Best Composite Decking Materials & Options
The most common question we encounter on Decks.com is, "What is the best composite decking material?" Unfortunately, there isn't a simple answer. There are multiple brands to choose from, with various categories of products in a wide range of prices. To help you narrow down your choices, there are several considerations to take into account.
Benefits of Composite Decking
A deck is an investment that adds value to your home, whether you choose natural wood or composite materials. And while cost is often the primary consideration when planning a deck project, it’s equally important to understand the value of what you’re getting.
You’ve probably already noted the difference in cost between composite decking and natural wood; composite materials are more expensive per linear foot. But here’s where it’s key to look at the whole picture. Protecting a wood deck’s aesthetics, longevity and value over the long-term takes much more effort and expense than that required to maintain a composite deck, which requires only a periodic wash with mild soap and water. Plus, most composite products are backed by extended warranties.
A wood deck requires regular power washing, sanding, sealing/staining and rot or damage repair. Whether you hire a contractor or perform the maintenance yourself, these costs will add up. And once you’ve factored those costs in, a composite deck can actually be less expensive in the long-run.
With that in mind, let’s take a more detailed look at the benefits of composite materials.
Ease of Installation
While wood decking is nailed or screwed down and very simple to install, composite decking manufacturers have created special fasteners that “disappear,” creating an unfettered look. Hidden fastening systems often require no special tools and are easy to install, while color-matched screws can make the installation more like wood. As long as you pay attention to special requirements like proper gapping, butt-joint installation and manufacturer-recommended fasteners installing composite decking is very similar to installing wood.
In addition, composite decking materials can be milled and cut just like wood decking. Most composite decking is available in 5/4x6 dimensional boards in 12', 16' and 20' lengths, and are designed to be installed horizontally over 16" on center framing or diagonally over 12" on center joists. Most are recommended to be installed at least 24" above the ground to allow ventilation below the deck. Many companies also manufacture matching railing systems and accessories such as trim boards and low voltage lighting to complement your composite decking design.
A major benefit of composite decking is that you will never have to stain, seal or paint it like wood materials. Most higher-quality synthetic decking materials are backed by a warranty against splitting, cracking, rotting and insect damage. Your local building department may require an evaluation service report (ESR) from an accredited materials testing laboratory as proof that the decking product you install meets certain architectural standards. Typically, major composite deck manufacturers have their code reports on their websites, which is the best place to get them, as you will always be using the latest version.
While composite decking will save you time, energy and money in the long-run, there is no such thing as a truly no-maintenance decking material. Any outdoor living space will require occasional cleaning of dirt and debris. Learn more about deck maintenance here, and discover some additional benefits of composite decking versus wood to keep in consideration when planning your next deck build.
Traditional wood decks have an average lifespan of 10-15 years with routine annual maintenance depending on the quality of wood used and the effects of different climates. Composite decking, on the other hand, has an average lifespan of 25-30 years with only minimal upkeep in comparison to natural wood decking. This is partly due to it being made from materials that are resistant to weather, rot and insect damage.
Did we mention that composite decking is eco-friendly, as well? Many manufacturers use recycled materials, which helps keep plastic and waste wood out of landfills. So, you’re not only adding value to your property, you’re helping the environment, too.
Composite wood has come a long way in terms of variety, offering a wide array of natural-looking wood shades, hues and grains to suit almost any preference while complementing almost any architectural style.
What is Composite Decking Made of?
Most composite decking products are made out of recycled or reclaimed materials, with polyethylene (HDPE or LDPE) plastic or PVC (polyvinyl chloride) mixed with wood fiber, rice hulls or other fillers, as well as a blend of chemical additives.
Today’s composite materials perform better than the original versions, which were more prone to damage from exposure to the elements, and could also be easily scarred from wear and tear. But thanks to new formulations and additions – such as special capstock protecting the board – composite materials are now many times more resilient. A deck built with today’s composite materials is resistant to wear and tear, fading, color change and damage from the elements, especially water. Be especially careful when researching composite products; some reviews may be outdated. Be sure you are reading reviews that evaluate the latest products and technology.
Another improvement is the tremendous variety of natural-looking colors to choose from, including many variegated tones that realistically imitate exotic hardwood grain patterns. New lines of colors are added so often that many deck builders now refer to the ever-expanding design choices as "deck fashion."
Composite decking manufacturers have also found ways to offer more cost-competitive options, such as Trex’s new low-cost board, to fit a wider range of budgets. Now, it’s possible for a homeowner or commercial contractor to build with composite decking materials and realize the same long-term benefits without breaking the bank. When comparing price points from various manufacturers attributes such as board thickness, board profile (solid or scalloped), aesthetics and scratch resistance typically separate lower cost boards from the more premium offerings.
Composite deck boards now boast a feature called the “hidden clip system” for easy fastening. The end result is a more convenient and seamless deck installation that you and your family will enjoy for many years to come.
Over the years, composite decking has proven its value, evolving into a go-to decking material for more homeowners and commercial contractors alike because of its long-term benefits, low maintenance and durability.
To find the best composite materials and installation service for your future deck, talk to your local Home Depot or Lowe’s sales representative, or visit Find a Builder to learn more about composite decking.
Remember there is no such thing as a truly no-maintenance material. Any outdoor living space will require occasional cleaning of dirt and debris.