Posted on August 20th, 2015 by Aaron Presley
Erosion, toxins, longevity, wood-boring insects, aesthetics… there are many factors to keep in mind when choosing bulkhead materials, but the selection process is far more exciting than it was two decades ago. Today’s fabricators have made great strides towards achieving the lifelike look and texture of natural materials using vinyl. Even so, the rustic look and weight of wood is irreplaceable, and you no longer need to concern yourself with much erosion and buckling. Today’s timbers are treated to add strength and even to mimic more expensive alien wood species.
Think of bulkhead materials as an investment. While vinyl’s upfront costs may seem tough to stomach next to cheaper materials, its lifetime is significantly longer. Vinyl is usually expensive, but it lasts over 50 years, which means its annual costs are lower than those of timber and steel.
The natural look of wood gives you a retro, organic aesthetic at a low upfront price. Its longevity is half that of vinyl, but treatments can extend its lifespan significantly. Your wood will last you about 25 years, but it’s prone to buckling and cracking. If your location and weather exposure aren’t challenging, your wooden bulkhead will last longer.
-3) Pressure Treated Wood
Pressure-treatments force preservatives deep into the wood, which adapts it for marine environments. The American Wood Protection Association’s standards for preservatives and chemical retention levels ensure that your wood receives the most durable treatments possible. BMP certified treatments leech fewer toxins into water. If you use quality chemicals and long lasting impregnation techniques, you can use timber in challenging fresh water conditions.
-2) Creosote Preservatives
The ocean is a bulkhead’s harshest enemy, and creosote preservatives have been in use for more than 100 years to overcome the corrosive elements of salt water. They prepare your wooden bulkheads for aquatic environments and are the most cost-effective preservatives for most circumstances. There’s a reason this treatment has been a favorite of the U.S Navy for as long as it has. It gives your wood what it needs to resist rotting in difficult environments.
If you have an experienced composite engineer and a supplier who can provide unusually shaped beams and profiles, you’ll extend your return on investment by adding a number of years to your bulkhead’s lifespan.
-3) Wood Pilings
If your bank account is not as full as you’d like it to be, wood pilings are a cost effective option. They’re half as cheap as vinyl, and if installed properly, they’re a true boon when it comes to maintenance. They need very little attention, particularly if they’re treated to keep your bulkhead safe from wood-boring insects. Seawall construction needs customizable materials, something that wood pilings offer in spades. Their aesthetic doesn’t tend to suffer from exposure to sea and sun, so they’re a favorite among homeowners and marine engineers alike.
Round or square options are used, and they’re jetted into the soil using a pump. Alignment is critical, and if your pilings are placed deeply enough, the structure will withstand currents efficiently without the need for cantilevered walls.
-4) Wale and Sheet System
Sheathing boards and whalers guide water gently over the back of the bulkhead so that the entire structure is exposed to less pressure. This system has probably been in use longer than any other, but its light weight can’t tolerate high soil elevations. Its service life is around 20 years, and it can be pressure impregnated to resist marine borers.
-5) Steel and Aluminum Sheet Piling
Steel armor is extraordinarily strong, and its life span is as long as that of timber. An interlocking seal installation is quick and easy to achieve, which reduces your initial investment significantly.
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