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How to Choose Site Furniture Material

When choosing the furnishings for your project or location, cost and design often seems to be the prime factors to consider. Since most the site furnishings are for outdoor areas, picking the right materials for your specific application should also take into consideration before the actual purchase.

Site furnishings are made for outdoors. From benches, picnic tables to trash cans and bike racks, all of the most commonly used outdoor furniture materials can withstand the elements in any part of the world, but some are better-suited to certain regions and climates than others. Durability, maintenance and product life are the most commonly used weighting factors to compare different materials in site furnishings. We take a look at the features of different materials and maintenance tips on each of them.


Steel is an alloy comprising of iron and carbon. It is lighter than wrought iron but heavier than aluminum; its hefty weight provides a sturdy, stability and long-lasting construction. Steel furniture can endure extreme temperatures and do not dent easily as lightweight aluminum. Steel is strong and difficult to break. It is recyclable, and can be hot dip galvanized to prevent corrosion. Steel materials electro-coated with anti-corrosion treatment and finished UV resistant powder-coating can last for decades and require little if any maintenance.


Trash Can CAY-127

Care tips:

  • Clean with a cloth and mild detergent to wash away dust and pollen.
  • Immediately treat chips in the finish to limit exposure to the elements.
  • The result of Canaan’s multi-step process is weather and corrosion-resistant furniture that is beautiful and durable for many years of active use with minimal maintenance.
  • Periodic checks of hardware, however, are recommended, and when coatings are scratched or damaged, the surface material must be repaired or the metal beneath may begin to corrode.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steels are iron-base alloys contain a minimum of 10.5% chromium. It is a durable and low maintenance material and is often the most cost-effective choice for applications on certain furnishings, such as bike racks, ashtrays, stanchions and wet floor signs which often require pleasing appearance as well as exceptional durability and minimal maintenance.

bike rack 201

Stainless steel is corrosion and oxidation resistant and is easily and simply maintained, it will retain its distinctive luster even if exposed to harsh outdoor conditions. You can simply say stainless steel furniture has it all – the looks, convenience, low maintenance, sturdiness, extreme durability and is environmentally friendly. It may be more expensive than other types of furniture but considering its unique qualities and durability it is a worthy investment.

Care tips:

  • Clean your stainless steel furniture as soon as it gets dirty in order to restore its attractive lustre and prevent build-up of grime.
  • Use a soft cloth and mild detergent to clean your stainless steel furniture, avoid using harsh chemicals, abrasive cleansers and scrubbing sponges.

Wrought iron and cast iron have their distinctive properties which determine their different applications on component. The material is prized for its distinctive features and wind-resistant sturdiness.


Wrought Iron

Wrought iron is a relatively pure iron alloy contains less than 0.08% carbon. It is heavier than steel and aluminum, and is strong in both tension and compression. Given its unique properties and high melting point, wrought iron is extremely tough, malleable, ductile and corrosion resistant. It can be painted with desire powder coated color to further protect from moisture.

Cast Iron

Cast iron is iron alloys that contain more than 2% carbon content. With its low melting point, good fluidity and resistance to deformation, cast iron is desirable for using precision-made molds to produce intricate structural shapes/frames in site furnishings. Cast iron designs are usually more detailed and accurate; it can be hot dip galvanized and finished with UV resistant powder coating to prevent corrosion.

Care tips:

  • Clean with a damp cloth and soapy water to remove dirt and dust.
  • If you spot rust, clean with mild soapy water, sand the area, then seal with similarly colored paint.


Aluminium is a relatively soft, lightweight, ductile and malleable metal which resists rust and moisture damage better than other metals. It is easy to rearrange and store due to its lightweight construction with cast and wrought aluminium being the most commonly used outdoor furniture material. Despite its lightweight properties, cast and wrought aluminum are still strong enough to withstand wind and weather. Aluminum furniture coated with UV resistant powder coating offers added protection against the elements.

Care tips:

  • Clean with clear water or a mild soapy mixture to remove dust and dirt.
  • Maintain the finish by touching up chips in the paint to avoid oxidation.

Recycled Plastic

Recycled plastic lumber is an extremely durable and sustainable material; often require minimal maintenance and no finishing. It comes in a variety of colors and styles, and is appropriate for any environment. It is resistant to moisture, rotting, decay and cracking and is impervious to salt water, stains and unaffected by termites, rodents, worms, marine parasites or other insects. It also resists fading, because its color is intrinsic to the material. And best of all, a high percentage of its components are post-consumer materials and will contribute to LEED certification.

The most commonly used plastics in site furniture:

  • High-density polyethylene (HDPE) is readily recyclable and can be recycled many times without significant change in properties. Its production results in fewer pollutants than is the case with PVC or ABS, and waste can be recycled during manufacturing processes. HDPE plastic lumber is used in bench slats, litter receptacles, and tree grates.
  • Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) has recycling characteristics similar to those of HDPE and is widely recycled into plastic lumber with HDPE (the mix is less expensive than 100 percent HDPE but subject to down cycling to a lower-grade product after multiple recycles). It is used alone in some site furniture, including benches, picnic tables, and bollards, but has lower tensile strength and density than HDPE.


Recycled plastic Park bench cab-820

Care tips:

  • Clean with clear water or a mild soapy mixture to remove dust, dirt and pollen.


Natural wood furniture lends a warmth and casual feel to any outdoor environment. The ageless appeal of wood furniture’s natural beauty is often the only common reason for its popularity. Pine, cedar, fir and redwood are softer woods with some degree of natural weather resistance; hardwoods such as Ipe, shorea and teak offer exceptional durability and performance.

