Composite decking is a wood alternative that can provide a longer lifespan and lower maintenance needs when compared to the traditional design. Manufacturers can simulate the look of exotic hardwoods to give homeowners options that they normally wouldn’t have the ability to afford when building a deck.
This man-made product includes about a 50/50 mix of recycled wood fibers and recycled plastic. These materials make the product almost impervious to rot, which means there are fewer needs to sand, stain, and seal the boards to preserve their lifespan. You’ll pay a little more to use this material, but the initial expense is made up over the lifetime of the deck.
You can also choose capped composite decking to have a product that resists fading and discoloration over time. As long as you spray down the material with some water and a mold cleaner twice per year, you’ll be able to maintain the quality of your deck – even if it develops mold or mildew over time.
List of the Pros of Composite Decking
1. It only needs mild cleaning to preserve its look throughout the year.
If you use real wood for your decking material, then you’ll need to sand and stain it periodically to preserve it. You won’t have that problem if you choose composite decking instead. The only thing you need to do with the product is to clean it periodically with some soap and water. That means you can spend more time enjoying the deck instead of taking care of it. This advantage applies in all environments and terrain options as well, so every homeowner can enjoy the ease of use.
2. There are multiple features that you can have with composite decking.
When you start shopping for composite decking materials, then you will find that there is a variety of grades available from which to choose. Your final cost will depend on different factors and features that you want to have on your boards, such as scratch resistance or UV protection. That means you can select a product that works well for your geographic location without compromising how you use it each day. Every homeowner can customize their deck based on the grade and included features that they want to have in their base product.
3. You are using recycled products to build your deck.
When you choose composite decking for your home, then you’re using a product that is primarily made of recycled products. That means you don’t need to cut down more trees just so that you can build a deck. The recycled plastic in the product takes waste away from the ocean or having it enter our food supply. When you consider the added lifespan will also keep materials out of the local landfill, there are several environmental benefits to consider that can make this an investment worth making for some families.
It won’t warp, bulge, or split after exposure to the elements either. That means your deck will look just as good five years from now as it does today when you or your preferred contractor install the product correctly.
4. You can choose from a capped or uncapped product.
If you choose a capped product for your composite decking, then the boards are sealed in plastic that can be embossed or colored to create the variegated look of a natural wood product. You’ll find that capped composite decking also tends to be more resistant to fading, scratching, and stain damage. Most manufacturers provide a 25-year warranty for the stain and against fading when you choose this option.
You don’t need any special tools to complete the installation of composite decking either. The process is exactly the same as it would be for a standard wood product. Once you have the frame built and attached to the primary structure, you just start laying the boards down horizontally, vertically, or diagonally based on your overall preference.
5. Composite decking can use hidden fasteners.
The problem that you have with nails or screws when building a deck is that they create a place of weakness for the board. You can experience cracking, corrosion, and premature rotting depending on the quality of the construction. At the very least, you end up with a product that requires precision fastener placement to create the clean look you want. If you choose composite decking instead, then you can use hidden fasteners under the decking to secure the product. This advantage adds a little more to the final cost of your installation, but it also creates a 100% clean look that reduces the risk that comes with those added weak points.
6. This material is naturally impermeable to water.
The modern composite decking manufacturing process helps the boards to become mostly impermeable to water. That’s why you’ll find this deck option as a top choice in communities like Seattle where the wet weather is an almost constant feature of life throughout the year. This advantage also means that your deck will fight off mold and mildew better than natural wood products. You’ll still need to follow the basic precautions to prevent mold growth, such as installing the product at least two feet above ground to allow for proper ventilation. You can then remove the green stuff right away with a cleaning solution designed for that exact purpose.
7. You have a wide variety of colors from which to choose.
Another key benefit to consider when choosing composite decking over real wood is the fact that you can find a lot of color options available. Most manufacturers provide a series of brown, gray, and tan colors to complement the classic Earth tones that a natural wood product would provide. That makes it a lot easier and more affordable to match your new deck to the exterior of your property, creating something that is aesthetically pleasing and easy to maintain for years to come.
8. You can choose composite decking with non-slip texture.
If you live in an environment where it rains frequently, then choosing composite decking with a non-slip texture could be an investment worth making. Homeowners that plan to install their deck somewhere next to a pool on their property will want to make use of this advantage as well. You’ll still get boards that look like natural wood and install on a pressure-treated frame, but you’ll also be reducing the risk of slipping and falling if your feet are wet. This advantage helps in the winter too if you plan to use your deck as part of your standard entryway.
