Composite Decking Materials Offer an Alternative to Natural Woods
Before the 1990s, if you were building a deck you had to choose which type of natural wood you were going to use. Redwood and cedar make for gorgeous decks. Pressure treated lumber is always a go-to choice for the price conscious. Exotic hardwoods like ipe are other natural wood options.
Then composites came onto the deck building scene.
They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and that is exactly why composite decking was created. By combining wood fibers, sawdust and wood chips with plastic components, some of the downfalls of wood as a decking material were overcome.
Composite decking manufacturers like Trex give homeowners something that is very attractive. They are very low maintenance. As the owner of your home, you already have a long list of responsibilities to maintain your home. You don’t need to add constant deck maintenance to all you that have to do. A wooden deck can consume up to 16 times as many hours each year to maintain as a composite deck.
Yep, you read that right.
A leading manufacturer of composite decking put together a study. Their research shows that painting, staining and other maintenance tasks can steal 16 to 32 back-breaking hours of your valuable free time every year with a wooden deck. Your long-lasting and low-maintenance composite deck just needs 2 to 4 yearly hours of a low-intensity soap and water cleaning.
Composite decks don’t need to be stained or painted. They usually cost more upfront than most woods with the exception of some exotic hardwoods, but can actually have a lower cost over the lifetime of your deck.
Manufacturers offer a wide number of colors, grains and textures. While there is no denying the natural beauty of many woods used for decking, you have to deal with the possibility that your decking will rot, split, warp and splinter. That’s simply not a problem with composites, some of which are guaranteed to last for 25 years, looking and functioning just as they did when they were new.
There are definitely reasons you might want to consider building a deck made out of natural wood. Initial cost can be low. There are also smart reasons for going with a composite material. Less maintenance and greater long-term durability are a couple.
If you’re considering building a deck in the Houston, Texas area, you need to know the pros and cons of composite decking and natural woods. You’d hate to build a deck and find it can’t stand up against Houston’s hot, humid summers as well as if you would have used another type of material. Let’s get started helping you make a decision by looking at the good, the bad and the ugly of natural woods for deck building.
Reasons Why You Should Choose Natural Wood … and Why You Shouldn’t
Redwood, cedar and pressure-treated pine are the three most common natural woods used to build decks. These softwoods are readily available and a quality deck builder will have experience working with them. Let’s first look at the reasons why you might want to consider using real wood as a decking material, and then will discuss the downsides of this choice.
Natural Wood Pluses
Natural Woods Look Great
Mother Nature sure knows how to make some good looking wood. Redwood, cedar and some exotic hardwoods can be absolutely beautiful if you get the right lumber. No two boards are exactly alike, and natural wood has an unmistakable appearance.
In the early 1990s, when composite decking started to become popular, much of it looked artificial or fake. It tried to mimic the appearance of natural wood but just didn’t seem to pull it off much of the time. Fast-forward more than 25 years and composite wood manufacturers have become very good at making their decking material look like natural wood.
Natural Woods Save Money on the Front End … Sometimes
There is no doubt that if you build a pressure-treated deck, you are going to save a lot of money as opposed to building a composite deck. We are talking about how much you pay upfront to have your deck built.
While pressure-treated decks are attractive for this reason, they require much more money (as well as time and elbow grease) to maintain than a deck made with composite materials (more on that in just a bit). Wood needs to be stained or painted. It can chip, crack, rot and splinter, so you may be looking at replacement costs over time.
Incidentally, some natural woods cost the same as popular and long-lasting composite materials.
Natural Wood is Easy to Work With
Your deck builder won’t mind working with cedar, pressure-treated lumber and most other natural woods. Your Houston deck builder probably has a lot of experience working with cedar, redwood and yellow pine softwoods. These are common wooden building materials.
Natural Wood Negatives
More Time Spent on Maintenance
We mentioned in the introduction that you can expect to spend between 16 and 32 hours cleaning and maintaining a wooden deck every year. This includes having to sand and stain or paint your entire deck every few years. Since wood can rot and splinter and warp, you are going to spend time replacing decking components eventually, or your deck builder is.
The 2 to 4 hour figure we told you about earlier for annual composite deck maintenance is starting to look awfully attractive. You would probably rather spend your time relaxing on your deck than cleaning and repairing it.
Wood Decks Can Be More Expensive Over Time
Your wooden deck can last as long as 15 or 20 years with intensive maintenance. Remember, you need to work hard to maintain your deck every few years. You may have to eventually replace handrails, decking boards and other parts over time due to rotting, insect infestation, warping and other issues.
It is for these reasons that a wooden deck can cost a lot more than a composite deck. Maintaining a pressure-treated, cedar or redwood deck costs about $5,425 over 10 years. In some cases you end up spending more money maintaining and repairing your wooden deck than you will on having it built.
Wood is Not Weather Resistant
Depending on what type of wood you choose, you are going to have to consider that it may eventually rot. Softwoods are easier than hardwoods for insects to bore into. Constant exposure to the humid and muggy Houston summers and seasonal changes in temperature mean that you might have to deal with your wood splintering, chipping or warping.
One of the main reasons composite decking material was created was for lower maintenance and longer durability.
