Deciding on the right decking material for your outdoor space is an important choice.
Both wood and composite decking are good options so it can be a challenge to determine which one best suits your needs.
In this article, we will explore the differences between composite and wood decks, covering aspects such as materials, price, maintenance, and sustainability.
By understanding the key differences, you’ll be better equipped to determine the best fit for your outdoor living area.
Here’s a preview of the details we will compare for you.
Composite decking is a popular option, made primarily of a mix of recycled plastic and wood fibers. While it might not have the natural appearance of real wood, the array of colors provides you with the opportunity to create a look that closely mimics wood grain patterns.
On the other hand, wood decking offers a warm, timeless aesthetic. Although it can be more economical, it requires more maintenance to protect its appearance and longevity.
Maintenance and durability are important factors when choosing your decking material.
Composite decks provide long-lasting materials that are stain-resistant and can endure harsh weather conditions, natural wear and tear with a lifespan of up to 50 years.
Wood decks, typically lasting between 10-30 years, are more susceptible to splintering, rotting, and insect damage, depending on the type of wood used and maintenance practices.
That’s just the start of what you need to know. Let’s get into the details.
1. Understanding Decking Material Options
When it comes to building a deck for your outdoor space, you have two main choices: composite decking and wood decking. Let’s explore each material and the benefits and drawbacks they offer.
Composite decks are made primarily of a mix of recycled plastic and wood fibers. They are known for their durability, as they are resistant to stains, harsh weather, and natural wear and tear. Many composite materials can last up to 50 years without splintering, rotting, or becoming susceptible to insect damage.
There is a wide array of colors and styles available for composite decking, allowing you to choose a more natural look that mimics the appearance of real wood. Keep in mind, though, that composite decks may not have the same warmth and beauty of a natural wood deck.
The advantages of composite decking include:
- Low maintenance
- Long-lasting materials
- Resistance to staining and weather damage
- Variety of colors and styles
Wood decking is typically more economical than composite materials, offering a natural, warm tone that is aesthetically pleasing. Common types of wood used for decking include pressure-treated lumber, cedar, pine, redwood, and fir.
One drawback to wood decking is its need for regular maintenance, such as staining or painting. Over time, wood can lose its warm tone and turn a dull gray if not properly maintained, affecting its lifetime cost.
Wood decks can last anywhere from 10 to 30 years before needing repairs, while being susceptible to splintering, rotting, and insect damage.
Among the various wood options, pressure-treated lumber is an affordable choice, with cedar, redwood, and other higher-quality woods being more expensive. Note that these more expensive options often have natural resistance to rot and insect damage.
The advantages of wood decking include:
- Natural, warm appearance
- Variety of wood species to choose from
- More economical initially than composite decking
- Known for its natural resistance to rot and insect damage (specific wood types)
In summary, your choice between composite decking and wood decking will depend on your budget, maintenance preferences, and desired aesthetics for your deck. Consider the benefits and drawbacks of each material carefully to make the best decision for your outdoor space.
2. Comparing Aesthetic Appeal
Look and Texture
When it comes to the look and texture of decking materials, both wood and composite have their unique characteristics. Wood decks offer a natural look that can be quite appealing.
The grain patterns, knots, and color variations in different types of wood can create a warm, inviting atmosphere for your outdoor space.
On the other hand, composite decking is designed to mimic the look of wood, but it doesn’t exactly reproduce the same texture and natural
feel. High-quality composite materials can closely resemble the appearance of real wood, but you might notice a difference in texture upon closer inspection.
However, composite decking still provides a realistic appearance that can satisfy many homeowners seeking the wood-like look.
Color and Variety
In terms of color and variety, both wood and composite decking come in a wide range of options. With wood decking, the assortment of colors mainly depends on the specific type of wood chosen.
Some popular wood decking materials include pressure-treated pine, cedar, redwood, and exotic hardwoods. Each wood species has its distinct color palette and can be stained or painted to further customize its appearance.
Composite decking, on the other hand, offers a broader range of colors as the materials can be manufactured to match almost any hue. T
his can make it easy to find a composite deck color that complements your home’s exterior or the landscaping in your yard.
In addition, composite decking is available in various textures and finishes designed to resemble different types of wood grain.
While both wood and composite decking materials offer a variety of colors and textures to choose from, your personal preferences and desired aesthetic will ultimately determine which option is best for your outdoor space.
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3. Assessing Durability and Longevity
Strength and Resistance
When choosing the right decking material, it’s important to consider the strength and resistance of the materials. Composite decking is made of durable, long-lasting materials that are stain-resistant and can hold up well to harsh weather.
It generally won’t splinter, rot, or become susceptible to insect damage, making it a low-maintenance option for your outdoor living space.
