What Is A Composite Deck?

When planning for your future deck, one major choice to make is what type of decking materials to use. The most popular debate is choosing between wood or composite. Many homeowners have heard of composite decking, but don’t know much about what it actually is and how it performs. We have compiled a list of the pros and cons of using composite decking for your dream deck!

What Is Composite Decking?

Composite decking is made from a mixture of wood fibre or flour (which is a recycled, post-industrial material) and most commonly a polypropylene or polyethylene blend (both plastic blends). Composite decking products can also be made with PVC or crushed minerals. Mineral-based composite (MBC) is polyethylene or polypropylene with a blend of minerals like calcium carbonate. Composite decking material is often confused with plastic decking (or called PVC decking) which is made from 100% plastic, not a mixture of materials. Trex states in their FAQ that their composite decking is made from 95% recycled materials that are a mixture of reclaimed wood and sawdust with recycled plastic from household items like the plastic packaging from paper towels and toilet paper, and grocery or other shopping bags. Composite decking both handles and cuts like wood decking, making it just as easy to install. But, construction and installing techniques do differ as the boards have to be installed on a pressure-treated lumber deck base structure. Composite decking brands like Trex offer a wide variety of colours and patterns that can mimic any type of solid natural hardwood or flashy colour you could desire.

Advantages

There are many advantages to choosing composite decking, that’s why it’s gaining so much popularity. Some key benefits of composite decking are:

Durability

Embossed wood grain composite.

Composite decking material is durable because has more resistance to conditions that would cause harm to a wood deck. Composite (especially capped composite) is weather-resistant and water-resistant, as it is impervious to water, unlike a wood that will absorb water. Water absorption in a wood deck leads to rot, bulging, warping and splitting as it expands or dries out over time.

Composite materials colour will last longer than a stained or painted wood deck, and it does not require annual or biannual treatment or stain to extend the deck’s life. Composite boards are durable as they have a resistance to surface stains and scratches requiring less upkeep for the homeowner.

Longevity

Arguably the greatest benefit for the use of composites is the longevity of the product. Composites can withstand severe weather conditions and rot for decades without any added treatment or protection.

Most companies like Trex have a 20-year warranty on their decking composite while some companies have their warranties going up to 50 years for their composites. On average, a composite deck would last you 20-30 years, about 10 years more than wood decking.

Options

Composites can come in a variety of choices for colour and patterns. Most are made to look like wood, but many brands like Trex offer options outside the natural-looking realm. Mimic a natural hardwood look with a wood composite that is embellished with wood grain textures or has a stand-out, unique grey or even red deck!

With composite, there is no guessing on the final colour of your deck unlike when it comes to staining or painting wood decking, you get the perfect colour that you choose with no games.

Less Maintenance

The installation of composite is no more difficult than wood decks!
Another big benefit for composite decking products is that they are low maintenance, much lower in maintenance than decks made of pressure-treated wood. They are easier to clean and install. They do not require extra annual upkeep like straining or other treatments or care, they only require gentle cleaning and removal of debris when they accumulate.

Disadvantages

What are the disadvantages of composite decking? Well, sadly nothing can be perfect and composite decking is no exception to that. Some of the disadvantages include:

Price

The most unavoidable disadvantage to composite is the price. Composite decking products can cost 50%-100% more than treated lumber. The cost can vary depending on the quality of composite you choose to go with, but many homeowners opt for wood because it can be more affordable. Cedarwood (an excellent natural wood) prices are somewhere in the middle of treated lumber and composite product prices.

Is a Composite Deck Worth the Money?

Well, that depends on your needs, what you are willing to tolerate, and what you are not. Composite can cost you more initially but can save you money in the long run as it has virtually no maintenance, replacement, or repair costs.

You Can't Avoid Lumber Entirely

If you wanted to choose composite material because it uses fewer resources and be more environmentally friendly, just know that the use of wood is not avoidable. Standard wood decks and composite ones have similar impacts on the environment. Some composite brands use a greater amount of recycled materials in their products like Trex states they do, but this is product-dependent and not an industry standard.

Composite might be made of recycled plastic, but wood is still needed to create the structural frame of any composite deck. This is done for optimum durability and structural stability and performance as composite is not as solid structurally as wood. Treated lumber is used for posts, joists, beams and stair stringers and decking contractors rely on the strength of lumber for the framework, trim and components for railings.

Less Versatility

Composite decking is permanently coloured to last longer and reduce maintenance. This means that the colour of the decking cannot be changed once it is installed. Standard wood decking can be painted or stained another colour when desired. Homeowners can refresh the colour of their deck through regular cleanings but the overall colour of the product cannot be changed without being replaced completely.

More Support is Needed

Composite deck on a wood frame.

Composite can be heavy. The average weight of composite decking is twice the weight of treated pine and three times the weight of cedar. This does not affect your deck once it has been built, but during the construction process the more weight, the more time construction will take.

The increased weight and tendency to sag require more support, increasing deck framing price and labour compared to the construction of a wood deck. Composite decks require more joists with smaller spacing in between joists with every end needing to be supported by a block, all increasing costs. Because of this, composite decking’s framing is more tedious and costly than wood decking.

Fading and Replacement

Any surface or material exposed to UV rays from hot sunlight will fade in colour over time. Therefore, all decking will fade in colour. This is not much of a problem if your deck doesn’t need repairs, but that is not always the case. When repairs are needed to be made, things become more bothersome. If a deck board becomes damaged and needs to be replaced, even if your purchase the same brand and colour of the board, it will likely no longer match your deck. The newer board will always be more vibrant in colour than the rest of the boards in your deck.

Final Thoughts

When comparing decking materials for your outdoor construction project it’s important to know your needs and weigh the pros and cons of your options. Composite is worthwhile as it has a resistance to rot, fading, and scratches while having either a unique or raw-looking appearance. Consider looking at popular brands like Trex for more information on the performance of their individual products.

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