List of the Cons of Composite Decking
1. The cost of composite decking is a significant factor to consider.
The cost of using composite decking for your home is 50% more than what you would pay for pressure-treated wood. It’s even more than redwood or cedar if you use a standard grade of lumber. Even though the added costs up front makes it more expensive to build a deck, you can usually offset the expense with the lower maintenance costs down the road. If you’re not in a position to manage the extra expense, then natural wood is going to be the better solution to consider.
Depending on your market costs, composite decking could be as much as five times more expensive than using pressure-treated wood for your building needs.
2. Composite decking weighs more than natural wood.
Because of the weight of the composite materials, you must have a stronger frame in place for your deck when compared to the requirements for natural wood. Most manufacturers in this industry call for 16 inches on the center framing for straight runs. If you opt for diagonal runs, then you need 12 inches on the framing. Despite the added weight of this recycled product, it does not usually have the same strength as pressure-treated or natural wood. That means your home could struggle to support this installation and the deck itself may not be as supportive of your needs as you hoped it might be.
3. This product is not intended for use as a structural support.
If you start building a deck from composite materials, then you’ll still need to use pressure-treated wood to maximize the lifespan of the construction. Composite decking is not useful as a structural product. You must install it over a natural frame. If you don’t use pressure-treated lumber, then the lifespan of the deck is going to be less because the wood will rot out from underneath the boards on top of it eventually. You’ll want to make sure your contractor is not cutting corners on this step by using natural wood with a water-resistant stain.
4. You can melt composite decking under the right set of circumstances.
If you accidentally spill hot cooking grease on your composite decking, then there is an excellent chance that the plastic in this product will melt. You won’t want to grill on this deck either for the same reason. Hot coals or ignited gas too close to the surface will create similar results. You’ll want to look at how the sun shines on this material at your installation point as well. If the rays have a focus point through a window, then there is a chance that a hot day could melt it as well.
Increased heat levels can also cause some of the materials in the composite decking can cause some of the materials to become more flexible. This disadvantage can cause the boards to move out of their fasteners over time.
5. Hidden fasteners create more maintenance problems.
Although composite decking boards are typically more durable than standard wood or pressure-treated options, there may be times when you need to replace a board to maintain the integrity of the deck. When you’re in that situation, the use of hidden fasteners can become a disadvantage rather quickly. You’ll need to disconnect the entire board from underneath, which can mean removing multiple boards to get to the one in question. This disadvantage is the reason why most homeowners opt for the standard installation even if they want a clean look.
6. Some manufacturers do not offer the same type of warranty.
When you start shopping around to look at the various deck brands, you’ll discover that there is a wide range of warranty options. The best choice you can make with your composite decking is to choose an item that comes with a fade and stain warranty. If you don’t have this option, then you have every right to question the longevity of the boards that you purchase.
Most manufacturers offer fade and stain warranties of up to 25 years. If you can find a product that goes beyond this timeframe, then that material should jump to the top of the list of preferences for your composite decking.
7. The boards can get hot to the touch in some climates.
If you lie in a climate that sees a hot summer season most years, then you’ll want to select composite decking boards that have a lighter color to them. This choice will negate some of the disadvantages of heat absorption that can occur with the darker tones, allowing you to use the deck all year long without it being uncomfortable against your skin. You can choose matte, smooth, or highly textured options while still working to avoid the heating issue with some of the choices that are on the market today.
8. Composite decking is not 100% free from rot.
When the first composite decking materials were introduced in the 1990s, it was eyed as being the next evolution of the deck-building industry. The first products were made from old shipping pallets and recycled milk cartons, advertised as being something that was 100% resistant to rot. Studies published in the Forest Products Journal in 2001-2002 showed that this was not the case. Your boards must receive treatment with a preservative to maximize their potential to fight the natural aging process. Without this step, the natural wood fibers will still begin to disintegrate, which can leave uncomfortable plastic fibers sticking out of your deck over time, creating a walking hazard.
The pros and cons of composite decking show that this material is useful in a variety of different situations. You can simulate the look and feel of natural wood while preserving the environment and reducing your maintenance needs. Even though this product is more expensive than your other options, most homeowners will make up their initial investment and then some because this material provides such an easy-care option.
Brandon Miller has a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a seasoned writer who has written over one hundred articles, which have been read by over 500,000 people. If you have any comments or concerns about this blog post, then please contact the Green Garage team here.