Aluminum Decking: A Comprehensive Guide
The demand for aluminum has increased more than 100% since 2000, and the market is on a steady uptrend. Due to its high recyclability, the beverage you can recycle could end up in a vehicle body panel, a window frame, or even a house's deck!
There are various decking options, from renewable wood resources such as cedar and redwood to recycled composites and aluminum decking. For this article, we are going to dive into the realm of aluminum decking.
Table of Contents
- What Is Aluminum Decking?
- Is Aluminum Decking Environmentally Friendly?
- Is Aluminum Decking Healthy?
- How Long Does Aluminum Decking Last?
- How Do You Cut Aluminum Decking?
- How Do You Install Aluminum Decking?
- How Much Do Aluminum Decks Cost?
- Who Makes Aluminum Decking?
- How to Clean Aluminum Decking?
- How to Restore Faded Aluminum Decking?
- What Are the Pros of Aluminum Decking?
- What Are the Cons of Aluminum Decking?
What Is Aluminum Decking?
As the name implies, aluminum decking is a house deck made out of extruded aluminum. Aluminum is a corrosion-resistant, lightweight, yet strong metal. Aluminum is the third most abundant element in the Earth's crust, behind oxygen and silicon. While it is not a renewable resource, we have a plentiful supply of aluminum available for a long time into the future due to the vast quantities on Earth. However, like all metals, mining aluminum comes at an environmental cost.
Aluminum decking does not require a painted finish, and it can look like wood if you don't like the aluminum look. It's no wonder aluminum decking. It is becoming so popular with its versatility and low maintenance.
Is Aluminum Decking Environmentally Friendly?
It is challenging to label aluminum environmentally friendly; metal extraction is an energy-intensive process. It would be best to compare aluminum to your other decking options (i.e., wood, composites). Based on your unique circumstance, make the most educated decision based on ecological, economic, and social factors. When it comes to sustainability, there aren't always universal answers. It's a complex topic – you have to consider where you live, where the materials are coming from, how they are produced, their life cycle, and more. You need to be a student and educate yourself beyond what manufacturers and marketers tell you. The terms' sustainable' and 'green' are often applied to products that don't consider the holistic view of the product's lifecycle and might only focus on a fraction of the big picture. In many cases, customers have been led astray by greenwashing.
Aluminum is, however, highly recyclable. It is one of the most commonly recycled metals and can be recycled repeatedly without substantial quality loss. This feature shifts the traditional "cradle-to-grave" model for products to a "cradle-to-cradle" approach. This property of infinite recyclability has led to an estimated 75% of the aluminum ever produced still being in productive use. That's quite impressive, and many other products can't claim that. If you can source recycled aluminum for your decking, you will have to cut down a significant portion of its ecological and long-term economic impacts. Producing recycled aluminum reduces the energy footprint by 92 percent compared to making new aluminum. This results in recycled aluminum's embodied energy footprint being lower than other decking options like composite plastics.
On the extraction front, aluminum mining is very energy-intensive. Most aluminum mines are strip mines and open-pit mines that can cause immense ecological damage to soil, waterways, forests, and entire surrounding ecosystems. The process uses a massive amount of electricity. Newly manufactured aluminum has an embodied energy footprint higher than the majority of other common building materials.
Is Aluminum Decking Healthy?
While there is some debate over aluminum cookware and beverage cans' safety, aluminum used as house decking is entirely safe. Studies have shown that aluminum does not get absorbed through the skin. Aluminum decking is undoubtedly a safer alternative to composite decking that contains PVC and other potentially toxic plastics.
How Long Does Aluminum Decking Last?
Aluminum is a highly corrosion-resistant metal, and it does not rust. This feature results in an extremely long lifespan that easily exceeds other decking options by a long shot with very little maintenance. Many aluminum decking brands have a limited lifetime guarantee.
