Composite Decking: What You Should Know
A Little Composite Decking History
Composite decking is here today for a couple of main reasons. The two biggest nuisances of a natural wood deck are continual maintenance and wear and tear. Cedar, redwood and some exotic hardwoods are absolutely gorgeous. You can see that Mother Nature spent a little extra time to make these woods visually appealing. That’s why they end up in a lot of backyards in outdoor entertainment centers and decks.
The problem is that eventually, those two downsides we just talked about (wear and tear and ongoing maintenance) take a toll on any wooden deck and the homeowner that has to care for it.
Pressure-treated yellow pine is a natural wood decking choice for a lot of people. You absolutely can’t beat its affordability upfront, but it can be susceptible to rotting and splitting, cracking, splintering and warping as time passes by. Wood can get infested with boring insects and termites, and you have to rework the deck every couple of years by pressure-washing and staining it.
As an alternative to high-maintenance wooden decking materials, composites arrived on the scene in the late 1980s. It wasn’t until the 1990s that composite decking became widely popular. That’s when companies like Trex and other composite manufacturers began to claim a substantial share of the deck building materials market.
Trex has been around since 1996 and is the biggest global and US distributor of composite decking materials. They were one of the first in the industry to “get it right” when trying to create a product that effectively mimicked the grain and beauty of natural wood. The earliest attempts at making composite decking boards look as natural as traditional wood were not that successful. Trex changed that, and a lot of homeowners started to get on board.
Fiberon entered the composite deck building marketplace in 1997 with headquarters in New London, North Carolina. Now there are a half a dozen or so top composite manufacturers that give the typical homeowner a low-maintenance, longer-lasting, durable and beautiful deck for a lower lifetime cost than if that homeowner built a natural wood deck instead.
If you’re considering building a deck to add to the value of your home and so you can spend more time outdoors, there are a few things you should know about composite decking materials. Let’s take a look at this smart alternative to wood as a decking choice in the Houston area by looking at how much a composite deck costs compared to a wooden option.
The Real Cost of a Composite Deck
Even if you take care of your wood deck correctly, it is not uncommon to have to replace it in 10 or 15 years. Wood decks require a heck of a lot more maintenance than composite decks. Pressure cleaning, sanding, painting, staining and backaches are frequent wooden deck maintenance requirements.
Since wood naturally rots, warps, splinters and chips over time, you have to consider the cost of replacement parts. Sandpaper, paint, stain, scrub brushes and other wooden deck maintenance requirements cost money. Don’t forget to place a price tag on your time. The most valuable commodity in the world is time. You can’t get it back once it is spent.
Over 10 years of wooden deck maintenance, you can expect an average annual investment of as much as 30 or more hours of your time. What is that time worth to you? Put a financial number on it. Then consider that maintaining and cleaning a composite deck that won’t stain or fade might cost you just 2 to 4 hours each year.
By the way, there is no back-bending scrubbing, sanding, painting or staining involved. Cleaning a composite deck means nothing more than cleaning with a little soapy water and then washing it down with a hose. Composite decking manufacturers like the ones mentioned earlier offer decking materials that are not porous like wood.
This means once they become acclimated to your environment (a process which only takes a few weeks), they will hold their beauty and color for 20 or 25 or even 30 years. You are not out in your backyard performing deck cleaning and maintenance all the time, and you are spending much more of your time enjoying your outdoor entertainment center.
The Financial Cost of a Deck
A pressure-treated deck that you have built for $3,000 can cost much more than that in ongoing maintenance. The TimberTech decking company gives you a good idea of just how much money you can expect to spend on deck cleaning and maintenance.
- On a pressure-treated lumber deck where your decking boards cost $704, maintenance over 10 years will run an average of $5,425.
- The same sized deck which requires $2,356 of TimberTech decking boards requires just $520 of maintenance in 10 years.
You are probably going to have to replace your wood deck in 10 to 15 years. Composite decks look good and function well for 25 years or more.
This means owning a wooden deck for 20 or 25 years will cost you about $6,200 in maintenance costs and decking boards alone. The exact same sized composite deck will set you back between $2,500 and $2,900. These numbers compare apples to apples and do not include costs like installation or understructure, but those costs are the same whether you have a wooden or composite deck installed.
In the example provided, you are spending roughly twice as much over the lifetime of your deck to go wood instead of composite. This is one of the main reasons composite decking materials came to be.
The composite deck may be more expensive to have built initially, but you spend much less money on maintenance and less money overall when you factor in replacement costs and maintenance.
What are Composite Decking Materials Made Of?
Composite decking is constructed of a combination of plastic and wood. It is the addition of certain plastic compounds to wood fibers that make such a long-lasting and durable product. The wood can come from sawdust, old wooden pallets, wood chips and wood fibers. Plastic bags and old plastic jugs or bottles might be used in the process.
