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Published: Thursday, 6/29/2006

Even Better Than the Real Thing

Today s homeowners are faced with an abundance of home-improvement materials and products -- more than ever before. While this wide variety provides infinite options for showcasing your taste and meeting home-improvement budgets, it can leave you wondering which items to choose to realize the most reward for your investment.

What you may notice on the shelves of your local hardware store or home-supply center is a growing number of products made from composite materials. The reasoning is twofold. First, many of our natural resources, like timber, are being quickly depleted. That s why home and garden product manufacturers have looked to alternative materials, which provide durability and aesthetic appeal that exceeds natural products. These items run the gamut from siding and shingles to moldings and exterior decorative accents to decking materials. Second, manufacturers have learned that composites are more durable in the long run than natural materials. While these items may cost a little bit more initially, their strength, durability and ease of use make them a wiser purchase.

When making improvements to your home and landscape, consider these items, which are both attractive and versatile:

Flowerpots and planters: While stone, terra cotta and other natural materials can be beautiful, they can also be heavy and costly. Plastic resin products, which mimic the look of materials like wood, stone, or ceramic, are often lightweight and durable. Simply move planters around your garden to create a space that s inviting.

Shingles and siding: Many homeowners like the rustic look of cedar shingles or siding, and accompanying trellises, cupolas and moldings. However, over time, wood siding products are susceptible to the elements, especially if you live in high-humidity areas or close to the ocean. Composite materials offer the look of wood on your home s exterior, but with little or no maintenance required.

Edging and garden products: Create the look of stone or wood garden accents by using resin stepping stones and edging material that look like the real thing but are much more durable and flexible. What s more, you won t contend with moisture issues or attract insects when you use resin in lieu of wood materials near the ground and around the perimeter of your home.

Decks: Traditional decks have been made from a variety of wood products. However, in order to stand up to weather conditions and the test of time, wood needs to be preserved with potentially dangerous chemicals and requires annual maintenance, including staining and waterproofing.

Composite decking materials look like real wood, but don t require the work and maintenance involved with a wood deck. These materials are formed from tough composites that won t show wear patterns or fade over time, which eliminates the sanding and staining involved with wood decks. Plus, no splitting, warping, cupping or rotting will occur with these products. What s more, composite materials won t play home to insects and other animal life, like birds or rodents who may burrow through wood products.

Many composites are made from recycled material. Not only do these decks last longer, but using recycled materials helps reduce negative impact on the environment. They are also visually appealing. There are a wide variety of styles and colors that emulate the beauty and prestige of real wood, including tropical hardwoods such as ipe, cambara, cumaru and Brazilian cherry -- without depleting the natural rainforests in which these trees grow.

When it comes to outdoor recreational areas and outfitting your backyard, consider simulated materials, which may be better than the real thing in terms of durability, safety and ease of use. Remember, color, quality and looks vary among composite manufacturers, so shop around!

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