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  • John Esposito

Composite versus Wood Decks

Pros and cons of natural wood versus man-made composites for deck materials.

As the warm weather approaches we've been getting a lot of calls from customers about building new decks. When the conversation comes to the question of what materials to use, it comes down to one question: wood or composite?

The first thing to know about choosing a decking is that regardless of the material, all decks use pressure treated lumber for the framing; which is the structural part of the deck that you don’t usually see unless you’re underneath it. So the decision process usually involves only the materials that will make up the deck surface, stair treads, and railings.

Natural vs. Composite decking materials:

You have two main categories of deck materials to choose from: natural wood or manmade composite products – but there are options within each of these categories. The most popular wood product is Southern Pine, more commonly known as pressure treated lumber. Other species of wood such as cedar, redwood and hardwoods like Ipe, jutoba and tigerwood are also used on decks. These species however, can be very costly and are usually not readily available in our area. Manmade deck material products include composites, PVC and vinyl from manufacturers such as Trex, Fiberon, Timber Tech, Veranda, and Azek.

The majority of decks we build are constructed using pressure treated wood, with the main reason being the initial cost savings. The main reason our other customers tend to choose composite or manmade deck materials is for the low maintenance required.

So what deck material is best for you? There are numerous factors to evaluate before making a decision. You’ll need to ask questions like:

  • How will the deck be used?

  • Is it in a shaded area or a sunny one?

  • How long do you plan to live in your home?

  • Which type of materials will best compliment my home and landscaping?

  • Do you plan on doing your own deck maintenance or hiring a company to do it for you?

The list of questions can keep going; but it’s worth spending the extra time during the planning stages to avoid disappointment further down the road. Like most deck builders though, I can’t recommend the right deck material, or size, without talking to you and answering these questions first.

Factoring in wood maintenance costs:

Although the installation price for composite is undeniably going to be more than wood, the actual cost over time may surprisingly be a good deal closer. This is because wooden decks, due to their nature, require more maintenance. If you're willing to do the resealing and repairs yourself, a wood deck will still be cheaper. If you're going to hire someone though, it would be worthwhile to factor that future cost into your decision at the time when the deck is being installed.

For example we'll compare two identical sized decks; one lumber and one Trex. Let’s say the same size pressure treated lumber deck mentioned above costs $700 to stain the first year. You’ll need to stain it every two years thereafter. A stripping and sanding will probably be required every six years before you perform the annual deck stain, which will cost about $900 total.

If you’re maintaining your wood deck properly and hiring professionals to do so, by the end of year eleven you will have spent more than $4,600 on maintenance, and you’ll still have a wood deck that may crack or splinter, whereas a deck with manmade materials will require little regular maintenance. Contrary to what manufactures like to promote though, composite decks are not necessarily maintenance free. Scorching sun, weeks of rain or snow, mold and mildew, and food stains can impact the appearance of any type of deck—composite decking included. Fortunately, most composite decking can be restored to look like new with a simple maintenance regimen, as long as the problem is on the surface and not in the substrate.

Ultimately you need to decide for yourself what fits best for your home and situation. The best way to do that is to talk with us, or another knowledgeable deck builder that can ask you the right questions, answer your questions, and help you make the best decision. Just be honest with yourself from the start about whether you're going to do the maintenance yourself - and don’t forget to factor in what your times worth in regards to labor hours!

We'll discuss deck maintenance in depth in a future blog.

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