23 Oct 2013
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But They Said it was Maintenance-Free?

You know you’re in trouble when your college kid calls from the mechanic asking, “You have to put oil in this thing?” Your new landscaping sure looked great this year, but what about those weeds next spring? And don’t even ask me about trying to maintain my high school “playing weight.” Why can’t things just stay the same, keep those brand-new looks, operate like it did when you drove it off the lot? Unfortunately, we’ve all grown accustomed to wear and tear. Time, temperature, gravity and the sun seem to have their way with us.

Anyone Like Maintenance? Maintenance is tough work. Few folks enjoy it and most of us would escape it altogether if given the choice and our pocket-books allowed. Perhaps that’s why we so easily fall for the sales pitch that includes the magical words “maintenance-free”. Really!? No paint, no water, no cleaning, no oil, no exercise, no diet? Sign me up!

Wood - the Real Thing. When it comes to building products that make a house beautiful – doors, windows, columns, siding, trim, shutters and decks, the challenge for low maintenance products has always been how they look. Does it look real? You know, like wood! So every advertisement for low maintenance products seems to claim that it cuts like wood or nails like wood, but mostly that it looks like wood. There’s just something about real wood – its depth, character, crispness, and detail – it’s what most everyone wants. But it’s not so easy trying to mimic the real thing.

Maintenance-Free Disasters. First of all, if you still see any product advertised as “No Maintenance” or “Maintenance-Free”, run the other way – there’s no such thing! The composite decking industry has had a number of high-profile product failures and lawsuits involving early formulas combining wood fibers and plastics. In those cases, promises of “no maintenance” turned to mold, mildew, stains, fading, lawsuits, and ultimately, a lot of consolidation in that industry. The manufacturers listed below seem to have now solved those type problems, but it’s been a rocky road.

Low Maintenance Success Stories Over the years, a number of low maintenance building products have been successfully developed that are: (1) durable, (2) cost-effective, and (3) acceptable in appearance. Some of these include:

  • Vinyl windows – reasonably priced, energy efficient, attractive in most cases Jeld-Wen Windows & Doors, Atrium, Modern View
  • Fiber cement sidings – affordable, durable, paints well, no rot/insect damage James Hardie, Plycem, MaxiSiding
  • Composite decks – no staining/refinishing, no splinters, reduced trip hazards TimberTech, Azek, Trex

HB&G Columns

Though these products have their limits and certain trade-offs, they are generally well-accepted. Depending on the architectural style and application, some of these products are even ideal for certain high-end projects.

Three Architectural Products to Get Excited About. In addition to the above products, there are a few low- maintenance products that have especially attracted the eye of noted architects and “purists,” who might otherwise avoid such “fake,” man-made materials.

  • Cellular PVC Millwork. Known by its brand name Azek, this material can be applied in direct contact with concrete, ground, or other potentially wet surfaces and is ideal for wet or high humidity areas. For custom applications, it can be mitered, laminated, turned on a lathe, and milled to any moulding profile with excellent detailing. See the attached photo of the sunroom with its custom raised panels, built-up pedestals, and mouldings. Azek is also excellent for radius mouldings (heat formed or CNC milled – no joints).

  • HB&G Fiberglass Columns With craftsmen frustrated with rot issues plaguing exterior wood columns, even the most discerning classical architects are now embracing HB&G’s architecturally correct columns, capitals and bases. Whatever the Order specified, the level of detail on these columns is excellent. See the attached photo showing the round Roman Doric capital manufactured out of durable FRP (we milled the square one from Azek to match).

  • Atlantic Premium Shutters. Tired of rotting, sagging wood shutters, but can’t stomach those cheap old vinyl ones? These durable shutters are preferred in hurricane-prone towns like Seaside and WaterColor, and are specified in historic districts for their authentic styling. Their advanced construction (using marine-grade fiberglass stiles and louvers, composite wood panels and structural-grade PVC rails) with high-tech painting allows them to offer lifetime structural and finish warranties. Perhaps that misguided sprinkler head has finally met its match in these shutters!

The “Perfect” Product and Dealing with Trade-offs. Although we’re excited about these new low maintenance products, they are still not right for every project. As you well know, each job has its own peculiar environment, client preferences, and budget and time constraints that often require thorough analysis and understanding of the product options available. Unfortunately, there are often trade-offs.

But that’s why we are here - to help inform your decision-making and recommend the best products for your client’s project, striving to achieve the right balance of beauty, durability and cost. Thanks for trusting us at Davis-Hawn, we enjoy serving you!

Build to Last,

Dave Reichert

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