On the other hand, hardwood and exotic wood decking like teak and cumaru offer exceptional strength and durability, but may require additional protection, such as sealers, to help prevent splitting, warping, and weathering.
While hardwoods are naturally resistant to pests and mold, they still need regular maintenance to maintain their strength and look over time.
However, there’s also uncapped composite decking, which has less resistance to mold and staining compared to capped composites.
So, if you’re considering composite materials, it’s important to research all the options available to ensure you select the right one for your specific needs.
Lifespan and Weathering
Looking at the lifespan and weathering of various decking materials can help inform your decision-making process.
Composite decks can have a long lifespan, with some lasting up to 50 years. They are also weather-resistant, which means they’ll hold up well in various climates, resulting in less potential for warping or splitting compared to natural wood decks.
Wood decks, on the other hand, vary in their lifespan depending on the type and treatment of the wood. Untreated wood decks can last anywhere from 10 to 30 years, while treated wood decks can last up to 50 years with proper maintenance.
Some hardwoods and exotic woods, like teak and cumaru, are naturally weather-resistant, granting them a longer-lasting life than traditional wood materials.
Here’s a quick comparison of the durability and longevity attributes between composite and wood decks:
|Composite Decking||Wood Decking|
|Durability||Stain-resistant, less prone to rot||May need protection against splitting, weathering|
|Strength||Resistant to insects, warping||Varies by wood type|
|Maintenance||Low-maintenance, generally||Requires regular maintenance|
|Lifespan||Up to 50 years with proper installation||10 – 30 years for untreated wood; up to 50 years for treated wood|
In conclusion, when assessing the durability and longevity of composite versus wood decking, remember to consider the specific deck materials, maintenance requirements, and potential lifespan differences to make an informed choice for your outdoor space.
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4. Maintenance and Care
Deck Maintenance Procedures
When it comes to deck maintenance, there are noticeable differences between wood and composite decking materials.
For wood decks, you’ll need to perform regular sanding, staining, and sealing to protect the wood from splitting, warping, and weather damage. This process typically needs to be done every few years, depending on the type of wood and your local climate.
On the other hand, composite decks are designed to be low-maintenance. They don’t require sanding, staining, or sealing, and they resist splitting and warping. To keep a composite deck looking clean and new, a simple soap-and-water cleaning is usually sufficient on an annual basis.
Repair and Replacement
As for repairs and replacements, wood decks might need more frequent attention. Components of wood decks can become susceptible to insect damage, rot, and decay over their lifespan of about 10-30 years. Repairing these issues can be labor-intensive, and the total maintenance costs can add up over time.
Composite decks, made of durable materials, are much more resistant to damage. They can last up to 50 years without needing major repairs and won’t splinter or become susceptible to insect damage. In the rare case that you need to repair a composite deck, the process is often simpler than repairing a wood deck.
Keep in mind that mold and mildew can affect both wood and composite decks, especially in damp and shady environments. While composite decking is designed to resist mold and mildew growth, it’s still essential to clean both types of decks regularly to keep them looking their best.
To sum up, the main differences in maintenance and care between wood and composite decks include:
- Wood decks require regular sanding, staining, and sealing, while composite decks only need occasional cleaning.
- Wood decks are more prone to splitting, warping, insect damage, and decay, leading to potentially higher maintenance costs.
- Composite decks have a longer lifespan and are generally more durable and low-maintenance compared to wood decks.
- Both types of decks need to be kept clean to prevent mold and mildew growth, especially in damp or shaded areas.
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5. Evaluating Costs
When considering building a deck, you’ll need to evaluate the initial costs. On average, composite decking costs between $4.50 to $13 per square foot for the decking alone, or about $30 to $60 per square foot installed, including the substructure (joists, posts, and beams).
In comparison, natural wood decks cost $25 to $43 per square foot installed. The type of wood you choose will impact the price. For example, pressure-treated wood is typically less expensive with a cost range of $15 to $25 per square foot.
If you prefer more desirable wood species like cedar, redwood, or ipe (a tropical hardwood), the cost will be higher.
As you plan your budget and get quotes from contractors or builders, remember that the cheapest option isn’t always the best. It’s important to factor in the long-term costs as well.
While composite decking may have a higher initial cost, it tends to offer better value in the long run. Some factors to consider include:
- Maintenance: Composite decking requires considerably less maintenance than wood. You won’t need to stain, seal, or paint composite materials, which saves time and money over the years.
- Durability: Composite decks are less susceptible to issues like rot, decay, and insect damage, translating to a longer lifespan and fewer repair or replacement costs.
- Warranty: Many composite decking manufacturers offer warranties, adding assurance that your investment will be protected for the expected life of the product.
