Practical Residential Paving

As there is a new respect for preserving the world’s forests, a number of artificial or “green” decking products have become available. These alternative decking products are made of aluminum, plastics, plastic resins, polypropylenes, bamboo and composite materials combining sawdust and recycled plastic shopping bags. One of the most exciting is made from rice husks and mineral oil. It emulates teak, and is very resistant to absorbing stains.

Avoid plastic lumber made from PVC–not healthy or sustainable.

Making A Decision

There are several factors to consider when making a decking selection:

• Cost. Pressure-treated pine is one of the least expensive natural wood products, and is planted in sufficient quantities to be considered sustainable. Elevated above the ground, it has a 7- to 10-year life in hot and humid conditions, such as South Florida. Hardwoods, such as Ipe, Green-heart, Palupe and teak, are at the upper end of the cost spectrum. Many of the alternative wood products are equally expensive.

• Maintenance. One of the reasons these alternatives are more expensive than natural wood is their “ultra low-maintenance” claim. Softer woods deteriorate faster, expand and contract with the weather, stain more easily, and are susceptible to insect infestation and mildew, where many of these alternatives do not. They also need to be periodically refinished.

• Ease of installation and repair. All of these decking alternatives are better when installed above the existing ground level. Depending on their intended use and weight loads, there are a number of ways to properly support these decks.

Always consult a professional designer, contractor or engineer. Codes vary in different locales.

Typically, another type of wood is used for these below-deck supports, since they come into contact more with moisture. Many of the decking alternatives are grooved on the sides to allow “hidden fasteners” to be used. These have wings that hold one piece of deck to the next, and attach to the support member below. They are much more attractive than screws and nails, which pop up eventually and deteriorate; they create a minimum 1/16- to 1/8-inch space between adjacent planks, allowing water to pass through, so the water must be drained away. However, when a plank needs repairing, these hidden fasteners require disassembling a part of the deck.

When in doubt, consult with a professional, and spend sufficient time becoming educated about the wisest choice for the intended use. Be conscious of the effect choices will have on the environment, and be good stewards of the planet. Good design is sustainable, long-lasting and functional!

Bruce Howard is the President of Bruce Howard & Associates, a landscape-architecture, site-planning and golf-course design firm in Miami, Fla. He can be reached via e-mail at

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One comment on “Practical Residential Paving

  1. Anthony Van Liefde on said:

    Under the category: Natural Stone, homeowners can also be offered reclaimed antique cobblestone for the ultimate option in a sustainable surface, if their architectural design would be enhanced by traditional material. The options available in our collection of reclaimed Historic European Cobblestone, offers reclaimed-recycled-antique natural stone in a wide variety of cobble sizes and types. Prices are surprisingly competitive with other new natural stone alternatives.

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