Most finishes on wood can off-gas volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and the chemical treatments can limit the reuse and disposal of wood. The best environmental practice is to select a good, durable exterior wood from responsibly managed and monitored forests and then leave it unfinished. Untreated hardwood will wear and weather to an attractive patina. Shrinking and swelling of wood throughout the changing seasons is also another issue to be considered when choosing different wood materials.

Care tips:

  • If sealed wood, clean with a mild soapy water mixture to remove dirt, dust and pollen.
  • If painted wood, avoid exposure to moisture, clean with a damp cloth.
  • For untreated wood, clean with lightly damp cloth.
  • Sunscreens and bird droppings should be cleaned off your furniture as soon as possible. They can be particularly damaging and cause permanent stains and corrosion.

July 28, 2015
Since the 1990s, a number of technologies emerged to use recycle plastics as a replacement for conventional wood lumber. Recycled plastic lumber was developed in the production of exterior deck boards, moldings, doorjambs, window casings, playground equipment, railway ties, pilings, posts, fencing products, as well as outdoor furnishings.

Recycled plastic lumber products can be worked with conventional carpentry tools and have a number of advantages over wood products. They resist rot, mildew and termites; they do not require regular painting or staining; and they are, otherwise, low maintenance materials. Many plastic lumber products are highly attractive and can be manufactured to meet a wide variety of design and appearance specifications. When wood or some other natural fibre source is incorporated into the material, many plastic lumber products can be painted or stained.

Recycled Plastic

This section briefly reviews the major production systems that are being used to make recycled plastic lumber — including single polymer systems, extrusion flow molding systems, fiberglass-reinforced RPL, PVC extrusion profiles, woodfibre-plastic composites, oriented woodfibre-polymer composites, and polymer-polymer products.

1. Single Polymer Systems

These systems, which use (primarily) continuously-extruded, structurally-foamed high density polyethylene, represent a significant part of the deck board market. The producers tend to use natural HDPE from milk jugs that can be pigmented to produce attractive deck colours.

2. Extrusion Flow Molding

One of the first processes to be utilized to manufacture plastic lumber with technology developed in Europe, these systems can utilize mixed polymers with lower raw material costs. However, the earlier versions of the process suffered from low productivity and produced parts of low quality, which resulted in low growth for this process.

3. Fibreglass-Reinforced RPL Production

This technology can be used to produce structural components and has a growing list of applications, including: deck joists; marine break walls, bulkheads and pilings; railway ties; and more demanding structural components

4. PVC Extrusion Profiles

These profiles are being used in railing and deck board markets.

5. Woodfibre–Plastic Composites

WPCs are the largest and fastest growing segment of the recycled plastic lumber market. In the early 1990s, products were commercialized using mixtures of polyethylene and wood to manufacture deck boards and other wood replacement products. They were manufactured with mixtures of 50 to 70 percent woodfibre and 30 to 50 percent polyethylene, either high or low density PE or mixtures of the two polymers. The extruded deck boards and profiles exhibit higher modulus than pure polymer products (such as those made from HDPE) and can be painted and stained as wood. They are offered in natural colours that age to a gray shade similar to aged cedar, but can also be manufactured with blue, gray or red pigments that simulate the popular wood deck stains.

6. Oriented Woodfibre-Polymer Composites

Dramatic improvements in flexural strength and flexural modulus have been demonstrated by cold drawing extruded polypropylene-wood composite. The flexural modulus of an oriented polypropylene composite with 30 percent woodfibre can achieve 82.5 percent of the flex modulus of dried pine. The same material had a flexural strength that was more than double that of pine.

7. Polymer/Polymer Systems

This is an interesting new technology developed by Rutgers University, which discovered that specific blends of polymers, normally thought to be incompatible (such as polyethylene and polystyrene), can form composites with properties that dramatically exceed the expected performance of the blend. Under the right conditions of mixing and component levels, an inter-penetrating network of the polymer can achieve a better balance of modulus and impact strength.


The pure polymer extruded profiles have performance characteristics that reflect the properties of the polymer used in its fabrication. Stiffness of recycled HDPE is lower than that of a polyethylene-woodfibre composite. The performance issues associated with pure polymer systems center around the colour fastness and UV resistance of the surface of the board stock. A number of studies have shown that UV stabilizers and antioxidants improve performance. It is important to select metal-based pigments for long-term color stability. The organic pigments appear to be less stable during long-term exposure to the sun. The cross-section of extruded profiles is so massive that any UV degradation affects the surface of the extrusion, but has little effect on the bulk properties of the board. With the woodfibre-polymer composites, there are a number of properties being studied to determine long-term serviceability. Surface degradation effects, selection of pigments and use of UV stabilizers and antioxidants are similar in their effect on performance as they are when added to pure polymer extrusions. Moisture uptake in composite boards is being studied extensively. Absorption of moisture occurs slowly over time. Equilibrium moisture content may take years to achieve. In water immersion tests, the use of maleic anhydride bonding agents appears to reduce moisture uptake. Finally, the addition of up to 20 percent glass fibre reinforcement will increase modulus significantly. Fibreglass-reinforced polyolefins are currently offered as structural grade components for deck building.

This article is based on the research report of Environment & Plastics Industry Council (EPIC): Recycled Plastic Lumber: A Strategic Assessment of its Production Use and Future Prospects, by David Climenhage.