How to Choose an Interlocking Decking Tile
Comparison of Decking Tile Features
With the increasing number of manufacturers offering interlocking deck tiles, it’s becoming
much more difficult to make an informed choice on the
different products that are available. So we've tried below
to give you some pointers on the most important features and
aspects that you should perhaps be considering before making a final decision
on which decking tile to purchase.
- properties including durability, insect resistance, hardness, stability and fire rating
- thickness of the wood slats
- source of the wood (environmental considerations)
This is probably one of the most important aspects in choosing a decking tile. As the tiles are generally used in exterior applications, all other factors being equal, you would probably choose a wood species which was recognised as having the maximum exterior durability. In this case, one of the most durable and hard wearing species is undoubtedly Ipe wood from South America. In the next rung down in the durability table, there are quite a large number of wood species also with
a very high durability rating, particularly from South America but also from Southeast Asia
(such as Bangkirai) and Africa. Rather than listing all the individual species, we suggest that you check the durability and other characteristics from an authoritative web site such as the USDA Forest Service .
However resistance to decay due to the effects of rain and sunlight may not be the only consideration is in your particular area. You may also need to check the resistance to insect attack such as termites which could be an important consideration in your particular region. It does not always correlate that high natural durability to the effect of weather conditions also means the wood species has a high resistance to e.g. termite attack.
Other wood properties may also be important to you. For example with some wood species, the surface can become quite rough after being exposed to the weather for some time and can cause splinters. With other species, the expansion and contraction properties can result in some cupping of the surface of the wood slats under certain weather conditions, although this phenomenon generally disappears when the wood returns to a stable moisture content. And if a high resistance to fire is specified or required, then you may need to seek a species with a high fire rating such as Ipe, which has been given an “A” rating by the NFPA.
As for colour, wood species can vary tremendously in colour, from light straw through chocolate browns to deep orange red colours. To suit particular design considerations, you may decide that the colour of the wood overrides some of the other properties. However it is important to note that all wood will eventually fade to a soft silver grey colour over time. The speed at which this will occur depends on the degree of exposure to UV sunlight in particular, and whether the wood is treated at regular intervals with decking oil products.
Another important consideration to many people is whether the wood has been responsibly harvested or comes from managed forests. Apart from the well-known FSC certification procedures, there are other government and non-government schemes that are adopted by particular countries which may (or may not) provide some assurances that the wood has been sourced from responsibly managed and harvested forests and not sourced from illegal logging operations.
Most tiles on the market use wood slats which are approximately 5/8” (15mm) thick although some manufacturers produce tiles with 3/4" thick slats and others with ½” thick slats. The choice of wood thickness to some extent depends on the location where you intend to lay the tiles and also to the wood species used. For interior situations such as basements, covered patios, gazebos, and other areas not subject to extreme weather conditions, then ½” thick slats maybe entirely suitable. However in areas with more extreme climatic variation, we would suggest that the thicker wood is a better choice. The main potential problem with thinner wood slats is that the slats can experience some cupping on the surface if for example the underside of the wood is wet whilst the surface is exposed to the heat of direct sunlight. In most circumstances however, this cupping will disappear once an equilibrium moisture content is restored.
Plastic base composition
The integral plastic tile bases used on these interlocking tiles may be produced from many different combinations of plastic including polypropylene, polyethylene, EVA etc. Whilst different manufacturers have their particular reason for choosing a specific plastic compound, the main considerations in terms of usage characteristics for the tiles are the brittleness of the plastic, the low temperature characteristics (only if you happen to live in a very cold area), and the UV stability of the plastic used.
Generally speaking, extremely high temperatures are not a problem, since the plastic processing temperatures and their melting/softening points are considerably higher than temperatures that are inexperienced in normal use. But it's extremely important to ensure that the plastic is specifically designed for exterior use and contains a UV stabiliser, as otherwise it can degrade very quickly particularly in areas subject to strong sunlight.
Plastic base design - Interlocking mechanism
Broadly speaking, there are only two types of interlocking mechanism used on decking tiles currently available.
a. Loop and pin design. In this design, there are female connectors on two sides and male connectors on the other two sides. Generally speaking, the female connectors are a series of loops which mesh with the pins on the other two sides. The pins may be square, round or rectangular shaped, but basically the concept remains the same.
In many cases, the pins simply slip into the corresponding slots and there is no mechanism to lock the pins into a fixed position, so the tiles can be simply slipped in and out as required. There are also other designs on the market which effectively use a one way connector. In other words, once the tiles have been snapped into place, it is almost impossible to pull them apart. Whilst this may have some advantage in situations where for example the surface is somewhat uneven, it does mean that firstly you have to be very careful in laying the tiles and secondly, you no longer have the option of taking up and re-laying the tiles or changing the design at a later stage.
The disadvantage of the loop and pin style is firstly that it requires a bit more thought in laying the tiles as you generally need to start in one corner of the area to be covered and keep on moving from that corner. It is also quite difficult to install or remove this design of tile in the middle of your deck or patio without having to lift at least three of the tiles around it. The other problem is that on the outer edge of final row you will have one tile with loops on the edge and the next tile with pins on the edge. As well as visual considerations, this means that if the manufacturer provides an option of clip-on transition strips, then you need two types of these - one which will connect with the pins, and one which will connect with the loops. And similarly if corner transition pieces are supplied as an option, then you also need two types of these as well.
b. Symmetrical design The other main type
of locking mechanism is completely symmetrical so that any
side of any tile will lock with any side of any other tile,
such as used on our wood
or composite wood and stone ranges.
The advantages of this particular design are that it makes laying the tiles much more simple and easy. You can start laying the tiles anywhere on your patio, you can easily lift up any individual tile anywhere in the deck without disrupting any other tiles, and you only need one type of click on edging strip (reducer) and corner reducer.
Availability of different designs
Some manufacturers only supply one design of deck tile, generally with four slats of wood running in the same direction. Sometimes there is an option of a five or six slat tile. Other manufacturers such as
with our wood and composite wood ranges offer an option of more than one style. You can thus mix and match different styles to make attractive borders, centrepieces or other features. Some manufacturers also offer the option of a double length tile
such as the Double-C tile.
If you are using the tiles to cover an existing concrete patio, you would probably have at least one open side.
On all tiles constructed with an integral plastic base, on the outer edge of final row tiles, the plastic base and the connecting pins will remain visible, unless they are hidden somehow. Thus to provide a neat, professional looking finish, some manufacturers supply optional clip-on transition strips which also have the advantage of reducing the danger of tripping on the outer row of tiles. Corner transition strips are also normally available from such suppliers for the external corners. Generally speaking the transition strips are made of the same wood species as the tiles, although some manufacturers supply plastic clip on edging strips.
Warranties offered with decking tiles may range from as little as 12 months to up to 10 years, and in some cases no clear warranty is even offered. Warranties offered are generally a limited warranty which generally covers defects in manufacturing only and does not cover any natural imperfections in the wood, the effects of the natural weathering process of the wood or if the tiles are not installed or maintained as recommended.
This summarizes the main design and material aspects you
would probably want to think about when choosing a decking tile / patio paver. Of course as well as the above factors, you would no doubt take into consideration the price of the tile, any trial period being offered, after sales service, return policy etc.