Nobody wants to slip on their deck and end up with a severe knee or hip injury. These accidental falls, especially among older people, can be serious, painful and expensive. However, if you’re planning to install a deck by the pool or if it frequently rains where you live, you first need to be concerned about the safety of your deck. Likewise, take the necessary precautions if you deal with long, cold winters that bring snow and ice.
What Makes Decking Slippery
The primary reason for wooden decking to become slippery is the growth of algae, lichen, moss and mildew. Leaves that pile up and rotting vegetation are contributing factors that support the growth of algae or lichen. These potential dangers might not be noticeable during dry weather, but they become a hazard in damp or wet environments, making your deck very slippery. During winters, snow that melts into water that freezes into ice can also turn your deck into a dangerous ice rink. Some people might install composite decking and expect their deck to be completely slip-free, confident in the knowledge that algae will not grow on composite decking materials. While this may be true, keep in mind that pollen, leaves, dirt, and other debris that fall onto the composite decking surface can still cause mildew and mold.
Early Generation Composite Decking
Composite decking, also known as wood-polymer composite (WPC), synthetic decking or simply composite decking, has quickly become the preferred decking material over the past decades. Not only is it an environmentally friendly alternative to timber, it’s also lightweight, requires low maintenance, offered in a variety of colours and designs, and won’t splinter or rot. It is also known to be resistant to stain, moisture and weather. However, some brands of composite decking are not resistant to mold and mildew, particularly when they’re set up under the shade. Some composite decking products also have a reputation for slipperiness. Nonetheless, like most materials, composite decking has evolved and progressively improved over time. The early generations of composite decking were undeniably slick, but the material has been modified and upgraded into the slip-resistant options we have today. The following are early generations of composite decking that brought about its reputation for slipperiness:
- First Generation Composite Decking – These composite decking boards were made from shredded wood fibre and recycled plastic materials, but the mixture of wood and plastic was not as firm as timber planks and tended to crack, crumble and sag over time. These first products also absorbed moisture easily that led to the growth of moss, mold and mildew and made the surface very slippery.
- Second Generation Composite Decking – These were called PVC or plastic decking materials since manufacturers decided to remove the organic wood component and mainly use plastic. Unfortunately, plastic decking boards tended to become brittle, split when there’s a rise and fall in temperature and still caused mould when they were always wet. The plastic surface also made it slippery.
- Third Generation Composite Decking – This generation, also called capped composite decking, wrapped the organic wood component in the core with a waterproof recycled plastic element, keeping the product durable and environment-friendly. The impermeable capping material on the surface of the composite decking kept the moisture out and made the boards less slippery. However, many designs with a plastic surface lacked traction to prevent skidding.
Capped composite decking is more expensive than wooden decking or traditional composite decking, but some brands offer cheaper options. The problem with cheap capping is some products have capping that’s not connected well to the core of the board, causing premature peeling. Other capping products are prone to scratching and gouging, allowing moisture to enter the material and creating slippery portions on the deck.
Does Composite Decking Get Slippery?
Compared to decks made of wooden or plastic decking, today’s composite decking boards are less likely to be slippery. Genuine timber decking boards are extremely absorbent which becomes a problem when they’re wet. Decks become slippery because of algae growth on wooden and organic surfaces. Also, when not regularly maintained, wooden decking boards tend to have smooth spots that can be slippery when wet. Furthermore, when you clean wooden decking with jet and pressure washing, you open the deck’s natural grooves, making the boards more vulnerable to water absorption and consequently more slippery. Most composite decking boards now have textured finishes that provide traction, making them slip-resistant. Unlike the early-generation PVC decking boards, the composite decking’s fibre content reduces its plastic component’s tendency to split when there are fluctuations in temperature and it also roughens the surface texture for better skid-resistance. Some composite decking use unique capping materials that provide a more grippy surface. A strong, durable capping with a rubbery quality keeps the boards resistant to scraping and gouging, minimizing the risk of moisture entering the boards and making them slippery. The textured surface gives the boards enough friction to be safe, keeping feet firmly in place even in a wet or icy environment.
How to Create and Maintain Slip-Resistant Decking
Remember that while algae and lichen will not grow on composite materials, food in the form of pollen, leaves, dirt, and other yard or garden debris that fall onto the surface of your deck will support algae or lichen growth. Most slips are caused by algae or mould on the deck’s surface, so the best way to keep your deck slip-resistant is to keep it clean. In the summer, sweep your deck with a stiff brush at least once a week. This should get rid of the leaves and debris that algae would otherwise attach to. You can also scrub the surface with a solution made of liquid detergent and warm water to discourage airborne microorganisms from sprouting on your deck. Rinse your deck thoroughly and allow it to completely dry. Also remove overhanging plants or tree branches that can create damp, dark parts on your deck. No decking is 100% slip-free because water and snow can make any deck surface slippery, but light maintenance through regular cleaning can reduce the risk of accidental slips and falls on your composite deck. You can also consider installing anti-slip decking strips for a cost-effective solution to keep you decking non-slip.