Always Cap Your Piling
Docks and bulkheads are great investments for your property. You can moor your boat up to them, go fishing off them, and help with loss of property when it comes to erosion. So you spend some good money getting these items built all made with the finest materials, but then you don't get your pilings caped. You may ask, what's the big deal? Well caping piling increases the life of the pole it will also increase the life of your dock and your bulkhead. Without the piling you will lose your dock and bulkhead and in the future have to replace all of it sooner than you thought all because you decided not to cap the piling. Piling tend to rot from the inside out, and the biggest way this happens is from the top of the pole where it's not caped. Water from rain or salty air over time seep down through the top of the pole and will deteriorate the wood from the inside first. This is because the treated lumber is always most vulnerable from the inside that's because the chemical has the hardest time permeating to the center of the piling. If you ever have to cut one of these piling in half you can see where the treated chemical did not reach, and it is dead smack in the center. The good news is there is many ways to cap your piling that will prolong the life of your dock and bulkhead and I will go over the types that we have used in the past.
As you may have guessed from the title, copper caps are made from copper and last a long time. They are easily malleable to fit the top of your piling. This is especially useful because all piling tops don't have a perfect circumference and the copper caps can fit them with just a few whacks of a hammer and fastened down with nails. They tend to last a long time, I have seen copper caps last over 20 years and because they are fitted so snug to the pole the rarely get dislodged or get blown off from dynamic forces.
Some of the problems with copper caps is that they will oxidize quickly and will lose their shinny copper look by turning green. The is natural of course and more of a cosmetic issue if that's what you're concerned about. Also, installing copper caps is time consuming. To make them fit snug you must place them on the top of the piling first then trace the circumference of the piling, cut out the circle, hammer down the folds, and then put about 10 nails to secure it. It wouldn't be that bad if all the piling had the same circumference because then all you would have to do is make one measurement and just cut a bunch of them at once but that's not how it will work so you will be devoting a good part of your day doing this. I would recommend a marine contractor to do this task because they are use to doing this and have the expertise. They can probably do it a lot quicker and make it look better than what you could. Another draw back about the copper caps is that they are flat and seagulls and other birds love to perch on the piling and hence poop all over your piling cap and dock, basically there is no deterrent for them to not rest on top of your piling and making a mess of your property.
Ahh plastic caps, the eye candy of piling. You see them at every major high profile marinas around Ocean City, Maryland, you see them at state owned boat ramps and other public waterway facilities, and you see them at high profile properties. Whats nice about the plastic caps is that when you receive them, mounting them is pretty easy. Usually they only require 4-6 nails or screws to secure them and you can get them in different colors and in two different shapes, flat like the copper caps or cone tipped. Whats nice about the cone tipped is that it will prevent birds from resting on them and will reduce the bird waste on your dock or bulkhead. Plastic as you know basically last forever and I haven't seen them loose their color over the years from constant sun exposure.
The problem I have with this type of cap is that you have to measure each piling for them to fit and the way the size works for plastic caps is that they only come in half inch increments. So for example if you have a 10 inch piling, in order for a plastic cap to fit right you would have to order a cap that is 10.5 inches. The reason i don't like this is because most plastic caps don't fit snug and are often loose. You can't beat them to conform to the shape to the piling so when you secure them with nails or screws, the plastic bends and warps around the piling and can give it a weird shape at the base. Also because the plastic caps are looser than the copper, they tend to get blown off or fall off the piling over time. Don't believe me, then I would ask you to go to any marina and just look around and see how many piling you see that no longer have a plastic caps on them, go ahead I will wait. Finally, plastic caps are more expensive and a lot of companies want you to order in bulk before they would ship to you. Not saying that you cant find a few plastic caps at some local marina stores but if you just had lets say 30 piling put in for your dock you won't find that many at a local store and most likely would have to order them online and some companies won't ship to you unless you order 100 or more.
Paint On/Taring Caps
The least popular of the three caps I see is the paint on/taring of the piling. Taring does seal the top really well but in the hot sun it tends to melt and run down your piling making a mess and having a smell. Painting caps basically does the same thing but doesn't last as long and you will find yourself having to paint the tops every six months or maybe sooner based on how much exposure your piling get. The great thing I will say about these types of caps is that they are the most affordable and easiest way to cap your piling, its just that you would have more upkeep maintenance in order to protect the integrity of your piling.
The most important thing I want to drive home to everyone regardless of what cap you use on your piling, is to at lease use something! You are paying good money for your dock/pier and bulkhead why not spend a few extra bucks to preserve your investment. Hope you enjoy this simple tip.