Wood eventually gives in to the combination of Father Time and Mother Nature. If you are not diligent with your maintenance duties, your beautiful deck can become ugly and even unsafe in just a few years because of its lack of weather resistance.
Natural Woods Can Become Darkened and Discolored
Wood is absorbent, and even if you tirelessly clean, sand and restain your deck every two or three years, it is going to suck up a lot of Houston humidity. When you have a wet winter, your deck can become dark in spots due to fungus. Discoloring and either lightening or darkening also occurs due to how natural wood reacts to years of exposure to the sun and other elements.
If you keep on top of your maintenance (your deck builder will tell you just what you need to do), this may not happen. But, this is a possibility that is good to be aware of.
Why You Should Consider Composite Decking Materials Over Wood
Composite Deck Pluses
Composite Decks Have a Cheaper Lifetime Cost
You might spend only $400 or $500 over 10 years cleaning your composite deck. That looks a lot more attractive than the $5,425 maintenance cost you pay over that same time-frame with a wooden deck. This means even though they can cost 2 or 3 times as much as a wooden deck in the building stage, the actually cost you less total money over time.
Composite Decking Materials Look Great
The earliest composite decking materials didn’t do a good job matching the natural beauty of wood. That is no longer the case. Companies like Trex, Fiberon and Azek offer a wide variety of colors, textures and grains that rival natural wood for beauty.
More Time Enjoying Your Deck Than Maintaining It
Along with the benefit of lower cost over time, this is one of the big things homeowners love about building a composite decking. At the end of a hard day you want to relax on your deck, not clean it.
Your weekends should be spent hosting barbecues, family get-togethers and other occasions where you get to enjoy your deck. You shouldn’t have to plan on a lot of cleaning and other maintenance related duties.
You don’t have to do much of anything with a composite deck. A little soap and water and 2 to 4 hours of your time each year is all you need to do to have a great looking, sturdy and functional deck for 20 or more years.
Composite Decking Is Environmentally Friendly
Composite decking is made of plastic and wood. Some companies, like Trex, use mostly recycled materials to create their decking products. As a matter of fact, Trex decking materials are 95% recycled plastic and wood products. This dedication to being environmentally conscious means that Trex keeps 500 million pounds of plastic and wood from winding up in landfills every year.
You Get a Durable and Good-Looking Deck That Can Last More Than 20 Years
Trex and a few other of the top composite decking manufacturers offer 25 to 30 year warranties against staining and fading. That means you get a functional deck that continues to look good for more than 20 years, no matter what the weather in Houston throws at it. Ask any composite deck owner and they will tell you their deck looks just as good today as it did when it was built.
Composite Deck Negatives
You will spend more to have a composite deck built … on the front end. Don’t forget that your wooden deck requires roughly 10 times the ongoing maintenance investment.
Not All Colors in all Locations
Fiberon is a composite decking manufacturer that does not offer all their color choices to all cities in the US. This may also apply to some other companies you deal with.
The great thing is that Trex does not struggle with this issue. If you want a particular Trex color, we can get it for you. And this is one of the reasons we, at Custom Deck & Pergola, prefer to work with Trex compared to other composites.
The Top Composite Decking Companies to Choose From
Whether you want to spend less money over time, you hate the idea of lots of maintenance, or you just don’t want to deal with wood that rots, warps, splinters and chips, building a composite deck makes a lot of sense. All composite decking manufacturers offer those benefits over natural wood. Here are a few of the top composite decking companies you should consider.
Trex Decking is the leading manufacturer of composite decking materials that use recycled materials. We mentioned earlier but it bears repeating … Trex products are 95% recycled materials. No other composite decking material manufacturer comes close to this level of dedication to making a sustainable and environmentally friendly product. The Green Builder Media Readers’ Choice Awards has named Trex as the “Greenest Decking Brand” for 8 years in a row.
Trex also garnered the 2016 Environmental Vendor of the Year award from Home Depot. (This included all companies, not just decking manufacturers!)
You have your choice of more than 23 colors and multiple grains and textures which are available everywhere. Their deep wood grain patterns look like natural wood. Like the other composites listed here, a Trex deck will not crack or rot, split, splinter or warp. These decking materials are 100% termite-proof and insect-proof. Trex backs its products with a 25-year guarantee that they will not stain or fade. Expect minimal maintenance.
Fiberon uses some recycled wood and plastics to make its decking materials. You get a 25-year limited warranty against staining and fading. There are plenty of color and finish options to choose from, but as we just said, all colors may not be available in the Houston area.
Azek uses no wood fibers and instead makes decking materials with a polymer core of cellular PVC material. You receive a limited 30-year guarantee against fading and staining.
Composites are awesome compared to the natural wood competition in a number of categories. They are tough to beat for “set and forget” convenience. That means you spend a minimal time maintaining them. They look good as new for more than 25 years, and you end up spending less money over the lifetime of the deck than if you were to build a wooden deck.
While all composite decking manufacturers keep you from worrying about boring insects, warping and rotting, chipping and splintering, Trex adds an environmentally conscious benefit. No composite manufacturer can claim they use more recycled materials than Trex. This means that while you are enjoying your beautiful and durable deck, you can feel proud knowing you are looking out for the environment at the same time.