Decking design is undergoing something of quiet revolution. For years two materials – timber and wood-polymer composites – have been the overwhelming choice for flooring applications in gardens, terraces, balconies and external walkways. That duopoly has been broken in recent years by a rapidly emerging alternative: aluminium open grille decking.
Demand for aluminium decking has surged in new build and refurbishment projects – due in no small measure to the demands of housebuilding warranty providers seeking to improve safety and durability. So what does aluminium have to offer that its traditional wood-based rivals don’t? We’ve listed five reasons why aluminium is the superior choice for decking…
1. It has a far higher fire safety rating
In a post-Grenfell construction sector, fire safety is under the spotlight and rightly so. In truth, even before Grenfell housebuilding warranty providers were already showing increasing concern about fire safety on decking and balconies (balconies can be a life-saving means of escape from a burning building) and this is one of various reasons why timber has dramatically declined as a specification. Wood-polymer composite is slightly more fire resistant but with timber elements it will never be fireproof. This is where aluminium scores highly – in the BS 476 Fire Test Series it is rated 0 (the highest possible) in the categories of Non-Combustibility, Ignitibility, Fire Propagation and Surface Spread of Flame. In the EU’s harmonised Euroclass system, aluminium has an A1 Fire Rating – the highest achievable score for non-combustibility. Neaco’s Neatdek decking (pictured below right) is manufactured from aluminium and has been fully tested to comply with the requirements for Class 0, as defined in Approved Document B, ‘Fire Safety’, to the Building Regulations 2000.
2. It’s extremely durable
Material lifespan is a vital consideration for decking. In the NHBC’s technical guidance, Clause 7.1.4a states that structural elements of balconies should have a desired service life of at least 60 years. The guidance states that timber can be used to form raised decks if it follows one of two routes to compliance: it must be designed and constructed in full accordance with relevant guidance documents published by TDCA or designed by an engineer in accordance with Technical Requirement R5 with a desired service life of 60 years. You can avoid jumping through all of those hoops by avoiding wood-based materials altogether and opting instead for aluminium, which is corrosive-free and has a recognised design life of at least 60-100 years. One report has suggested that it has an infinite lifespan in internal installations and a minimum lifespan of 120 years in external installations.
Timber is vulnerable to woodworm, damp, mould and rot. In contrast, aluminium is a maintenance-free solution that avoids all of the cost and labour of ongoing treatment that are necessary to prolong the lifespan of its more traditional rivals.
3. It’s high in slip resistance
Even with a grooved surface, Timber decking becomes increasingly slippery underfoot with the build-up of dirt, with moss and grime. It can become especially hazardous in wet conditions, which is another reason why wood has fallen out of favour.
In contrast, slip resistance another area of safety in which aluminium can excel. It’s a versatile metal that can be easily machined to provide bespoke dimensions. This is invaluable in the hands of a company with technical expertise and advanced manufacturing facilities – Neaco have designed decking systems which are engineered to provide a very finely-grooved surface, specifically developed to provide anti-slip performance in the direction of travel.
The British Pendulum CoF Test measures slip resistance in terms of pendulum test values (PTV). For a timber decking manufacturer to use the term “anti” or “non-slip decking”, the PTV must be 36 or above.
Neaco’s aluminium systems have been pendulum tested and the results speak volumes. Leading wood-polymer composite boards score an average PTV of 58 when dry and 37 when wet. In comparison, our Neatdek decking scores 94 when dry and, crucially, shows a minimal reduction when wet – it stills scores an exceptional 81 in the direction of travel. That means our systems are almost 40% more slip-resistant in wet conditions than wood-polymer composite is in dry conditions!
4. It’s structurally efficient
Another clear advantage of aluminium decking is structural efficiency – in other words, it’s lightweight (1/3 of the weight of steel) yet high in load-bearing strength. Neaco’s Neatdek aluminium decking panels are 15.8kg per sqm, compared to 25.2 kg per sqm for leading wood-polymer composite products. This difference is increasingly important for cost reasons: due to fire safety concerns, steel joists are now widely used instead of timber joists, but steelwork is expensive so substantial savings can be made by using decking that needs less structural support. With Neaco’s decking systems, joists are only required at centres of between 1200mm and 1800mm (depending on the profile depth) compared to around 450mm for most composite decking.
5. It provides fast, efficient drainage
Aluminium’s aforementioned suitability for precision engineering can serve complex design concepts. It can facilitate innovations that improve performance and our Neatdek system is a prime example of this. Neatdek’s unique range of ‘T-bar’ grille profiles provide a foot contact area of between 74 and 100% whilst allowing rainwater to drain quickly and efficiently below – a combination that is especially useful for balconies.
Any balcony with a floor area of over 6m2 conventionally uses ‘positive drainage’ – a catchment tray which is installed directly below the flooring, encased within a soffit and fitted with a hopper and drainpipe. Positive drainage has a number of drawbacks – it’s cumbersome, costly and laborious to construct and vulnerable to blockages caused by the accumulation of dirt, sediment and waste substances.
Neaco’s Neatdek decking facilitates an alternative ‘eaves drop’ drainage method which is increasingly favoured by housebuilding warranty providers. With Neatdek, rainwater can drop directly into a ‘French drain,’ a ground-level trench comprising a perforated pipe which is installed below the ground and topped by a layer of pea gravel. Surface water seeps between the gravel and passes freely through the pipe. It’s an efficient way to divert water away from the building and avoid pooling. Compared to positive drainage, Neatdek decking with a French drain is a lighter, more economical combination which is faster and easier to install.
For further information please call our customer support team on 01653 695 721 or visit our Contact page