Composite Decks

Composite Decks - Advantages Over Wood Decks

Composite materials were just beginning to gain mainstream popularity when I first wrote this article in 2004.

Well, fast forward to today and you can't set foot into any of the big box home renovation stores, or any building supplier for that matter, and not see one kind of composite material or another offered.

If you're not familiar with composite materials for decking, read on and see if it's for you.

Traditionally decks have always been built from wood.

But as lumber has become more scarce and expensive and homeowners have grown weary of periodic maintenance. Building decks with composite materials such as railings and deck boards is becoming more and more common.

What is a Composite Deck?

In effect, we are talking about synthetic materials that are either a significant or entire portion of the material. These deck boards are made of a variety of materials - some synthetic and some natural.

They are referred to as composites. Their appeal lies in the fact that maintenance is greatly reduced, if not entirely eliminated.

So if you are one of the legions of people who can't stand the annual maintenance required on your wood deck, composite materials are a real treat. The framing below the deck structure is still traditionally wood joists but the top surface can be covered with whatever kind of material you wish.

And their use extends beyond decking boards. Many companies offer proprietary railing systems made of the same composite lumber materials so your entire deck looks unified.

What Makes Composite Decks So Attractive?

The thing people like most about wood is its natural appearance and the grain texture. But they don't like the annual maintenance that comes with it.

All composite materials are intended to still give people the look and feel of wood but none of the maintenance hassles.

This comes at a cost - anywhere from 1.5 to 3 times as much as a cedar deck and possibly 2 to 5 times as much as a pressure treated pine deck.

Performance was also a problem in the earlier days, when manufacturers were still trying to develop the perfect recipe of composite materials that didn't absorb liquids and stain or fade or mildew.

The good news is that today, like most products, they have improved over time as technology has advanced. Many of the materials now are much more stain resistant and fade resistant than ever before.

Let me sum this up for you as you embark on your search for the best material to use with the following list of the Pros and Cons.

Pros and Cons of Composite Materials

Pros

  • It won't warp or split or crack
  • Maintenance is reduced to sweeping and spraying
  • It is easily worked with standard tools
  • Every piece is quality controlled so less waste during the building phase
  • Colors can be matched to your home and won't (shouldn't) fade like (as much) as a wood deck
  • Some include recycled materials so are more environmentally friendly

Cons

  • It's anywhere from 2-5 times more expensive then pressure treated lumber
  • It's much heavier than wood
  • Some of it can't span as far as wood so requires smaller joist spacing
  • Special fasteners are usually required
  • Extreme temperatures can increase flexibility of some composite material

So is a composite deck right for you?

You will have to weigh all the factors. But I have a pretty thorough review of the latest materials to help you.

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