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What Kind of Decking Material Will Prevent Bugs?

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Imagine the scene: you’ve just finished building your new deck. The contractors have cleaned up and gone for the day, and you are standing in the backyard with your family, admiring the new addition to your home and fantasizing about how much value it will add to your home. Finally you turn away satisfied.

Suddenly you hear a horribly ghastly noise, as if several buzz saws had activated at once and then gone silent.

you turn around Your new deck is gone. In its place are a few termites, who linger after their meal, plucking their mandibles with hardwood splinters.

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Okay, the appearance of termites might not be quite as dramatic. But they’re a hazard to any decking project, since decks lie outdoors, unprotected, right in the natural habitat of termites — and in the natural habitat of any other six-legged pest that might hunger for a meal of fresh wood.

Sure, you could call the exterminator or buy the most toxic pesticide you can find without alerting Homeland Security. But it’s going to be a never-ending process, and nobody wants to eat a cricket over a patio that smells of phenothiazine.

The best way to keep termites and other pests off decks is to build with materials the bugs don’t find appetizing. In most cases, these are composite wood terraces.

Composite decking combines the rustic beauty of wood with the practicality and durability of synthetic materials. It gets its name because it is a decking product made out of wood – a combination of wood and plastic that is manufactured and not harvested like wood. Usually made from the same hardwoods and softwoods that are used to make standard lumber, composite decking combines sawmill waste, sawdust and other wood waste with plastic binding material. This allows it to be designed specifically for the application. Decking is just one use of composite wood products; they can also be used for apartments and other types of construction.

But you’re wondering: how can composite decking keep termites out when it’s made of wood? Termites eat wood, don’t they?

Well yes, but it’s important to know why. Termites eat wood because it contains cellulose, a polysaccharide found in most plants. But cellulose is difficult to process — to properly digest wood decking material, termites rely on a complex symbiotic relationship with a series of microbes that live in their gut — called Trychonymphafor those who take notes.

Termites know better than to eat composite wood decking because they can sense that it contains a significant amount of plastic. If a termite decided to try and develop a liking for composite materials, the Trychonymphaconfronted with a substance even more difficult to digest than cellulose would strike, and the termite would likely starve.

But termites are not stupid. When they encounter composite decks, they move on.

Woodlice are also a danger. Although not nearly as destructive as termites, woodlice get their name from their habitat – in decaying wood and plant matter. Because they breathe through gills, woodlice depend on moisture to survive, so they tend to congregate in places where there is a lot of decaying organic matter. But they also eat wood as it decomposes – which can be bad news for anyone with an untreated wooden deck.

But composite decking doesn’t need to be treated, and their association with synthetic polymers means they don’t break down nearly as quickly as wood – making them unpalatable to woodlice, too.

Undoubtedly, using composite decking is the easiest and safest way to prevent insect infestations in your new patio. Termites, woodlice, and just about any other wood-eating bug find it utterly unpalatable—so until nature evolves a superbug that feeds on plastic, or until some mad scientist makes something out of it in a remote mountaintop lab, composite decking is the right way.

Thanks to Kevin Ott

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