On the other hand, wood decks require regular maintenance, which can add up over time. Depending on the wood species you choose, you may face costly repairs caused by rot or insect damage, and the deck may not last as long as a composite one.
To sum up, it’s essential to consider the initial and long-term costs in your decision-making process before choosing between composite and wood for your deck project. Remember to get multiple quotes from contractors or builders and weigh the pros and cons of each material in the context of your specific needs and preferences.
6. Deciding on Installation
When choosing between composite and wood decking, it’s essential to consider how you want to install your deck. There are two main options: professional installation and DIY projects.
For a stress-free decking installation, hiring a professional contractor or builder is an excellent choice. They have the experience and expertise to ensure the proper foundation, footings, and overall structure of your deck.
Professional installers are also well-versed in the use of hidden fasteners, which can contribute to a seamless aesthetic. Moreover, they have the necessary tools and skills to handle every aspect of installation, such as cutting deck boards, building stairs, and ensuring structural integrity.
Choosing a professional installation comes with a higher upfront cost but guarantees a sturdy, well-built deck. Additionally, many contractors offer warranties that protect you against defects and damages.
If you prefer a hands-on approach, a DIY project might be the right fit for you. Installing your deck can be a rewarding project, but it requires proper research, planning, and execution.
First, familiarize yourself with the specific requirements of composite or wood decking. Understanding the differences in material properties, such as withstanding temperature fluctuations and maintenance requirements, is critical to the success of your DIY project.
When working on a DIY installation, consider using these helpful tips:
- Hidden Fasteners: Invest in hidden fasteners to create a clean, smooth surface on your deck without visible screws.
- Deck Boards: Measure and cut your deck boards accurately to ensure a professional appearance.
- Stairs: Plan your stair design carefully to make sure they are safe and meet local building codes.
- Footings: Properly setting the footings in your deck will provide a stable, long-lasting foundation.
While taking on a DIY project can save you money in labor costs, it may require more time and effort. Ensure you have the necessary tools, equipment, and skills to complete the project successfully.
7. Additional Considerations
When deciding between composite and wood decking, it’s important to consider the environmental impact of both options. Composite decking is often made from recycled materials, such as plastics and wood fibers, contributing to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly choice.
On the other hand, wood decking can come from responsibly managed forests, and some wood species are more eco-friendly than others. To make a well-informed decision, research the sourcing and production processes of the materials you’re considering.
Another factor to keep in mind is the warranty offered for the decking materials. Composite decking typically comes with a longer warranty, sometimes even a lifetime guarantee, compared to wood decks.
This is because composite materials require less maintenance and are more resistant to weather, stains, and wear and tear. Wood decks, on the other hand, can last anywhere from 10-30 years, but they’re more susceptible to rot, splintering, and insect damage.
When choosing between composite and wood decking, consider these additional factors to ensure you’re making the best decision for your outdoor space.
Remember to think about the environmental impact, material warranties, and other aspects to make a wise choice that fits your needs and preferences.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the maintenance differences between composite and wood decks?
Composite decks require less maintenance due to their stain-resistant and durable materials. Unlike wood decks, you don’t need to sand, refinish, or stain them. Wood decks, on the other hand, require regular maintenance to maintain their appearance and prevent damage from weather and insects.
How do costs compare for composite and wood decking materials?
Wood decking is generally more economical initially. However, when considering long-term costs, composite decking may be a better investment due to its longer lifespan and low maintenance requirements. The initial cost of composite decking might be higher, but you’ll save on maintenance costs over time.
Are composite decks more eco-friendly than wood decks?
Composite decking is often made from recyclable materials, which can be a more eco-friendly option. Some manufacturers use recycled plastic and reclaimed wood fibers in their products. While wood is a natural material, its production and maintenance may involve the use of chemicals and treatments that are not as environmentally friendly.
How do the durability and lifespan of composite decks compare to wood?
Composite decks are made with durable materials that can last up to 50 years, while wood decks typically have a lifespan of 10-30 years. Composite decking resists splintering, rotting, and insect damage, ensuring a longer-lasting and more durable outdoor space.
What are the common issues with composite and wood decking in terms of aesthetics?
Over time, wood decks can lose their warm tone and turn a dull gray if not maintained properly. Composite decks can maintain their appearance for a longer period with less maintenance. However, some people prefer the natural look and feel of wood, making it a matter of personal preference.
Does slip resistance vary between composite and wood decks?
Slip resistance can vary between composite and wood decks, depending on the specific materials used. Some composite decking materials are designed to be more slip-resistant than traditional wood, providing a safer surface, especially in wet conditions. It’s essential to research the specific products you are considering to ensure the slip resistance meets your needs.