Azek decking and Ipe rails
Azek Deck with Ipe rails after one year.
In May 2009 I rebuilt my 24 year old 28 x 10 foot worn out pressure treated deck. After lots of research I decided on Azek decking and Ipe rails with DecKorator aluminum spindles. I used Trex sleeves to cover the 4x4 PT vertical posts. This makes a pretty good color match with the Ipe and a pleasant contrast with the beige decking. I sanded the Ipe top rail to remove the dark cross marks left by the sticks used between boards when in the stack for shipping and at the yard. I finished the Ipe top rail with Penofin for Hardwood in June 2009 using their Ist Step pretreatment on just half of the rails. It was Beautiful!
By late September the Penofin finsh had failed (as they predicted) and was redone with another coat that lasted through a fairly mild but wet Connecticut winter until March 2010. In the Spring, the Ipe showed some moderate mildew on two top rail sections and light mildew on two more. I could see no difference in the performance of the finish on rails that had the first step pretreatment vs. those that omitted the first step. I scrubbed the mildew off with a stainless steel pad and finished with another coat of Penofin in April 2010 . Since Im only doing the top rail the whole process to clean and refinish 45 feet of rail only took about 2 hours. The bottom 2 x 4 rail of unfinished Ipe is slowly graying but is still attractive. The vertical post sleeves of Trex show very little mildew and the Azek decking looks as good as when it went down a year ago. A quick hosing to get the pollen and dirt off made it look perfect. No mildew, no fading, no surprises and certainly no complaints. These are good materials and worth the extra money that they cost.
Here are some observations about the materials that I chose. The Azek decking is very easy to work with. It is lighter than most composites and the boards are straight- both flat and with very little camber. I have a bow wrench but didnÂt need it- if a board has a bit of camber it just takes a nudge from a helpers foot to line it up properly for fastening. I used 12" spacing for the floor joists and would not recommend less because the boards are not very rigid especially when in the hot sun. The Azek surface is tough and forgiving of dropped tools and sliding on one another during unloading or positioning. It is easy to cut the boards with a chop saw with a 60 tooth carbide blade or a sabre saw for notching around posts. The Cortex concealed fastening system is amazing- the screws cut a perfect hole as they get driven to the proper depth and the plugs fit the hole almost invisibly. So invisible that I drove a couple of screws within an inch of a previous screw that had the plug installed. While very good, the screws need some care in using. They have a #1 square drive which will tear out if you donÂt keep steady pressure on while driving. If the drive square tears out before the screw is fully driven below the deck surface you have a nasty task of backing it out. I had a half dozen of these tear outs which probably took three extra hours to fix. If the drive tears out with the head below the surface you can cut the plug short and fix it that way. The plugs color match the deck boards perfectly and they even come with grain patterns that can be matched pretty well to the board grain for near perfect hiding. Too bad the plugs donÂt come sorted as to grain type so you donÂt have to hunt for the best match. Fortunately my wife loves jigsaw puzzles so this was a good challenge for her. I doubt that many contractors would bother. They claim you can screw into the boards very near the end without splitting and I found this to be true.
In use, the Azek is quiet under foot, sheds all stains that we spilled (and wiped up) last summer (Grease, red wine, and ketchup to name a few) as well as tanins from leaves and normal dirt. It is not slippery when wet or very hot in the bright sun. It expands very little with temperature change and can be installed with tight end to end joints in the summer that will only open about 1/8th for a 16 foot board in the winter.
Best of all- it shows no signs of mildew or surface wear- none!
The Ipe Rail System.
The Ipe is very heavy and very, very strong. My rail system uses 7 foot spacing between 4x4 PT vertical posts and consists of a 5/4 x 6 horizontal Ipe top plate with a 5/4 x 4" Ipe plate underneath. The two plates are screwed together from underneath. The 26" aluminum spindles are fit into Â¾" drilled holes in the lower plate. The bottom of the spindles are supported by a Ipe 2x4 with the 4" dimension vertical. I used Stainless screws for the whole rail system and it is super strong and rigid. Contrary to some reports I found that the Ipe does not need special tools to cut or drill it. A carbide saw and high speed steel spade and twist drills work fine- though probably dull more rapidly than with soft wood. I did not have a problem with working the wood. But you do need to seal every cut end with the wax that they recommend- and even with that some of the ends will split when drying. It makes a great rail system but I would not be happy with the maintenance needed to keep a deck surface looking good.
One factor that I learned to appreciate is the waste that a given material may entail- the Azek had virtually no waste at all- while the PT joists and posts that I bought had perhaps 30% waste from twisting and warping almost before my eyes as I rushed to get them installed before they turned into pretzels. The Ipe had little waste because the yard I bought from allowed me to select the boards I wanted- but for a large job the Ipe cost of waste might be substantial. This waste is both costly and time consuming as you try to minimize it and should be factored in to your job cost calculation.
Overall I have had no problems with any of the deck materials and would recommend all to anyone willing to spend a little more money for a deck to be proud of - and one that needs very little maintenance to keep looking good.
I am not a contractor or builder- just a do it yourself guy, and I have no relationship with any of the manufacturers mentioned. I just think makers of good products deserve to be
acknowledged just as we complain about the bad ones. I will post some pictures as soon as I figure out how.