling under the warranty later. Others warranty their product from fading more than that amount for the full twenty-five years.
While a single delta E unit is a perceptible difference in color to the human, this is a little misleading. For comparison, a color difference of six delta E units in print reproductions between a copy and the original is within acceptable standards for color publications. A difference of five delta E units over the 25-year life of a deck when it is constantly exposed to the sun and other elements is exceptional. It is also impressive compared with a wooden deck, which in the case of my friend had noticeably faded in the span of just a few months.
Wood fades quickly, and wood stains can be expected to fade five delta E units in five years, and six to ten delta E units in the following years. At the ten year mark, your wood stain is more likely to look like dirt on the deck boards than deliberate coloration. The only good way to keep your wood at about the same shade is to diligently and consistently reapply a stain, and occasionally, to sand and reapply. Decking that includes a synthetic element can last longer and the colors will remain true to your original vision without refinishing. But how effective decking is at retaining color depends on the amount of engineering put into the product.
Why Choose No Fade Composite Decking?
Not all synthetic or synthetic blend decking is created equally. As we noted earlier, plastics are particularly vulnerable to UV light. Makers of decking that include plastic are aware of this, and formulate their deck boards with UV stabilizers to fend off the inevitable effects of the sun. But these formulations, and how well they endure, can vary. Some UV stabilizers work by converting the intercepted light energy into heat, and this could be responsible for some PVC decks’ uncomfortable warmth underfoot on a hot day. Some PVC decking products also require staining to help resist fading, just like wood does, which negates the benefit of this supposedly low-maintenance material. Composite decking, on the other hand, doesn’t have the same reputation for heat as PVC, doesn’t require staining or sanding, and, when it comes from a quality manufacturer, retains its color as well as or better than PVC decking without the plastic look.
One type of quality composite deck that resists UV fading is Infinity by Fortress Deck. It’s warrantied for no more than five delta E units of fading for 25 years when properly cared for. It’s a thoroughly engineered product with four lasting colors available. The full capping on each board creates a realistic wood-look deck and resists moisture and mold as well as sun. Fortress Building Product’s dedication to quality is clear in all their product lines, from their powder-coated steel fences to their elegant glass, cable, steel, and aluminum railings.