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When choosing furnishings for your projects or locations, cost and design are usually the prime factors to weigh. Most of the site furnishings are for outdoor areas, picking the right materials for specific applications should also take into consideration before placing the order.

From benches, picnic tables to trash cans and bike racks, commonly used materials for outdoor furniture can withstand the weather in any part of the world, but some work better in certain regions and climates. Choosing the right material based on your situation is pivotal to optimize the products’ durability and maximize their lifecycles.

Steel

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

Trash Can CAY-127

Tips for maintenance

  • Clean with a cloth and mild detergent to wash away dust and pollen.
  • Canaan’s multi-step process makes our furniture beautiful and durable for years of active use with minimal maintenance.
  • Check the wear of the products periodically. When coatings are scratched or damaged, the surface must be repaired, or the metal beneath may begin to corrode.
  • Treat the chips in the coating immediately to limit exposure to the elements.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is an iron-base alloy with a minimum of 10.5% chromium. It’s a durable and low maintenance material and often the most cost-effective choice for applications on certain furnishings like bike racks, ashtrays, stanchions, and wet floor signs which require a pleasing appearance as well as exceptional durability and minimal maintenance.

Stainless steel is corrosion and oxidation resistant and easily 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 look, convenience, low maintenance, sturdiness, extreme durability and is environmentally friendly.

bike rack 201

Tips for maintenance

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

Wrought Iron and Cast Iron

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

metal-bench-CAL-716

Wrought iron is a relatively pure iron alloy with less than 0.08% carbon. It’s 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 the desire powder-coated color for further protection from moisture.

Cast iron is an iron alloy with more than 2% carbon. With its low melting point, good fluidity, and resistance to deformation, cast iron is desirable for 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.

Tips for maintenance

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

Aluminum

Aluminum is a relatively soft, lightweight, ductile, and malleable material that resists rust and moisture damage better than other metals. It’s easy to rearrange and store due to its lightweight construction. Cast and wrought aluminum have become the most commonly used outdoor furniture material. Despite its lightweight properties, cast and wrought aluminum are strong enough to withstand wind and weather. Aluminum furniture’s UV-resistant powder coating added protection against the elements.

Tips for maintenance

  • 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 requires minimal maintenance and no finishing needed. 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 saltwater, stains, and unaffected by termites, rodents, worms, marine parasites, or other insects. It also resists fading as its color is intrinsic to the material. 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 a significant change in properties. It produces fewer pollutants than PVC or ABS and waste can be recycled in the manufacturing process. HDPE plastic lumber is used in bench slats, litter receptacles, and tree grates.

Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) has similar recycling characteristics to HDPE and is widely recycled into plastic lumbers with HDPE (the mix is less expensive than 100% HDPE but subject to down-cycling to a lower-grade product after multiple recycles). It’s 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

Tips for maintenance

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

Wood

Natural wood furniture brings warmth and a casual feel to the outdoor environment. The ageless natural beauty is often the reason for its popularity. Pine, cedar, fir, and redwood are softer woods with some degree of natural weather resistance. Hardwoods such as teak offer exceptional durability and performance.

Most finishes on wood will off-gas volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and the chemical treatments limit the reuse and disposal of wood. The best environmental practice is to select good and durable wood from responsibly managed and monitored forests and 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.

Tips for maintenance

  • Sealed wood, clean with mild soapy water mixture to remove dirt, dust, and pollen.
  • Painted wood, avoid exposure to moisture, clean with a damp cloth.
  • Untreated wood, clean with a lightly damp cloth.
  • Sunscreens and bird droppings should be cleaned off as soon as possible. They may lead to particular damages and permanent stains and corrosion.

July 28, 2015

Since the 1990s, many technologies emerged to use recycled plastics as a replacement for conventional wood lumbers. 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 work with conventional carpentry tools and have several 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 as they can be manufactured to meet a wide variety of design and appearance specifications. When wood or some other natural fiber source is incorporated into the material, many plastic lumber products can be painted or stained.

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

Single Polymer Systems, 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 decks with attractive colors.

Extrusion Flow Molding is one of the first processes to be utilized to manufacture plastic lumbers with technology that developed in Europe. These systems utilize mixed polymers with lower raw material costs. However, the earlier versions of this system suffered from low productivity with poor product quality, which led to a low growth for this process.

Fiberglass-Reinforced RPL can be used to produce structural components and has a growing list of applications: deck joists, marine break walls, bulkheads and pilings, railway ties, and more demanding structural components

PVC Extrusion Profiles are used in railing and deck board markets.

Wood-fiber–Plastic Composites are the largest and fastest-growing segments 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 substitute products. They were manufactured with mixtures of 50 – 70% wood fiber and 30 – 50% 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 like wood. They are offered in natural colors 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.

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% wood fiber can achieve 82.5% of the flex modulus of dried pine. The same material had a flexural strength that was more than double that of pine.

Polymer/Polymer Systems 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.

Additives

The pure polymer extruded profiles have performance characteristics that reflect the properties of the polymer used in its fabrication. The stiffness of recycled HDPE is lower than that of a polyethylene-wood fiber composite. The performance issues associated with pure polymer systems center around the color fastness and UV resistance of the surface of the board stock. Many 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 wood-fiber polymer composites, some 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 fiber reinforcement will increase modulus significantly. Fiberglass-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.