“A Tale of Two Products”
Because I spent some nine summers of my life making our own backyard paradise, that has always been a special interest of mine and over these last seven years, I have written a fair number of blogs on this subject. Over the years we have entertained a fair number of people back there, every one of whom would be flabbergasted to learn that I view it, in one important aspect, as a failure, but, really, I do. What I most wanted to do when I designed and built that yard, was to make something that would require no maintenance at all. In pursuit of that I read a number of Do-It-Yourself books and sought out every low maintenance product available. Today I want to tell you about the one area that was a total success—and those areas that fell considerably short of the mark. I’ll do it by writing about a product I saw at KBIS in January that was both new and old.
Really, they’re the same product, or that is to say they are made from the same materials and in somewhat the same way, but in the end, they are completely different, to such an extent, really, that I suppose the original version of the product must now be viewed as a prototype. I’ve included a picture of one of the two raised decks I made in 2000 using Trex decking (the second picture), which they may or not be all that happy to see at this late date, but I’ve done it because I want to make a point. I chose this decking because I wanted something that would last. I wanted something that would enable me to put it down once and then never again have to do anything but go back there and enjoy it, and that’s just what I got.
In listing all the things I wanted from the decking, I have to add that I really did try to get similar things from the entire package. I used redwood throughout because I was told that it was impervious to dry rot damage. It’s not. I was told that it resists termite damage. Well, maybe it does, but resisting an enemy attack is not the same as winning the battle; I mean, it’s not the same thing at all. Regardless of how well redwood may resist termite damage, the plain fact of the matter is that termites have done quite a bit of damage to those overheads and railings. So, every spring since I’ve finished that yard I’ve gone back there with gallons of paint and several quarts of an epoxy-based product to repair the termite damage. And that, in turn, brings me right back to Trex.
Back then I bought only the decking. It was in the early years of the company, and that’s all that was available, but here’s what happened with that decking: Nothing. No splinters, no rot, no pronounced color change, no termite damage, no painting, no upkeep of any kind unless you want to count an occasional washing with a garden hose. What I have in my decking—alongside of what is now available—is surely ugly, but to my eyes that decking has always been beautiful because all I do is enjoy it. Well, no, that’s not really true. What I really do, for the most part, is stand on that wonderful decking while I’m working on all that redwood that was supposed to be forever and never made it past the second year before I started repairing it.
The decking and substructure, by way of decided contrast, have now been there some fifteen years and are still absolutely perfect. I used Trex for the decking and pressure treated wood for the substructure. Later, as I began to learn what the termites were doing to that redwood, I found myself wishing that I had opted for pressure treated wood for everything above that deck. By the time I began having those second thoughts, the raised decks were long since finished, so it was really just a wistful longing, typically induced by another long day of repairs. It’s tempered with the certain knowledge of how utterly stodgy those raised decks would have looked had I used pressure treated wood throughout.
I’m not here to write about my own accomplishments in deck building, but when I made those railings and overheads I used a router throughout. Almost all of the elements have several components that were shaped with a router. The posts are decorative pillars, shaped with both round-over and cove router bits. The railings have five separate pieces, three for the upper railing, two for the lower, all of which have routed edges, and the spindles have coves routed on all four corners. I won’t mince words here—they’re gorgeous. But they are also the reason I go out there every spring with paint and epoxy-based goop to repair the termite damage.
At the time the routed redwood I used was the only choice for one who wanted a beautiful end product, but I was told that heartwood would be safe. Really, it’s not. If it’s wood, termites will eat it, excepting only pressure treated wood which is has a type of insect poison infused into it. It also has splintered edges. It does hold up, I’ll give it that, but it’s plug ugly stuff. Used as a substructure, though, it works just fine because you never see it.
Were I to do that project now, it would be much the same—and entirely different because I would avail myself of Trex’s entire line. Fifteen years ago one chose between durability and beauty, but that’s no longer the case. Trex provides one with gorgeous railings with none of the maintenance issues and in a number of permutations to fit different budgets. All of them use some form of a Rail & Baluster Kit in conjunction with post sleeves, caps and skirts that go over pressure treated posts. It gives one the stability of pressure treated wood, but completely hides it under a surface that will absolutely never need a paint brush or any other kind of maintenance. They offer three different lines, which they’ve designated Good, Better, and Best, but quite frankly, all of them are better than mine because of the one thing mine requires which theirs does not: eternal maintenance! Trex is the first to tell you that their product cannot be used for supporting beams, which made Trex overheads an impossibility in 1999 when I purchased their decking, but now, by gosh, they’ve developed pergolas that consist of a structural aluminum core wrapped in TrexTrim™. It means that those babies have all the strength one needs for that purpose with none of the maintenance issues that have plagued me for so many years.
Say, did I tell you about the four redwood benches I originally finished with six (count ‘em, six!) coats of spar varnish and then varnished every blessed spring to absolutely no avail because that varnish separated from the redwood anyway. I stripped them three different times and refinished them (with another six coats of spar varnish) before learning that varnished wood that gets more than four hours of sunlight a day is a lost cause because the varnish will always separate from the wood. I made new backs (the old ones had so many checks and splits that I no longer trusted them) and painted them, which at least remains adhered to the underlying wood, but I still paint them every spring.
I brought that up because I wanted to end this with some pictures of their benches and Outdoor Storage Collection. This collection features pretty much anything a body would want in a Backyard Paradise from hidden ice chests to drawer boxes for pillows and pool equipment. I personally have no use for the pool equipment, but I could definitely put those built-in ice chests to use. Every item in this line is made to not only last, but to last without the homeowner doing much more than hosing them down from time to time. Some people look at items like this and see a price tag, which is definitely more than what I paid for those redwood benches (because I designed and built them myself!). Me, I look back on fifteen years of maintenance with more to come. What Trex has done is develop something that with just a modicum of care will last a lifetime. You just install them, and you’re finished. I paid more for the Trex decking than I would have paid for redwood decking, but I have never regretted it, nor would I regret the purchase of their latest, were I to make that yard again. With something like this, all the work I would ever have to do in that yard is to go back there on that deck where every single thing is permanent, pop open the lid of the nearest ice chest (I would definitely have more than one), crack a beer, and throw something on the barbecue. Man, that really is the best of times!
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