Here’s my resume:
In February Russell Porter from Millboard Decking came along to introduce us to his company’s decking and porcelain products. It is a family owned British company, and their composite decking in particular is becoming quite renowned.
We all love the look and feel of natural wood, but unfortunately even the highest quality hardwood can deteriorate and in our winters become very slippery, dangerous in fact! In a previous life Russell was a self employed carpenter, so he too has a great appreciation of natural wood, however his genuine enthusiasm for this practical alternative was very evident.
He began by explaining that the early versions of composite decking in the USA were disastrous. They were made from a combination of recycled plastic and wood fibre. The wood content absorbed water, expanded and warped. The boards also suffered from heat distortion and surface fracturing. He showed us slides of some horror stories. This type of decking was still being sold in the UK up till a few years ago.
Thankfully Millboard decking has no such problems. It is made from a unique wood free resin composite allowing no water ingress, and it is resistant to sun, heat, rain and cold. The algae-repellent surface has a non-slip texture even when wet.
Great care has gone into creating the look of real wood – it is moulded from samples of real oak in order to be as authentic as possible. The company pride themselves on the fact that the boards are hand painted to avoid a uniform stain.
There is a lovely range of colours and finishes on offer – 5 smooth contemporary, ‘smoked oak’, above is the most popular, 2 weathered choices, in brown or grey, here is the brown one:
and a carbonized black finish which mimics Japanese charcoal preserved wood. Ideal of course for Japanese gardens. Beware though, the black boards get very hot in the sun.
A black finish can normally be hard to maintain, but Millboard claims that theirs only experiences 2% fade in 10 years.
There are specially textured boards called Lastagrip with a ridged non-slip surface for areas that get wet, for example a jetty or for a ramp for wheelchair access, where extra grip is needed:
Touch up coatings are available to blend in cut ends of the decking.
Bullnose or squared off edgings for steps:
and straight or curved fascias for curved designs. A curved boardwalk in Millboard can be seen at Morden Hall Park:
Russell explained that the installation of Millboard decking is much the same as for normal timber – the ground requires a compacted hard-core base into which a sub-frame is concreted. The sub-frame can be timber, however as timber may only last 15 years before it starts to rot, Millboard provide recycled plastic sub-frames, which are also good for boggy areas. If timber is used, Russell’s tip is to specify damp proof course material on top of each joist to help prevent rot.
Millboard has a special stainless steel screwing system which is invisible and quick to install. However as the screws go in at an angle, and are impossible to remove without damaging the boards, it is advisable to create panels with normal screws if access will be needed in particular areas.
So how does Millboard decking compare in price to say Ipe hardwood? At 65 – 70 metres square to buy Ipe, Millboard costs nearly the same, although when you take into consideration Millboard’s lack of jet-washing or staining required over the years, it can work out very economical. To clean, all that is recommended is a stiff broom, washing up liquid and water. Ideal for commercial areas, private gardens with maintenance contracts, or indeed for anyone who prefers low-maintenance – who doesn’t?
There are already some landscapers who when they see ‘decking’ on a designer’s plan, will use nothing but Millboard. I for one am ‘on board’ (sorry, couldn’t resist!).
In the same way that there is now more awareness of the problems of natural wood decking, it is a similar story with paving; people have seen how the porous nature of for example Limestone or Indian sandstone can cause algal build-up and staining from leaf fall. Which leads us to the new product on the block – porcelain. Millboard has it’s own range.
Porcelain is relatively new in the world of landscaping, and we wanted to know more about it – is it really so wonderful, and what are the pitfalls, if any?
Russell explained how porcelain tiles are created in the Italian factories – natural stone is heated to an extremely high temperature (1600 degreesC), so hot that the stone melts. It is then compressed into a mould and fired. The process closes up any air pockets so that moisture and dirt cannot be absorbed. This makes the stone resistant to algal growth, and any absorption of stains. So I imagine it is good for shady gardens, and also ideal for outdoor kitchen areas, where you wouldn’t have to worry about spits from barbeques, red wine and food spills etc.
Millboard’s own unique range of Italian porcelain is called ‘Esterno’ and is suitable for both indoors and outdoors. There is a beautiful range of colours and finishes available – for example in the ‘Earth’ range, which is inspired by flamed limestone, there is Ecru, Pumice, Pebble and Sand. It comes in just the one size, 600mm x 600mm, 20mm thick, very contemporary.
The slabs can either sit on adjustable pedestals which allow for a small amount of movement, (dry installation system) or can be laid onto a full bed of mortar. As the tiles are non-porous, they need a layer of adhesive (called SBR fliud) to make them stick to the concrete. A resin grout is used for pointing.
So what do we think? Price wise it seems that Esterno is in a mid – top range bracket which may push the budget too high for some projects and the contemporary look is not for everyone. The one size option from Millboard may be limiting – other suppliers do offer more sizes and price options. However generally the durability, non-porosity and low maintenance aspects will no doubt be very attractive to many. So will porcelain become the go-to stone of the future and leave Indian sandstone in the shade? (going green!) Not quite- I suspect, as with decking, where there will always be a market for cheaper softwood despite the disadvantages, it will be the same for stone.
We were given brochures and Millboard sample boxes of the decking and porcelain. The entire Millboard range is now on display at London Stone www.londonstone.co.uk showrooms. Check out the Millboard website for more details and gorgeous inspirational pics at www.millboard.co.uk