Azek decking and Ipe rails

whispertooApril 29, 2010

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 ¾" 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.

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I have posted some photos of my deck in the Home Gallery. These were all taken in April 2010 when the deck was one year old. The top rail has been refinished with Penofin. I don't know how to link them to this page but I think you can search with "Azek" (without quotes) to find them.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2010 at 11:10AM
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Alice Johannen

Thanks very much for this info, especially re: Azek. We just this morning met with a contractor who uses Azek and we'd never heard of it before, so now I'm in research mode. Very happy to hear of your good luck with it.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2010 at 9:40AM
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Would love to see the photos, but when I click on it the only thing I get is a cat food commercial. I'm fairly new to this, what am I doing wrong?

We are about to embark on a deck redo also and have looked extensively at Azek. I'm going to do the floor in Acacia color and the railing in Kona (because there is no railing in Acacia). To tie it together I'm going to have the second board in from the outside be in Kona and the Kona color railing will go on the outside board which will be the Acacia.....just trying to change it up a bit.

Your comments are letting us know we are on the right track....especially about the ketchup and wine as we entertain outside a lot.

Thanks for the informative post.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2010 at 1:45PM
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Thanks for posting your experience. Often comments are posted immediately after a project/staining are done when things look great but it is especially useful to see comments after some time has gone by to see how things are holding up.

Asbama: If you click on the "Photo Galleries" at the top of the page, then select "Home" and then "Decks" from the Gallery Categories you should see the photos.


    Bookmark   May 3, 2010 at 5:37PM
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Thanks! Saw the photos and the deck looks terrific, not to mention the view. I am in Massachusetts so I think the Azek will work well here too. What color is your Azek decking?

    Bookmark   May 3, 2010 at 6:37PM
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The Azek decking is Brownstone. I was torn about selecting Azek because only light colors were available at the time. Then just as I was ordering they announced that darker colors were coming. I decided not to wait and I am very happy I didnt. The light tan looks great- it is probably cooler in the sun and it goes well with the Ipe rail color.
To Asbamba- I dont know what Kona is- if it's an Azek color then I would caution that Azek is not a structural material and may not be strong enough for a rail.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2010 at 12:02PM
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Two more good sources that I forgot to mention-
My Ipe came from General Woodcraft in New London CT- while a bit more expensive than some more distant dealers they were very accommodating- they helped me select the boards I wanted and loaded them on my truck- the yard workers even worked beyond closing time to get me on my way. My stainless hardware came from Manasquan in Brick NJ. Good prices, good selection, fast shipping and they allowed me to return about 1000 screws that I ordered before I decided to use the Azek hidden fastener system. Both vendors are on my "Good Guys" list!

    Bookmark   May 4, 2010 at 12:20PM
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