Composite decking has been around for some time and it is becoming more popular as an alternative to wood for your outdoor deck, porch, or walkway.
This product often has the appearance of wood planks but it is made of a combination of natural and synthetic materials.
Most composite deck boards are fabricated using wood fiber, recycled plastic, and chemical binding agents, in contrast to PVC Decking which is 100% made of plastic.
Some composite decking is also wrapped in a protective plastic or polymer outer shell. This is referred to as capped composite boards.
There are some impressive advantages of using composite decking in place of wood boards. There are also a few downsides.
In this article, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of composite decking if you are considering this option for your home.
Composite Decking Pros
If you are looking to install a new deck or replace an existing wood deck, consider these advantages of using composite decking rather than wood.
Far Less Maintenance than Wood Decking
Composite decking material requires almost no maintenance compared to wood decking which is susceptible to rot, insect damage, and fading.
To protect the wood, it needs to be coated with a clear sealer, stain, or paint. Prior to resealing the wood, it generally needs to be power washed to remove mold and mildew. It might even need to be sanded to remove splinters.
Composite boards can be cleaned with soapy water and a hose. Wood boards and railings that have become damaged by dry or wet rot will need to be replaced sooner than composite boards.
Composite material is less slippery when wet or covered with ice and snow. Many composite deck boards are fabricated with a distinctive wood grain pattern or grooves that offer additional slip resistance.
For these reasons, composite decking is an excellent choice for areas of high humidity and can be used around a swimming pool or other water features. This is excellent if you have children who tend to run around in bare feet.
More Durable than Wood
Wood is a natural material that is susceptible to deterioration from exposure to inclement weather and wildlife.
There are many rodents and insects that actually use wood as a food source. Composite decking is made with materials that are unappealing to insects and resistant to rot.
Composite decking is not only durable but it also has approximately double the lifespan of wood. A composite deck can last for 30 years.
Stain and Scratch-Resistant
One of the better advantages of composite decking is that it is available with a factory-applied protective coating referred to as capping.
Capped composite boards are coated with a plastic or polymer finish that prevents staining and infiltration of fluids.
Uncapped composite boards are not protected. However, all composites are solid material and color throughout the entire cross-section, making any scratches nearly invisible.
As mentioned previously, the surface of composite decking is easy to clean with soap and water to remove things like spills and bird droppings.
Available in a Wide Range of Colors
While many wood species are extremely attractive, especially when well-sealed to enhance the natural color and grain, composite boards are available in many colors that mimic natural wood and other shades found in nature. There are so many shades of gray and brown to choose from.
As well, some companies offer blues, greens, reds, black, etc. for really creative applications. These are very popular for outdoor play areas.
Most of the top composite decking companies are on board with using recycled materials to make their products.
These included plastics and wood waste from sawmills, such as wood fibers and sawdust. This makes composite decking a highly eco-friendly product that leaves a smaller carbon footprint on the environment.
Composite Decking Cons
Now you know what the advantages of composite decking are. However, there are some downsides that you might want to consider before you make your final decision as to whether you should go with wood or composite materials.
More Expensive than Wood
One of the biggest disadvantages of composite decking may well be its cost. Composite materials can be as high as double the cost of traditional wood decking.
You also have to factor in that the support framing cost might be higher due to the recommended spacing of 12-inches on center for the joists by many composite decking companies.
This recommendation varies, depending on the application and the stability of the composite boards themselves.
It does need to be pointed out that the cost of wood more than doubled in 2020 and later, due to diminished resources and rising transit costs.
Not as Dimensionally Stable as Wood
Composite decking boards are available in similar widths and lengths as wood, though the material is heavier than wood. So, you may do better buying shorter lengths if you are doing the installation by yourself.
Composite decking can be installed over wood or metal framing (joists). Yet, as mentioned previously, some manufacturers recommend spacing the joists 12-inches on center rather than the standard 16-inches because composite decking can sag from its own weight.
If using wood framing, it is a little harder to attach blocking between the joists in a space that is less than 16-inches that doesn’t accommodate all nail gun sizes or swings from a hammer.
Composite Decking Absorbs and Retains Heat
Like all decking material exposed to the sun, composite decking can absorb and retain heat on a hot bright day. Darker colored boards are especially vulnerable to absorbing heat. Lighter colors are better at reflecting heat.
The amount of heat retained likely won’t have you running for flip-flops to protect the soles of your feet, but it could make your deck area slightly uncomfortable from the heat that rises from the surface.
All decks can benefit from shade trees, awnings, or umbrellas for better comfort.
High Rate of Expansion and Contraction Due to Temperature
Just like wood, composite decking will expand and contract in all directions. Composite decking expands in hot weather and contracts when it is very cold. However, it doesn’t absorb moisture the way natural wood does, so it won’t swell when exposed to excessive moisture.
When installing composite decking, you need to use the manufacturer’s recommended spacers to ensure there is ample room between boards to allow for them to expand.
What is the Average Lifespan of Composite Decking?
Composite decking has an average lifespan of 25 to 30 years. This makes the product a good return on investment.
The average lifespan of a wood deck is approximately 15 years due to it being less durable and less resistant to rot from the elements.
What is the Average Cost of Composite Decking?
The cost of composite decking varies depending on the thickness and construction of the boards.
Some boards are thicker than others and some have hollow cores as opposed to solid ones. As well, composite boards that are capped (coated) can be more expensive than uncapped boards.
On average, composite decking can cost between $5.00 and $15.00 per square foot for the raw materials.
With installation, that cost increases to between $30.00 and $60.00 per square foot. You also need to factor in the cost of protective railings and balusters if the deck is well above grade.
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