Review of the Best Outdoor Flooring Deck Tile Products 2021
From a Professional Balcony Floor Installer’s Perspective
In Toronto, Canada and just about any urban center elsewhere in Canada and USA, many big box hardware stores offer special flooring products for outdoor use. Some consumers will install these clickable, interlocking deck tiles on their own condo balcony and rooftop terrace floors.
Others hire companies like us to do the installation because although at first glance it might seem simple, there’s usually some sort of complication forcing the need to cut tiles. This happens around balcony railing posts, electrical outlet boxes and other obstructions.
Professional balcony flooring installations will give rise to that ‘professional look’ where obstructions are properly cut around, gaps are avoided, and cool patterns can be installed that otherwise wouldn’t have been thought of.
We are in our 8th season of operation at Outdoor Floors in Toronto and have learned much along the way about outdoor flooring products. So, we wanted to share this knowledge with prospective buyers to help make informed decisions about the various deck tile products with their pros and cons.
- Capped wood-plastic composite (WPC) deck tiles — superior to all below. Their cap is the key.
- Acacia wood deck tiles — inferior due to fading
- Plastic Resin deck tiles — cheap, lightweight, prone to fading
- Rubber deck tiles — excellent in terms of durability but visual appeal lacking
- “Chunky Slat” plastic, wooden or composite deck tiles — hard to clean
- Always keep replacement tiles after your balcony flooring installation
Capped Wood Plastic Composites (WPC)
Capped wood-plastic composite deck tiles have taken the lead in the world of outdoor flooring. This is because they’re exceptionally durable, visually stunning materials with minimal need for maintenance (cleaning, essentially). They’re an improvement over their uncapped predecessors because the hard-shell cap layer, which is baked into the composite tile slats during manufacturing, forms a barrier to the elements. To learn more about capped composites on our website, go here. Rest assured, they will last a very long time but this brings with it another set of issues.
In the case of an uncapped, early generation deck tile, surface stains were caused by standing small puddles of rain water (see photo, below-left). Accumulation over time led to a visually inferior outdoor floor. Removing the markings was very difficult process and involved harsh bleaching agents. Capped WPC products, with a hard-shell, glossy layer, don’t have this issue.
Water Absorption into a Deck Tile is Never Good
Another major issue with uncapped composites is rainwater can soak into the tile through the slat surface and edges. This is the case in the second photo where water absorption with repeated heat-dry cycles under the summer sun caused them to warp.
In addition, if the cap has a matte (flat), non-gloss finish, then the tile is prone to scuffing. This happens when those sitting in plastic patio chairs slide it to stand up. Accumulation of scuff marks over time become unsightly and sometimes will lead to replacement of the entire deck tile floor (sorry, no photos).
Lastly, some tile suppliers falsely claim their tiles are capped. If the tile has a matte finish (similar to the cut edges), then it’s effectively not capped and be prone to scuff marks, stains and warping.
Warping can also occur if a composite deck tile floor doesn’t breathe. Similar to uncapped tiles discussed above, moisture becomes trapped due to lack of ventilation and will eventually absorb into the wood or plastic composite material. This leads to warping, fungal and mildew growth and eventual decay.
Composite Deck Tile Learning Points
The protective cap of a composite decking tile needs to be somewhat glossy to prevent accumulation of unsightly water markings and scuff marks, as well as to prevent water absorption. Ventilation spaces between deck tiles slats is important to allow the floor to breathe.
Acacia Wood Tiles are Cheap for a Reason
Many deck tile manufacturers, including Ikea’s Runnen series Home Depot’s Interbuild tiles offer what appears to be a nice looking acacia wood tile. These come in a preset “parquet” pattern (alternating slats arranged at 90° to each other). However, in only two to three seasons and depending on degree of sun exposure, they will fade and do so in highly irregular patterns. Ultimately, the balcony floor will need replacement even if attempts are made to stain them. Clearly, acacia wood deck tiles are not suitable for outdoor use (best suited for indoor use or on balconies with near zero sun exposure).
Other Outdoor Flooring Products Falling out of Favour
Balcony tiles in this category include plastic resin (“Aura” or “Eon”), “chunky slat” (wood, plastic or composite) tiles and recycled rubber deck tiles. All have fallen out of favour, some for good reason and others because of inferior visual appeal.
Plastic Resin Patio Tiles
Plastic resin deck tiles look and even photograph great. We know this because we worked with them for three years. The trouble is their cheap feel: when walked on, they make a clicking sound due to their hollow plastic slats sliding over plastic bases.
The same mechanism led to the deck tile becoming unstable and slippery once cut with a saw. This would inadvertently release the clipping mechanism and cause the slats to freely slide on their bases.
Repositioning of the tile slats is needed from time to time (“Just gently slide-kick it with your foot”, I would say to Master Installer, Enes 😜). We got around the problem by taping the underside of the cut tile slats to their bases but clearly this was not a definitive solution.
Another issue is they fade and become brittle under UV light.
Plastic resin deck tiles look and photograph great but they don’t feel so nice and become brittle with UV light. Simply put, they’re cheap!
“Chunky Slat” 2×2′ Deck Tiles
“Chunky slat” wood/plastic/composite deck tiles (1-inch thick, square slats arranged in parallel as seen in left image below) came into the scene quite early and did their job quite well over the years. A big snag though are the large gaps situated between the chunky slats.
This led to dirt and debris accumulation over the years. Cleaning this out is difficult because the tiles need to be lifted up to clean them as well as the underlying floor (best done with a scraper and shop vac).
Another issue arose with the wood version of these tiles: fading. With any wood for that matter, there’s no getting around it — wood will fade and turn grey with time, but composites won’t. It’s as simple as that.
Recycled Rubber Decking Tiles
Recycled rubber deck tiles are where it all started for us in the outdoor flooring world. Multi Home International continues to manufacture and sell them across the country at Home Depot. Incredibly durable, these tiles rarely have issues.
The only reason they’ve become less popular is because they’ve been replaced en-masse by WPC deck tiles due to their superior visual appeal and minimal need for cleaning and maintenance. Cleaning rubber deck tiles is difficult because dirt and debris stick to the rubber and becomes trapped within the holes (photo bottom left).
The only time we’ve witnessed an issue was when the rubber deck tiles became flooded in a pool of rainwater due to obstructed drain holes in the condo balcony floor. Over winter, repeated freeze-thaw cycles literally shattered the tiles into a million pieces. Fascinating, really (sorry, no photos).
Regardless, we still offer the latest generation cousins of those seen in the below photo, right. Called Ecotrend and offered in two colours (black and brown), these interlocking, rubber deck tiles will last many, many years no matter what (well, unless they sit in frozen puddles on a poorly drained balcony).
This brings us back to WPC deck tiles.
Wood-Plastic Composite (WPC) Deck Tile Durability: Are they really ageless?
The jury is out on this one and will remain out there for at least twenty years in our humble-yet-experienced opinion. They simply haven’t been around long enough to know, and this is a good problem to have.
Anecdotally, the composite deck tiles I’ve had on my own balcony are now in their 8th season and look the same as the ones stored in their original packaging (ok, they’re a bit dirty I admit, but can easily be cleaned with a house vacuum and soap and water on a scrub brush!).
One final point about deck tile installations: always keep extra replacement tiles just in case the ones in-situ were to become permanently stained or burned (from falling lit cigarettes for example).
My silly buggers on our North York, Toronto balcony in 2016 with capped, 1×1’ composite deck tiles by NewTechWood.
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