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Class action against ChoiceDek maker, distributor

Consumer Reports News: July 03, 2008 12:09 AM

Our latest report on decking materials found that several composite-decking products were especially prone to mildew growth.

One composite product, ChoiceDek, reportedly has faced such mold- and mildew-growth problems that a class-action claim targeted Advanced Environmental Recycling Technologies (AERT) and Weyerhaeuser, respectively the manufacturer and distributor of ChoiceDek, which is sold only at Lowe's. (The firms representing the plaintiffs are also investigating Trex, the biggest player in composite decking, for acknowledged "surface defects" in some products manufactured from 2003 to mid-2006.)

Composite decking, developed in the early 1990s, is made of wood and either virgin or recycled plastic. An attraction for homeowners is a woodlike appearance without the periodic refinishing that wood decks require. Some composite decking is treated with UV and mildew inhibitors, although in our tests even unfinished wood as a category resisted mildew growth better than composite materials.

The plaintiffs in the class action include owners of ChoiceDek products originally purchased from 2004 through 2007, a group estimated in the tens of thousands. The suit charges that ChoiceDek decking develops "persistent fungal and mold growth" even when installed and maintained as directed. In addition, it claims the defendants knew of the problem, misrepresented the decking by using such terms as "virtually maintenance free" (found in the ChoiceDek FAQ), and worded its limited lifetime warranty to exclude the specific problems experienced by the plaintiffs.

(The Consumer Reports testing photo above shows ChoiceDek subjected to a number of different testing methods in three locations. The decking in the left column depicts unexposed material stored in our lab; the middle column, after one year in a humid environment (Florida); and the right, one year in an arid location (Arizona). The five rows from top to bottom represent the following conditions: unwashed; washed with water and a brush; washed with OxiClean and a brush; washed with Behr wood cleaner; and cleaned with a pressure washer. The spots and discoloration in the middle column are mildew.)

Plaintiffs' experiences noted in the complaint describe decking that within a year developed noticeably large gray and black spots and other discoloration. The growth in the four cases noted reappeared soon after cleaning—even in two instances when AERT sent professional cleaners to do the job.

While both AERT and Weyerhaeuser denied the allegations in the class action, they recently initiated a settlement. Call AERT at 800-951-5117 or 479-756-7400 if you have a concern about ChoiceDek products installed at your home. An AERT spokesperson for the company says the pending solution "will resolve all customer-care matters."

Stay tuned for the settlement terms, which we'll post once any deals are struck.—Ed Perratore

Essential information: To find the best decking, see how a particular material we tested performed in our Ratings of decking (available to subscribers). Also learn how to choose a decking material, read about the different decking types, and keep your deck safe and in tiptop condition. Check out our brand-new Home Improvement Guide interactive, which offers buying advice on appliances, tools, and building materials for every area of your home.

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