The only considerations for lifespan and maintenance are to repaint it with aluminum decking if you decide to paint your deck (aluminum doesn't need to be painted). Another thing to look out for is any areas where steel bolts and aluminum might come in contact. Dissimilar metals like steel and aluminum don't react well together, and steel will rust aluminum over time. During installation, it's best to take every step possible to isolate the two metals from one another and limit their contact. For example, use non-metal washers for the heads of the steel screws. Stainless steel is the preferred steel type to use with aluminum.
How Do You Cut Aluminum Decking?
A carbide-tipped, non-ferrous saw blade is recommended to cut aluminum. You can use a miter saw to cut the decking to size. You might want to have a metal file on hand to take any burs created during cutting.
How Do You Install Aluminum Decking?
Aluminum decking can be done as a DIY project and is not that different from installing a regular wooden deck. You will want to follow the manufacturer's instructions and ensure you use suitable blades to cut aluminum. If dissimilar metals are used in the installation, try to isolate them from each other – steel and aluminum don't mix well. Most people might want to consider a contractor to install the deck for them.
How Much Do Aluminum Decks Cost?
Aluminum decking is an expensive decking option – its long life span and minimal maintenance do not come cheap. The pricing depends on the brand and quality chosen. You can expect to pay between $15 and $50 per square foot for materials. This cost is higher mainly because materials must be sourced directly from manufacturers and aren't easily obtained locally for DIY applications. If you decide to have a contractor install the deck, you can estimate an added $5 to $7 per square foot on top of material costs. If we compare those costs to alternatives, there is a big contrast. Wood decking averages $6 to $8 per square, and composite decking starts at $5 per square foot.
Who Makes Aluminum Decking?
Some aluminum deck brands to consider are:
How to Clean Aluminum Decking?
Aluminum decking is easy to care for and maintain. You can clean aluminum decking by washing it with gentle soap and scrubbing it with a soft brush. Any residues can be rinsed with a hose. You can pressure wash aluminum decks, but not all manufacturers recommend this, as it can compromise the finish coating. If you prefer to power wash, keep it to low pressure of no more than 1,300 psi.
How to Restore Faded Aluminum Decking?
The anodized coating on aluminum can lose its shine over time. You can use a vinegar mix to restore the shine. Various other chemicals are available to do the same task, but vinegar is a cheap and non-toxic option.
Many people paint their aluminum decks instead of leaving them the silver color typical of aluminum, and paint can fade over time in the sun. This finish will require regular repainting over time, depending on your local conditions. Paint fragments release microplastics into the environment. So, if you can deal with the silver look of aluminum or go with a non-painted wood look, it's best to choose that instead of painting.
What Are the Pros of Aluminum Decking?
Aluminum's durability is unmatched – with an anodized coating, it doesn't rust, it's highly resistant to corrosion, mold/mildew, and termites. It can outlast any other decking option with very little maintenance and is easily recycled at the end of its lifetime. It is fire-resistant, a vital characteristic in fire-prone ecosystems. You might think aluminum would get hot to the touch in the summer sun, but it stays pretty cool and, better yet, non-toxic to touch. In addition, aluminum decking can be manufactured to look like hardwood if you prefer that style.
What Are the Cons of Aluminum Decking?
Aluminum decking will likely cost more than any other decking option. Most aluminum decks are treated with anti-slip materials; they can still be slippery at times, particularly with ice. If you live in a regularly icy region, you need to consider that. Aluminum decks can have a coating applied to dampen noise; however, they can still ring out with heavy footfalls and can be noisy in the rain. Although many people like that sound.
New aluminum has a very high embodied energy footprint, and to call it sustainable, as many sources do, is misleading. Recycled aluminum has a much lower footprint than new aluminum, but both options were mined at one point in massive strip mines.
Aluminum decking is an increasingly popular decking option. Like any option, it has pros and cons to consider. Consider your unique situation and decking options to make the best decision for you and the planet.
If you are looking for additional outdoor projects, nothing compliments a deck like some ecologically conscious landscaping. Or perhaps you'd prefer a pond or vibrant mini wetland, where you can relax in the sun on your deck listening to frogs peeping and fish splashing.