This means that ecologically conscious companies like Trex can use mostly recycled materials to make their decking boards, railings and other components. As a matter of fact, every piece of Trex decking material is 95% recycled wood and plastic. Other composite decking companies also use some recycled materials in the production of their products.
This means that when you choose to build a composite deck rather than a natural wood deck, you make an environmentally conscious statement.
Different companies use different processes to turn wood and plastic into decking material. One such process is called extrusion. Wood and plastic are mixed and then poured into a form which is the exact shape and size of the decking board that is being made. A second production method is called compression molding. The combined materials are placed on a wood grain mold and then compressed under high heat and pressure.
Both of these processes create composite decking boards which are usually heavier than natural wooden decking boards.
Forget About The Troubles and Problems That Come With Aging, Degrading Natural Woods
Companies like the aforementioned Trex, Fiberon and TimberTech will cover your purchase with either a 25 or 30-year warranty. They guarantee that their product will not fade or stain, and that it will hold its physical beauty for the life of that warranty.
This is because composite decking materials have been created in such a way that they will never rot or splinter. They don’t warp or chip or fade or stain. This is true for 25 or more years. You don’t have to worry about termites and other insects boring into your deck, because insects and other animals don’t find plastic to be that appetizing.
These and other problems are a concern if you build a natural wood deck.
Top Composite Decking Manufacturers And A Professional Recommendation
We have mentioned Trex a few times in this article. There is good reason for that. The Trex decking company is the largest decking distributor in the world and in the United States. They have been around since 1996, so they know what they are doing when it comes to manufacturing beautiful and durable, low-maintenance decking products.
We talked earlier about the 95% recycled construction of the decking materials Trex builds. That’s impressive. As a matter of fact, no decking manufacturer can claim a higher percentage of recycled products in the composite offerings they sell. Trex has won numerous national and international awards for its dedication to environmentally friendly manufacturing practices.
The company works with local schools around the United States to teach children about the importance of sustainable manufacturing processes. They preach recycling and taking care of the planet.
They have teamed up with thousands of retail stores around the country to make sure that plastic bags, plastic containers, wooden pallets and other wooden products are claimed for their recycled wood/plastic manufacturing process. The Trex company keeps 500 million pounds of wood and plastic out of landfills every year.
Trex offers a wide variety of colors and grains. You can select from 23 different colors in several grain patterns. Your purchase is covered by a 25-year warranty against fading and staining, and Trex decking is available no matter where you live in or around the Houston area.
Most composite decking manufacturers don’t offer much more than decking. Trex is different.
To complement your outdoor deck, the company sells pergolas and outdoor kitchens. You can also get deck framing and drainage, lattice, fencing and outdoor lighting that perfectly matches your deck.
Another fun fact about Trex is that they manufacture a set of rain-resistant and weatherproof cornhole boards that is perfect for any backyard or tailgating situation. So, you can invite over the neighbors for a little friendly competition on your new deck as well.
That said, Trex is our preferred and recommended brand of composite decking. With our years of experience installing Trex and other composites, we’ve found that Trex has the best supply chain. This means they’re able to get all of their colors to us in the Houston area. If you want a composite deck we cannot recommend Trex enough, but we also want you to be aware of other options.
This company has been around almost as long as Trex, since 1997. They also incorporate recycled materials into their manufacturing process.
Fiberon gives you 24 color choices. Unfortunately, in the Houston area, not all colors are available everywhere. Before you fall in love with a particular color, talk with us at Custom Deck & Pergola to see if it is offered where you live.
Fiberon will back your purchase with a 20-year warranty against fading and staining on its ArmorGuard Decking line of products. The other decking materials the company sells are backed by a 25-year warranty. The company requires that decking be “properly installed” for the warranty to apply.
TimberTech & Azek
TimberTech was a direct competitor of Fiberon, Trex and Azek deck building manufacturers. Azek narrowed the field of competition when they acquired TimberTech. All Azek decking products are now sold under the TimberTech name, as TimberTech Azek.
The company offers more than 2 dozen color choices and several wood-like grains. Like the other composite decking companies just mentioned, some recycled materials are used in the manufacturing process. The TimberTech Pro decking lineup compares fine to the Trex and Fiberon products and is backed by a 30-year fade and stain warranty.
The company offers more than 2 dozen color choices and several wood-like grains.
The Composite Decking Wrap-Up
Composite decking is popular for a lot of reasons. It costs less over time than wood decking, it is much easier to maintain, and it holds its color and appearance for 25 or more years.
As far as composite manufacturing companies go, Trex, Fiberon and TimberTech Azek are some of the biggest names in the decking marketplace. They all offer similar warranties and they give you plenty of choice. And if you want to add fencing, outdoor lighting, deck framing or an outdoor kitchen to your backyard experience, Trex has you covered.