When low-maintenance composite decking first came on the scene in the 1990’s homeowners grabbed it up, despite its high cost and limited color selection.
Nowadays, you can select from new products that look like fresh-cut cedar or Brazilian walnut. And they’ll never weather or turn gray.
Composites sales have now topped $1 billion a year, and currently represent the fastest-growing sector of the industry. In order to determine if composite decking is the best option for your deck, read on.
The Spice of Life
The variety of quality composite products on the market increases each year. For instance, ten years ago, there were only about ten choices; now there are more than 50.
In fact, the biggest frustration you may encounter is choosing the best option from among all the styles, colors and brands. Most brands of the basic composites are quite similar when it comes to performance. The differences come down to variations in design, colors, mix of plastic and wood, and texture.
If you’re on a tight budget, there are a variety of lower-cost products available. However, they offer a limited palette of colors and often do not closely resemble wood.
On the other hand, higher-end composites come in a wider range of colors. And some of these products are surprisingly difficult to tell apart from real wood. For instance, some of the priciest brands have subtle shadings and individual “grain” variations, so that no one board is an exact replica of another.
In the past, most composites tended to look too shiny. (Unless it’s varnished or otherwise shellacked, natural wood has a subtle flat or matte sheen.) But newer, high-tech resins are now being used to eliminate that problem. In addition, some manufacturers buff each board at the factory to remove any “plastic-looking” sheen.
Weighing the Pros and Cons
If you’re in a quandary as to whether or not you should go the composite route for your new deck, let’s consider the pros and cons:
- Reduced Maintenance. Unlike wood decks, composites do not require power washing, staining and sealing every other year. A simple scrubbing with soapy water and a soft-bristle brush is usually all that’s needed. You can spend more time enjoying your deck and less time maintaining it.
- Increased Durability. Composite decks do not splinter, rot, warp or attract termites. And while all composites will fade slightly after the first two or three months in the sun, the fading then stops. In addition, composite decking made from carefully manufactured bamboo composite is even tougher and more moisture resistant. (Bamboo composite is significantly denser than standard sawdust-based composite boards.)
- More Eco-Friendly. Most composites are made from waste: Sawdust, used plastic milk jugs, and shopping bags. Every 20 feet of decking contains about 30 pounds of material that would have ended up in a landfill. Every 10 square feet contains nearly 3,000 recycled plastic shopping bags and 1,100 one-gallon milk jugs. (Trex, the first and largest of the composite manufacturers, recycles about six million pounds of plastic each year.)
- Less Flammable. Composites will burn, but at a much higher temperature than wood. In fact, most composites meet the strict Wildland-Urban Interface Building Code adopted by the state of California. For additional fire resistance, you can choose boards with 50 percent polyurethane. (Look for a Class A fire rating.)
- More Options. Composite decking materials are now available in “hollow core,” allowing you to run wire for stereos, lighting, etc.
In the following video clip, HGTV’s Scott Brothers explain why they prefer composite decking:
- Higher Initial Cost.Quality composite decking costs two to three times more than pressure-treated wood. (It also lasts two to three times longer.) Even low-end composites are priced about 30 percent higher than pressure-treated pine. The matching add-ons (such as railings, balusters, posts, post caps, skirts and decorative trim) can easily triple your total cost. With the money saved from reduced maintenance, most homeowners can expect to recoup the higher cost of composites in about five years.
- Hot Underfoot. Like dark hardwoods, dark-colored and very dense composites can really heat up in the sun, making them hot underfoot. In addition, reflected heat from the composites can be intense. When choosing a composite, get samples of different shades and set them outside on your deck site. If they’re hot enough to fry an egg after a day in the hot sun, consider a lighter color or a different composite material.
- Slippery When Wet. Smooth-textured composites can get very slippery when wet. If your deck is going to be used near a pool, or if you live in a climate where ice is an issue, select a style with a pronounced texture.
- Easily Scuffed and Stained. New composites can be scuffed by moving furniture, frisky dogs, and gritty shoes. While light scratches cannot be sanded out, they will blend in over time. In addition, the wood fibers used in most composites can be easily stained by food and grease (a particular concern in grilling areas).
Ask the Experts
At Knot Just Decks, we have the answers to all your questions about deck design, materials, installation and maintenance. Let us help you decide if a composite deck is right for you. Together, we can create the deck of your dreams.